Musk starts his Twitter ownership with layoffs, says ‘the bird is free’


  • Musk says ‘the bird is free’ after $44 billion deal
  • Musk fires Twitter CEO, CFO and chief policy officer
  • Some Twitter users are signaling their willingness to walk away
  • Survey shows employee concerns at work
  • EU warns: ‘This bird will fly by our rules’

NEW YORK, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Elon Musk has taken over Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) with brutal efficiency, laying off top executives but providing little clarity on how he will achieve the ambitions he has set for the influential social media platform.

“The bird is released,” he tweeted after completing his $44 billion acquisition on Thursday, referencing Twitter’s bird logo in an apparent nod to his desire to see the company have fewer limits on the content that can be published.

The CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and self-proclaimed free speech absolutist, however, also said he wanted to prevent the platform from becoming an echo chamber for hate and division.

Other goals include wanting to “defeat” spambots on Twitter and making the algorithms that determine how content is presented to its users publicly available.

Still, Musk did not give details on how he will achieve all of this and who will run the company. He said he planned to cut jobs, leaving Twitter’s 7,500 employees to worry about their future. He also said on Thursday that he didn’t buy Twitter to make more money but “to try to help humanity, which I love.”

Less than 10% of the 266 Twitter employees who took part in a survey of messaging app Blind expected to still have their jobs in three months. Blind allows employees to report complaints anonymously after signing up with company emails.

Musk has fired Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal and chief legal and policy officer Vijaya Gadde, according to people familiar with the matter. He had accused them of misleading him and Twitter investors about the number of fake accounts on the platform.

Agrawal and Segal were at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco when the deal was struck and were being escorted out, the sources added.

Musk, who also runs rocket company SpaceX, is considering becoming Twitter’s interim CEO according to a person familiar with the matter and following an earlier Reuters report. Musk also plans to remove permanent user bans, Bloomberg said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Twitter, Musk and executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘CHIEF TWIT’

Before closing the deal, Musk walked into Twitter headquarters on Wednesday with a big smile and a porcelain sink, then tweeting “let this sink in.” He changed his Twitter profile description to “Chief Twit”.

Musk said in May that he would reverse the Twitter ban of Donald Trump, whose account was deleted after the attack on the US Capitol. A representative for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters, but the former US president previously said he would not return to the platform and instead launched his own social media app, Truth. Social.

Musk tried to allay fears among Twitter employees about major layoffs coming and assured advertisers that his past criticism of Twitter’s content moderation rules would not hurt his appeal.

“Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said without consequences!” Musk said Thursday in an open letter to advertisers.

As news of the deal spread, some Twitter users were quick to signal their willingness to walk away.

“I’ll be happy to be gone in a heartbeat if Musk, well, acts like we all expect him to,” said one account user @mustlovedogsxo.

European regulators also reiterated past warnings that, under Musk’s leadership, Twitter must still abide by the region’s Digital Services Act, which imposes stiff fines on companies if they fail to police illegal content.

“In Europe, the bird will fly according to our European rules,” European industry chief Thierry Breton tweeted on Friday morning.

European Parliament lawmaker and civil rights advocate Patrick Breyer suggested people look for alternatives where privacy is a priority.

“Twitter already knows our personalities dangerously well due to its ubiquitous monitoring of our every click. Now that knowledge will fall into Musk’s hands.”

Musk said he sees Twitter as a base for creating a “great app” that offers everything from money transfers to shopping and carpooling.

But Twitter is struggling to engage its most active users who are vital to the business. These “big tweeters” represent less than 10% of global monthly users, but generate 90% of all tweets and half of global revenue.

Musk will face a challenge to generate revenue “given that the controversial views he seems to want to give more freedom to are often distasteful to advertisers,” said Susannah Streeter, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

A SAGA

The road to completing the deal was full of twists and turns that cast doubt on whether it would happen at all. It all started on April 4, when Musk disclosed a 9.2% stake on Twitter, becoming the company’s largest shareholder.

The world’s richest person then agreed to join Twitter’s board, only to balk at the last minute and offer to buy the company instead for $54.20 a share.

Over a single weekend later in April, the two sides reached an agreement without Musk performing due diligence on confidential company information.

In the weeks that followed, Musk had second thoughts. He complained publicly about Twitter’s spam accounts and his lawyers then accused Twitter of not complying with his requests for information on the subject.

The acrimony led Musk to tell Twitter on July 8 that he was ending the deal. Four days later, Twitter sued Musk to force him to complete the acquisition.

At that time, the stock market had plunged due to fears of a possible recession. Twitter accused Musk of buyer’s remorse, arguing he wanted out of the deal because he thought he overpaid. Most legal analysts thought Twitter would likely prevail in court.

On October 4, Musk made another U-turn, offering to complete the deal as promised. He managed to do so, just a day before a deadline to avoid going to trial.

Twitter shares ended trade on Thursday up 0.3% at $53.86, just below the agreed price. The stock will be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

Reuters Charts Reuters Charts

Reporting by Sheila Dang and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemain in Paris, Foo Yun Chee in Brussels, Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi and Miyoung Kim in Singapore, Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm and Anirban Sen in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Edwina Gibbs, Matt Scuffham, Elaine Hardcastle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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