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After many delays, Elon Musk is now the proud owner of Twitter

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Elon Musk says he doesn't want Twitter to become a free-for-all hellscape, which, I suppose, is a good starting point.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

An intriguing statement because Musk previously said he was a free speech absolutist. But now as he takes ownership of Twitter, his first move was to reassure advertisers that the site should be warm and welcoming for people. Hard to say what the billionaire may do with the social media site, which most people do not use, but which has a huge influence over news coverage. His very first move was to fire top executives, including the CEO.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Raquel Maria Dillon with us this morning.

Hey, Raquel.

RAQUEL MARIA DILLON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So his first move, Elon Musk, started out by clearing up the C-suite, huh?

DILLON: Yeah. He started with firing Twitter's CEO, Parag Agrawal, along with its chief financial officer and top lawyer. Also, the head of public policy, Vijaya Gadde, was dismissed. She called the shots on suspending Twitter accounts and has been criticized for that and called Twitter's chief censor. Elon Musk is showing that after all the flip-flopping and legal drama, it's his company now, and he's going to run it his way.

Of course, he tweeted about it. On his Twitter bio page, he has renamed himself chief twit. Then he referenced the company's bird logo last night. The bird has been freed.

MARTIN: OK. So Twitter has struggled financially. We should just say this. It's not nearly as big as Facebook, or it's not growing like TikTok is. This is obviously a priority for him. What's his plan?

DILLON: Yeah. It's not consistently profitable, but Musk says he can turn it around by slimming down the workforce. So Twitter employees are worried about layoffs and that the site will change for the worse, in their opinion. Musk is planning to hold an all-staff meeting today, so we could learn more after that.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, he sent out this message to advertisers on Twitter yesterday, right? What did we learn from that?

DILLON: Well, I think it's telling that his most substantial comments in months were not to Twitter users or staff, but to its advertisers.

MARTIN: Right.

DILLON: He wrote that he's buying Twitter because he wants, quote, "a common digital town square where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner." This was in response to advertisers wondering whether Twitter is a good place to showcase their brands going forward. Big brands don't want their carefully crafted ad campaigns to show up next to posts that spew hate and vitriol. Eighty-nine percent of Twitter's revenue is from ads.

MARTIN: Yeah.

DILLON: So Musk wrote that Twitter should be a respected advertising platform and warm and welcoming to all.

MARTIN: But let's get down to basics, Raquel. How is Twitter going to change for the people who use it?

DILLON: He's complained that Twitter does too much content moderation. He talks about being a free speech absolutist, as you noted.

MARTIN: Yeah.

DILLON: And that might not be compatible with warm and welcoming for all. He said he would reinstate former President Donald Trump's account. It was suspended after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The reaction to the deal from critics has been swift. The watchdog group Accountable Tech said Musk's erratic behavior and tweets about Ukraine and Russia make this acquisition a national security threat. It wants Congress to investigate.

Look, Musk has a huge personality. He's divisive. He's also super successful in business and manufacturing. He has wrangled assembly lines at Tesla, designed rockets at SpaceX. But social media is different. Realizing his vision of Twitter could be a lot messier.

MARTIN: OK. We'll have to wait and see. NPR's Michele Maria Dillon.

Thank you.

DILLON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Raquel Maria Dillon
Raquel Maria Dillon has worked on both sides of the country, on both sides of the mic, at Member stations and now as an editor with Morning Edition. She specializes in documenting wildfires and other national disasters, translating the intricacies of policy into plain English and explaining the implications of climate change.