Musk Acquires Twitter, Fires Executives

Musk Acquires Twitter, Fires Executives

Updated: 3 months, 1 day, 21 hours, 37 minutes, 38 seconds ago

Musk Acquires Twitter, Fires Executives

The social platform beloved of the intellectual class is about to undergo radical change.

WaPo (“Elon Musk closes Twitter deal and fires top executives“):

Elon Musk became Twitter’s owner late Thursday as his $44 billion deal to take over the company officially closed, marking a new era for one of the world’s most influential social media platforms.

As one of his first moves, he fired several longtime top Twitter executives, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. One of those confirmed the deal was complete.

Chief executive Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal and Vijaya Gadde, head of legal policy, trust, and safety, were let go, according to the people. Sean Edgett, the company’s general counsel, was also pushed out, one of the people said. The top executives were hastily escorted out of the company’s San Francisco headquarters.

Musk’s moves late Thursday signal his intentions to firmly put his stamp on Twitter. Musk has publicly criticized the company’s outgoing management over product decisions and content moderation, as well as saying he would restore former president Donald Trump’s account.

Still, “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” Musk tweeted Thursday, in a post offering assurances to advertisers.

Late in the evening, he tweeted, “the bird is freed.”

The Atlantic‘s Charlie Warzel explains “How Elon Musk Could Actually Kill Twitter.”

Outside the company, power users are mulling plans to bail, and sharing a report that Twitter is already on life support. My timelines are full of earnest eulogies for the platform or fears that it will turn into a 4chan clone now that Musk is taking the reins. People are waxing nostalgic, sharing greatest-hits threads of good tweets. Dara Lind, a reporter, summed it up succinctly, noting that the whole thing has “big, big last-night-of-camp energy.”

[…]

Those I spoke with agreed that Musk likely couldn’t flip a proverbial switch to destroy the platform immediately. Any harebrained, Muskian idea for a new feature couldn’t get implemented overnight. One former senior employee I spoke with also argued that high-profile, controversial decisions (like the reinstatement of Donald Trump or Alex Jones) would certainly drive some people off the service but would be unlikely, on their own, to cause a mass exodus. They cited past mass-quit movements like #DeleteFacebook and #DeleteUber as historical analogues, suggesting that it’s pretty hard to get huge numbers of people to log off as part of a moral stand. That said, Twitter already appears to be hemorrhaging power users, and it’s unclear how much more the platform can take.

Given its massive scale and the lack of viable alternatives, I’m skeptical that enough people would leave to matter.

Musk has denied reports that he plans massive layoffs of technical staff and site moderators but Warzel counters,

“These sites—no matter how talented the engineering organization—are often held together by a series of fragile, legacy systems, the precise functioning of which is only truly known to a few people,” Jason Goldman, a member of Twitter’s early team, a former board member, and the company’s former vice president of product, told me. “Without even factoring in nefarious intent, it is easy to imagine scenarios where big mistakes happen because of the kind of disruption Twitter is about to endure. The exact nature of the mistake is impossible to predict, but the increased likelihood of a mistake happening is a reasonable assumption. And it’s more likely to be from some small error that compounds than it is from the large decisions that often end up in the spotlight.”

After listing five far-fetched scenarios, Warzel gets to what strikes me as the more real concern: that Musk’s anti-moderation ethos could just make the place unlivable.

Even under leadership that values moderation, Twitter isn’t exactly known for peace and harmony. There are numerous reasons for this. The tech journalist Ryan Broderick suggested in his newsletter that “Twitter has never been able to deal with the fact its users both hate using it and also hate each other,” and that the platform’s architecture causes such frequent context collapse and infighting that its least aggressive and obnoxious users tend to leave or just lurk. If Twitter is struggling with this now, imagine the impact if Musk does decide to turn the platform into a maximalist speech Thunderdome. The truth that the anti-“woke” warriors refuse to acknowledge is that the economic success of platforms depends on thoughtful, swift content moderation that strikes a balance between open dialogue and chaos. This morning, in a letter to advertisers in which he used the bloodless, platitudinal language of a veteran social-media executive, Musk wrote that Twitter cannot become a “free-for-all hellscape.”

Most of us understandably think of technology platforms in abstract terms. When tech titans like Musk or his text-message friends wonder what all those employees at Twitter are doing, they are, quite foolishly, looking at a social network as if it were a basic piece of machinery. “There’s often a supposition that sites like Twitter must work like a car; maybe they need some routine maintenance every year, but under the hood they mostly just work,” Goldman, the former Twitter VP, told me. But Twitter isn’t a car; it’s a living, breathing, dynamic entity.

Living, breathing things do one thing quite reliably: They eventually die, for all kinds of reasons. They die of natural causes, or because of direct harm. They die because of unforeseeable events. Musk very well could kill Twitter out of malice or hubris, or through calculated, boneheaded decisions. But one possibility seems more likely than others. If Twitter dies at the hands of this billionaire, the cause is likely to be tragically banal—neglect.

I think Musk is smart enough to keep the place staffed with competent tech people. But balancing free give-and-take and not allowing the site to be taken over by trolls or turned into a 4-chan clone is a harder undertaking.