Tech billionaire Elon Musk has formally taken control of Twitter after months of uncertainty. Late Thursday, Musk tweeted, “the bird has been freed,” a reference to Twitter’s logo.
Now, the real questions are whether the billionaire Tesla CEO will reactivate former President Donald Trump’s account… and how advertisers will react.
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Twitter’s users, advertisers, and employees are parsing Musk’s every move in an effort to guess where he might take the company — but the mercurial tech executive has not made the job easy.
In April, Musk stirred speculation about reactivating Trump’s Twitter account.
Shortly afterward, Trump vowed to never return to Twitter even if allowed. Trump told CNBC at the time, “No, I won’t be going back on Twitter” and said he was happy with his own social media company, Truth Social.
The former president has since ramped up his presence on his competing service.
However, Trump has remained silent on the subject recently.
Some advertisers have reportedly vowed to boycott Twitter in the event of Trump’s reactivation.
Kieley Taylor, global head of partnerships at the ad-buying agency GroupM, spoke to the Wall Street Journal Friday.
Taylor told the paper that twelve big-name clients have ordered the ad-buying agency to pause all their Twitter advertisements upon Trump’s reactivation.
In other words, these clients would boycott Twitter not only in the event of Trump returning, but also merely in the event of Musk allowing Trump to return.
Other clients are planning to wait and see, Taylor said.
“That doesn’t mean that we won’t be entertaining lots of emails and phone calls as soon as a transaction goes through,” Taylor told the Journal. “I anticipate we’ll be busy.”
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Musk has criticized Twitter’s dependence on advertisers, but made a statement Thursday that seemed aimed at soothing their fears. He has complained about restrictions on speech on the platform — but then vowed he wouldn’t let it become a “hellscape.” And for months it wasn’t even clear if he wanted to control the company at all.
In his first big move earlier on Thursday, Musk said that he is buying the platform to help humanity. Musk expressly wants to “have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner.”
However, the tech billionaire said Twitter “cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!”
Musk expressly aimed to make Twitter “warm and welcoming to all” and vowed to abide by speech laws, like the European Union’s speech codes.
As concerns rise about the direction of Twitter’s content moderation, European Union Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted to Musk on Friday that “In Europe, the bird will fly by our rules.”
Breton and Musk met in May and appeared in a video together in which Musk said he agreed with the 27-nation bloc’s strict new online regulations. Its Digital Services Act threatens big tech companies with billions in fines if they don’t police their platforms for insulting content,hate speech, and disinformation
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Musk himself sent a message to advertisers —
Dear Twitter Advertisers pic.twitter.com/GMwHmInPAS
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 27, 2022
“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is 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, without resorting to violence,” Musk wrote in an uncharacteristically long message for the Tesla CEO, who typically projects his thoughts in one-line tweets.
He continued: “There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.”
Musk has previously expressed distaste for advertising and Twitter’s dependence on it, suggesting more emphasis on other business models such as paid subscriptions that won’t allow big corporations to dictate policy on how social media operates. But on Thursday, he assured advertisers he wants Twitter to be “the most respected advertising platform in the world.”
The note is a shift from Musk’s position that Twitter is unfairly infringing on free speech rights, said Pinar Yildirim, associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
But it’s also a realization that having no content moderation is bad for business, putting Twitter at risk of losing advertisers and subscribers, she said.
“You do not want a place where consumers just simply are bombarded with things they do not want to hear about, and the platform takes no responsibility,” Yildirim said.
Thursday’s note to advertisers shows a newfound emphasis on advertising revenue, especially a need for Twitter to provide more “relevant ads” — which typically means targeted ads that rely on collecting and analyzing users’ personal information.
Google and Facebook have long reigned as the king and queen of microtargeted advertisements, but Facebook has fallen on hard times. In fact, Facebook’s parent company reportedly no longer ranks among the country’s 20 most valuable companies as of Thursday.
Meanwhile, Twitter has historically relied on more general advertisements.
As Twitter’s new owner, Musk might try to fill the void left by Facebook… if he retains advertisers by stiff-arming Trump.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.