Elon Musk, a man of many hats – from Tesla CEO to SpaceX founder – the outspoken billionaire is undoubtedly already a prominent figure within contemporary discourse. Though as is often the case with public figures, the tech mogul is a polarising one. Some say he merely embodies the quintessential essence of an arrogant billionaire, but others see him as an engineering genius who possesses not just vast wealth monetarily, but philosophically too.
The South-African born CEO, with a net-worth estimated to be around $251 billion by Forbes, has stumbled from controversy to controversy in recent times. From plummeting Tesla stock by smoking marijuana on Joe Rogan’s podcast, to divisive tweets regarding pronouns, Musk has highlighted time and again his proclivity for garnering attention.
In the latest twist to the tale of the 51-year-old though, the world’s richest man finally concluded his acquisition of social media platform Twitter, after a near-six-month ordeal which saw everything from court cases to high-profile resignations.
The decision to acquire the platform which boasts nearly 500 million monthly users was, as to be expected, met with a great deal of angst by those on the left of the political spectrum, especially in the wake of Musk describing himself as a “free speech absolutist.” Already viewed in left-leaning circles as a problematic individual after his criticising of pandemic response measures, his ardent exaltation of the First Amendment did little to relieve their pre-existing fears.
Despite only being in the position of Twitter CEO for a number of weeks, the reign of Elon Musk has already brought about sweeping changes on the platform once dubbed a “global town square” by former CEO Dick Costolo. Perhaps the most jolting of these being the firing of the company’s 7,500 strong workforce, with thousands already laid off and the final numbers of firings expected to total roughly 50% of employees.
In terms of the user experience, Musk has also introduced the controversial charge of $8 a month for the some 420,000 verified users on Twitter. The much-sought-after blue tick is a totem of legitimacy on the platform, indicating that the user is in fact who they claim to be. However, many detractors of the plan have pointed out the hypocrisy in charging a subset of users to participate in what is supposedly the “global town square”.
Content guidelines are also set to be radically overhauled, although the extent of the lay-offs at Twitter HQ have put that topic temporarily on the backburner. Moreover, there is also expected to be a wide-ranging reinstatement of previously banned accounts, with the likes of former US President Donald Trump in line for a return to the platform he once dominated.
Other muted changes include the introduction of different tiers of Twitter, in which there are separate outlets for differing types of content, along with the possibility of charging users for the privilege of being able to view videos on the platform – although these changes appear to be little more than speculation at present.
So, will Musk’s abrasive personality and cultish following drive people to alternative social media platforms, or is the addiction to Twitter too deep-seated to be broken for the majority of its users? Time will ultimately be the juror, but in all likelihood, the allure of a 280-character monologue is too hard to resist.
Rory Fleming – Politics Correspondent