Elon Musk tweeted "the bird is freed" when he took over Twitter last week. Musk, who has vowed to make Twitter a haven for absolute freedom of speech, promptly fired the company's top executives. He has said he plans to roll back policies against offensive and misleading posts, and establish a system to start reinstating many banned accounts. He has said he would probably clear the way for a return to Twitter for former President Donald Trump, who was permanently banned after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack for violating Twitter's policies against inciting violence.
Celebrities and other users have announced they were quitting Twitter because they don't like where Musk plans to take it. Advertisers, who account for 90 percent of Twitter's revenue, are spooked by Musk's plans to loosen rules on hate speech. IPG, one of the biggest advertising companies in the world, this week urged clients to pause Twitter ad spending. Musk said he was considering using subscriptions for verified users to help bring in more revenue, but that will take time. Is this the beginning of an exodus that will leave Musk in charge of a much smaller Twitter?
It's time to leave Twitter
Elon Musk is not responsible enough to be in control of Twitter's enormous power to inform, or misinform, says Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. Right after Musk took over Twitter, a man broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home and bashed her husband, Paul Pelosi, with a hammer. The alleged attacker had been writing blog posts praising "far-right personalities and writing diatribes against Jews, Black people," and Democrats. Musk could have condemned the violence and pledged "to use his powerful medium to advance a more civil society." Instead, he retweeted, then deleted, a post smearing Paul Pelosi.
Racial slurs increased 500 percent on Twitter in the first 12 hours Musk owned the platform, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute. The world needs a grown-up to be "culling hate speech" on Twitter, not a guy "with the impulsiveness of a child" who seems determined to make matters worse. High-profile celebrities, including Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, took this as their cue to quit Twitter. "Maybe more regular folks will abandon Twitter altogether and return to human exchanges with neighbors and friends. It's what we need."
Ignore the liberal grandstanding
The "hysterical response" by "left-wing celebrities and pundits" to Musk's Twitter takeover was entirely predictable, says Piers Morgan in the New York Post. It's like when "Donald Trump became president in 2016 and the likes of Chelsea Handler, Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus, and Cher all vowed to leave America in fury and despair, but then all stayed." And so will all the B-list Twitter users, like WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, "currently screaming 'I QUIT!'" They'll be tweeting again soon enough. "They're too addicted to the slavishly approving echo-chamber attention and sound of their own permanently whiny voices."
Still, this "ridiculous overreaction to Musk taking over Twitter has exposed a lot of the very issues that the Tesla and Space X genius has identified and wants to resolve." Many on the left resolutely refuse "to even countenance being confronted with contrary opinions without wanting to shame, vilify, and cancel those who express them." Musk knows there are too many bots, bullies, and racists spreading garbage on Twitter. He's trying to fix this. Twitter will survive. "It's an unparalleled source of news and commentary, and if you like a good argument as much as I do, it's debate Utopia."
Twitter won't become a wasteland, but it might change
We've seen this movie before, says Kaitlyn Tiffany in The Atlantic. Think back to 2018, "when #DeleteFacebook trended in response to the Cambridge Analytica data-collection scandal. Although people's frustration was clearly real, it wasn't obvious whether they would actually follow through on their commitment to abandon a major social-media platform they'd spent years using." Google Facebook. It survived.
"As someone who has spent at least several hours on Twitter nearly every day for the past eight years, I find it hard to imagine myself leaving the site unless things devolve into total chaos or worse — unless everyone else leaves, and only brands and Musk fans remain." But social media platforms do sometimes "go through major moments of transition," when big chunks of users migrate elsewhere all at once. "This could be such a turning point for Twitter." When Musk made his Twitter plans public in April, for example, right-wing users rushed back to the site and left-leaning users fled. As a result, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gained more than 96,000 followers practically overnight, and former President Barack Obama lost more than 300,000.
What matters is whether advertisers leave
Twitter, like many digital platforms, gets its revenue from advertisers, not users, says Rob Norman, a senior executive at advertising giant WPP, in The New York Times. And Twitter's income from ads "may be under significant threat very soon." Right after closing his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter, Musk sent a note to advertisers that the platform "cannot become a free-for-all hellscape." Then he contradicted his own message with misinformation about the Paul Pelosi case, amplifying the question ad buyers already were asking: "Is Twitter in the Musk era a safe place for advertisers?"
As a Twitter user, Musk "has placed no limits on his own speech." Under his ownership, the platform "seems likely to enable the inflammatory, provocative, and sometimes verifiably untrue speech of others." As a representative of one of the world's biggest ad buyers, I can tell you advertisers worry about these things. "In this case, advertisers' worries could lead them to flee en masse, costing Twitter almost all its current revenue. Without that revenue, Twitter could be a calamitous acquisition for Mr. Musk, and the very future of the platform could be at risk."