20 December 2022

What now for Elon Musk and Twitter?

20 December 2022

The future of Twitter under Elon Musk remains shrouded in uncertainty after the billionaire appeared to ignore an online poll saying he should step down.

On Monday, more than 57% of users who voted in a poll Musk posted on Twitter said he should quit as chief executive.

Musk had said he would respect the result – but after the figures were revealed he fell silent before returning to Twitter to suggest future polls should only be open to those who pay for the Twitter Blue subscription service.

He also appeared to agree with a suggestion the vote was skewed by fake accounts.

The ongoing saga has led to further questions about the stability of the entrepreneur’s reign after a turbulent two months in charge of the site, with some asking if he always planned to run Twitter in this fashion or is now simply bored with his latest purchase and is looking for something more impactful elsewhere.

While appearing in court in the US in November as part of a Tesla case, Musk said he expected to find someone else to handle the day-to-day running of Twitter “over time”, but his apparent stubbornness over the poll result suggests he may not be planning to step aside just yet.

Now the Tesla boss has been accused by Bill Gates of causing more polarisation on the platform with his push for more free speech and more relaxed content moderation, with the Microsoft founder telling the Financial Times Musk’s “seat-of-the-pants” decision-making style is “stirring up” online division.

His chaotic tenure at the social media platform has also begun to worry Tesla shareholders, who have seen the value of their stocks drop substantially since Musk took over Twitter in October and oversaw a number of controversial decisions which commentators suggested are damaging his credibility with his investors and, crucially, his personal wealth.

Advertisers too have shown their concern at the direction the company has taken under the billionaire, with many pausing their advertising spend on the platform over worries about the sort of content their brands could appear next to.

This external pressure is believed to be one of the reasons Musk publicly suggested stepping down as chief executive, but the lack of a clear acknowledgment of the result has only created more uncertainty, it has been argued.

Thomas Walters, co-founder of marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy, said even Musk’s departure as chief executive may not be enough to settle some Twitter stakeholders.

“Under Musk’s ownership, Twitter has been dogged by uncertainty. And, if there’s one thing advertisers need from platforms, it’s reassurance,” he said.

“Although Musk’s departure may be a step in the right direction for restoring some trust amongst brands in the platform, it does however add even further uncertainty to its short-term future.

“Who will be in charge? Once they’ve been put in place, how much operational influence will Musk continue to have? What will the updated content moderation policies look like? These are just some of the many questions advertisers will be asking, and the answers are unlikely to arrive soon.

“Even when the answers do come, it’s hard to say whether or not they will be enough to reassure advertisers that Twitter is a brand-safe environment.”

As he posted the poll on his leadership future, the Tesla boss said there is “no successor” lined up and warned users to be careful what they wish for.

What role Musk will play in that future remains unclear.

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