Elon Musk’s reign begins. What happens next?

Elon Musk’s reign begins. What happens next?

Updated: 3 months, 1 day, 21 hours, 1 minute, 21 seconds ago

Elon Musk’s reign of terror at Twitter has begun — and it’s already a bloodbath. As the billionaire completed his reluctant $44 billion acquisition of the site Thursday night, he swiftly fired Twitter’s CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, top policy executive Vijaya Gadde, and general counsel Sean Edgett.

“The bird is freed,” Musk tweeted after the work was done.

If you’ve got questions about what comes next, well, sit next to us, friend, because we do too.

How can you run a company without four of your most senior leaders?

We’re about to find out. Musk appears to be under the assumption that he doesn’t have to play by anyone’s rules because, in the U.S. at least, there aren’t many rules governing a company like Twitter. But Musk would be wise to take a look around the world, where the legal hurdles to operating a global social media platform have never been higher.

The European Union. India. Vietnam. Brazil. Heck, Texas. It’s hard to find a corner of the planet that’s not trying to dictate the way tech platforms moderate content at this very moment. It would seem a silly time to can your top lawyers, who have at least spent a few years figuring out how to navigate it all.

No doubt Musk has some people in mind that he likes for the roles, but those people will inevitably face a learning curve — and global regulators have long since run out of patience with social platforms.

Will Musk actually become CEO?

Speaking of who Musk has in mind to replace Twitter’s leadership team, Musk is reportedly planning to take on the CEO role himself. If he does, it’ll be one of the rare times a major U.S. social media platform is run by someone who wasn’t there when it all began.

Mark Zuckerberg still has a stranglehold on Meta. Susan Wojcicki didn’t start YouTube, but she was an early Googler and oversaw its purchase of the video site before becoming the YouTube CEO. Twitter’s been led by mostly founders — Ev Williams, then Jack Dorsey — save for a brief spell when Dick Costolo ran it. But even he had at least been COO for a while first. One exception is Reddit, which has had two non-founder CEOs, but their stints were fairly brief, and the company has mostly stayed in the hands of co-founders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian.

Why does that matter? For all of their faults, most of our social networks have been run by people who have built up institutional memory about their companies’ past mistakes and the unintended consequences of their actions. It’s one thing for Dorsey to step aside and hand the CEO role off to the company’s most trusted engineer, Agrawal. It’s another entirely for a platform’s most nosy user to make himself king and wipe out all of the top brass — and if the reporting is to be believed, a significant chunk of the staff — who might help him understand the turf he’s just seized.

Incidentally, it wouldn’t be the first time Twitter’s CEO had another job at the same time. Dorsey did it too, and look at how well that went.

How long until former President Trump — and other banned-for-lifers — get back on the platform?

Despite the fake Trump statement that began circulating Thursday, the answer to this one is still unclear. But it seems likely that Trump’s account will be reinstated, given Musk’s past comments on the topic: "I do think that it was not correct to ban Donald Trump," Musk said in May. "I think that was a mistake because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice."

How much will that matter? Twitter certainly made Trump’s political career. But, as we predicted when Trump was first banned from Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms, the former president hasn’t needed those platforms to maintain power over the Republican party. And while Twitter issued Trump a lifetime ban, other platforms made no such promises. Meta is still mulling whether Trump will be able to return in January, weighing the risk that restoring his account could cause real world harm. If Trump gets back on Twitter, that risk calculus might very well change.

Of course, there are lots of other people who have lifetime bans from Twitter — such as terrorists, neo-Nazis, or leaders of the KKK — who could potentially also make a comeback.

Will users actually revolt? Will advertisers?

Musk may not be buying Twitter to be a money maker, but his plea to advertisers this week at least suggests he wants Twitter to, you know, make money. “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” he wrote.

The thing is: A number of factors, including the economic downturn and Apple’s anti-tracking efforts, are already making the market brutal for ad-based businesses. Twitter is already a dramatically smaller player in digital ads than either Google or Meta, both of which are struggling. Now, Musk’s takeover stands to weaken Twitter’s relationship even further, with some advertisers already promising to pull their business if Trump returns.

That trend could be exacerbated if users actually follow through with all their talk of deleting Twitter. Of course, it’s telling that the most popular venue for talking about deleting Twitter … is Twitter.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Vijaya Gadde's name and contained an incomplete quote. This story was updated on Oct. 28, 2022.