Oct 30, 2022
Elon Musk fires Twitter executives, promises overhaul after taking over platform Transcript
Billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk now owns Twitter after completing a $44 billion takeover of the social media platform. Read the transcript here.
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Judy Woodruff (00:00):
Billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk now owns Twitter after finally completing a $44 billion takeover of the social media platform. Within hours, he fired several top executives and he took the company private today at $54.20 cents a share. It’s raising a number of concerns over misinformation, hate speech, and the future of the company. Amna Nawaz has our look.
Amna Nawaz (00:26):
Judy, Elon Musk has promised to roll back content moderation policies and restore some suspended users including former President Donald Trump, who today praised the takeover on social media. It’s all part of Musk’s plan to prioritize free speech on the platform. But critics fear the site could be overrun with hate speech, bots, and disinformation. Yesterday, Musk tweeted a message on that to Twitter advertisers saying, “The reason I acquired Twitter is because it’s important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner. That said, Twitter obviously cannot become a free for all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences.”
For more on this, I’m joined by Elizabeth Lopatto, she’s senior writer at The Verge and author of the newsletter this week in Elon. Welcome to the NewsHour. Thanks for joining us. So let’s just start with what we know so far.
Elizabeth Lopatto (01:20):
Amna Nawaz (01:21):
Elon Musk has been in charge for one day. He’s already made some big changes. Tell us about those and also why on earth he walked into the Twitter headquarters carrying a sink.
Elizabeth Lopatto (01:34):
Well, I think Elon Musk is one of the better known Twitter users on the platform, and there is a meme of letting that sink in, letting an idea sink in, and the man loves puns, so there you are. As for his changes, if you’re familiar with the court case, you know that we got a bunch of his text messages when it seemed like he was trying to get out of this deal, and he initially was going to join Twitter’s board rather than take over the company. But after the former CEO, Parag Agrawal, asked him to refrain from making fun of Twitter on Twitter, Musk two minutes later, and the text log is like, “Actually, I don’t think I need to be on the board.” And after that, he launched his takeover bid. So he seems to be not very fond of Agrawal or anybody who reported directly to him as there was a mass firing last night of executives-
Amna Nawaz (02:38):
Agrawal you mentioned among those firings, right? But I also want to ask you about what this means sort of writ large for the company. I mean, $44 billion is what he paid. We’re talking about a whopping 54.20 a share. Is this actually good for Twitter as a company?
Elizabeth Lopatto (02:54):
Well, it’s certainly good for Twitter shareholders. I mean, this is an also ran social network and Musk priced in the premium before the market’s declined. So actually, if you’re a Twitter shareholder, this is great. Maybe if you’re working at the company, it’s less great. He’s talked about cutting costs and getting rid of employees that shows up in the texts. There was reporting earlier this week from the Washington Post that’s 75% of employees could expect to be fired. Twitter was already facing layoffs before the Musk bid of at least 25% of staff, so I think there are a lot of people right now at the company who are worried about their jobs. Separately, he’s talked a little bit about wanting to get rid of spambots and wanting to promote free speech, and those two things do seem to be a little bit opposed because they’re both content moderation issues. And if you get rid of the people who are doing content moderation naturally, there are going to be more spambots.
Amna Nawaz (03:49):
So let’s talk about what this means for the future of Twitter, because if you look at some Pew numbers at what people experienced before Musk took over, you see about what? One in five adults, US adults, are actually on Twitter. That’s the world we’re talking about. Of those, about one in five say that they’ve experienced some kind of harassment or abusive behavior on Twitter, and that was before the takeover.
Here is where I now take you to the reporting of Drew Harwell over at the Washington Post who reported this morning that overnight there were rampant racial slurs being tweeted across the platform when user tweeting, “Elon now controls Twitter, unleashed the racial slurs” and then tweeting racial slurs for Jewish people and Black people. These have been retweeted and shared thousands of times. Is this what the future of Twitter holds?
Elizabeth Lopatto (04:34):
Honestly, it’s hard to tell. A platform that’s full of racial slurs is not very friendly to advertisers, and Twitter gets 89% of its revenue right now from advertisers. So I think that’s why we saw that statement on Thursday. But the other thing that I will say is, immediately before this show some of the car companies that advertise on Twitter, GM is the one I’m thinking specifically of, have started canceling their advertising runs. So I think if we do find more racial slurs, more harassment, more abuse, that’s not really a brand safe environment. It’s not an environment a lot of advertisers want to be in, and he’s going to have a very hard time meeting the numbers he needs to meet in order to pay off the debt that he use to buy this company.
So the other thing that’s maybe worth keeping in mind for those of you who are not super familiar with Elon Musk is that he says he’s going to do a lot of things and then does maybe like half of them. So it’s still pretty hard to tell what’s actually going to happen over the next weeks to months even.
Amna Nawaz (05:41):
Elizabeth, do you see him on that point? Do you see him allowing former President Trump back on the platform? He said he was open to it.
Elizabeth Lopatto (05:48):
You know, I imagine that’s what his oversight board is for, because I think one of the things that’s important here is that Elon Musk’s reputation is on the line. And so if Musk himself is personally responsible for returning Trump and then Trump misbehaves, the consequences for Musk are maybe not great. I think the oversight board announced today where he says he wants diverse viewpoints is partially meant to shield him from that kind of blow back.
Amna Nawaz (06:13):
Of course, we’ll all be watching and following and worth reminding people that former President Trump was banned because leaders at Twitter were worried after January 6th that his tweets could actually foment more violence on the ground. That is Elizabeth Lopatto, senior writer at The Verge joining us tonight. Thank you so much.
Elizabeth Lopatto (06:30):