Five questions for Twitter as Elon Musk is poised to take over

Five questions for Twitter as Elon Musk is poised to take over

Updated: 5 months, 16 hours, 31 minutes, 39 seconds ago

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Elon Musk’s expected $44 billion purchase of Twitter, set to close on Friday, would resolve a six-month period of financial uncertainty for the San Francisco social media company. But plenty of questions remain. Here are five:

What happens to Twitter’s workforce?

The Washington Post reported last week that Musk had told investors that he planned to cut almost 75% of Twitter’s 7,500 employees, which would gut the company. But Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that the billionaire told employees he isn’t planning that much of a reduction, though some layoffs are planned.

Twitter has already seen a major outflow of employees, with more than 500 workers leaving the company in the last three months, according to an analysis of LinkedIn data.

Musk has also clashed with CEO Parag Agrawal about the company’s number of fake accounts, and the company’s top executive may not last either. “I don’t have confidence in management,” Musk wrote in his initial April takeover letter, which led to the purchase.

Will employees be forced to come back to the office?

Twitter was one of the first companies to embrace fully flexible work near the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and the effects on the Mid-Market neighborhood and downtown San Francisco have been stark, with shuttered restaurants and deadened streets. But Musk has a much less rosy view of letting workers stay home, and he threatened to fire Tesla and SpaceX workers over the summer if they weren’t in the office for 40 hours a week.

It’s possible that Musk could require employees to go back to the office, though that could motivate even more people to leave for companies with looser work policies. Such a move would ironically align Musk with San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s efforts to enliven downtown, despite the mayor criticizing Musk recently for leaving California.

The flip side is that Musk could relocate Twitter’s headquarters entirely, as he did with Tesla, which is now headquarterd in Austin.

What will content moderation look like?

In a message to “Twitter Advertisers,” Musk wrote on Thursday that he is buying Twitter to support "a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence."

“Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences,” Musk continued. “In addition to adhering to the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all, where you can choose your desired experience according to your preferences, just as you can choose, for example, to see movies or play video games ranging from all ages to mature.”

What that actually looks like is unclear. The company has long grappled with misinformation and hate speech, and if layoffs do occur, fewer staff would likely weaken the company’s ability to combat its challenges. One of the most high-profile policy questions is whether Musk does in fact allow former President Donald Trump back on Twitter, something he previously said he supported.

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Can Musk grow the company and attract more users and advertisers?

In Thursday’s letter, Musk also said he didn’t buy Twitter to make money. But he has ambitious plans, reportedly telling investors that he plans to double revenue and triple Twitter’s user base in three years.

It won’t be easy. In what could be the company’s last earnings report, it said in July that revenue fell 1% to $1.18 billion, missing Wall Street’s expectations. There’s a global digital advertising slump that’s also hurt tech heavyweights Meta and Google, and with high inflation and geopolitical turmoil, it will be a challenging time for Twitter to grow, especially if the economy enters a recession next year.

What happens with the government investigations?

The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into Musk’s initial purchase of a Twitter stake in the spring, as well as some of his messages halting his purchase. There’s also a chance that Musk’s acquisition could trigger regulator review, though his other companies, SpaceX and Tesla, aren’t in the social media space.

Roland Li is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @rolandlisf