Tesla boss Elon Musk’s path to turning Twitter into a money-making platform where anyone can say anything looks difficult for experts.
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Musk’s $44 billion deal to buy the global messaging platform has yet to gain the support of shareholders and regulators.
And while Musk hasn’t revealed any detailed details about how he would run the business side of Twitter, he has expressed his enthusiasm for reducing content moderation to a legal minimum and monetizing subscriptions.
“Besides advocating for free speech, Musk has not formulated a vision of what the platform could be,” Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi told AFP.
“He hasn’t said whether Twitter has an age problem, a geographic bias, who the biggest competitor is — what else he thinks.”
Musk’s talk of ditching Twitter’s advertising model for revenue and relying instead on subscriptions doesn’t seem feasible, Baird Equity Research analyst Colin Sebastian said in a note to investors.
“Elon Musk has floated the idea of dropping the ad revenue model,” Sebastian said.
“We have a hard time believing this will happen at all unless he plans to fund interest payments on debt out of his own pocket.”
Analysts doubt Twitter users would pay massively for premium content or features like message retweeting when social media platforms like Facebook are free. Musk could try to sell posts or ask other websites to pay for anything they use from tweets.
Musk’s stance as a free speech absolutist also promises to undermine the advertising on which Twitter currently depends for revenue.
Brands are averse to linking their ads to controversial content, such as misinformation or messages that could do real harm, analysts agreed.
Pressing heavily on subscriptions is likely to decrease audiences on Twitter, while allowing more controversial posts creates a “toxic environment” that deters advertisers, said Lauren Walden of Tinuiti, a specialist digital marketing firm.
As Twitter grapples with profitability, Musk has been lurking for hefty interest payments from financing arranged to buy the San Francisco-based company.
Meanwhile, US lawmakers are already threatening to amend a law that exempts internet platforms from responsibility for what users post. They could use a Musk-run Twitter as a poster child for the effort.
Roadmap for trolls?
Musk’s argument about getting rid of “bots,” software-powered accounts that fire messages and verify user identities, encounters privacy concerns and the very free speech right he claims to cherish, academics noted.
“Spam is a form of free speech,” said Chris Bail, a professor of sociology at Duke University.
“Some of the proposals Musk made there may be contradictory.”
Changes Musk plans for Twitter include making public the software the platform runs on, showing people how messages are processed, and even recommending tweaks.
Making Twitter software “open source” would allow users to gain insight and control over the platform, but would provide “uncivilized actors” with instructions on how to better distribute their messages, Bail told AFP.
“Paradoxically, open sourcing the platform might make it easier for trolls to dominate the platform,” Bail said.
Musk would take control of Twitter while still running electric car maker Tesla; tunnel drilling company Boring Company; SpaceX’s private space exploration and a Neuralink project to synchronize brains with computers.
“It’s like he’s collecting CEO jobs,” Enderle Group tech analyst Rob Enderle joked.
“Maybe with 10 he will get free coffee.”
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was heavily criticized for dividing his time by running digital payments company Block, then called Square, while head of Twitter.
However, Musk is a proven success as a businessman and the world’s richest person.
“The only thing that makes me pause is that he has expertise in engineering firms, but Twitter is really not an engineering firm,” Bail said.
“It’s not about teaching a car to drive itself, it’s about serving people’s interests.”
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