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At Twitter, Elon Musk handles free speech vs 'hellscape'

At Twitter, Elon Musk handles free speech vs 'hellscape'
Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of Twitter Inc, was deluged with pleas and demands from banned account holders and world leaders just hours after launching a new era.
The flood of requests highlights the challenge that Tesla Inc's CEO faces in balancing a promise to restore free speech while preventing the platform from devolving into a "hellscape," as he promised in an open letter to advertisers on Thursday.
Former US President Donald Trump, who was permanently banned from Twitter following the Jan. 6, 2021 capitol riots on accusations of inciting violence, welcomed the takeover but said little about a return to Twitter.
"I am very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands, and will no longer be run by Radical Left Lunatics and Maniacs who truly hate our country."
Former Russian President and current Deputy Chairman of Russia's Security Council Dmitry Medvedev tweeted his congratulations: "Best wishes to @elonmusk as he battles political bias and ideological dictatorship on Twitter. And get out of that Starlink business in Ukraine."
Others urged Musk to reverse the social media platform's penalties. Musk tweeted, "I will be digging in more today" in response to @catturd2, an anonymous account with 852,000 followers known for being a big supporter of Trump's election fraud claims and who said it was "shadowbanned."
Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Russia's state-controlled broadcaster RT, asked Musk to "unban RT and Sputnik accounts and remove the shadow ban from mine as well?"
The pressure is mounting on Musk and Twitter as he prepares to address the Twitter staff on Friday after the deal is completed.
"Hey @ElonMusk, now that you own Twitter, will you help fight back against Trudeau's online censorship bill C-11?" asked Canada Proud, a group working to remove Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from office.
"First I've heard," Musk responded on Friday in a tweet.
Several employees who spoke with Reuters on Friday said management had not communicated what would happen next.
Musk was supposed to address employees on Friday, but they had not received any notice by late afternoon.
According to two people familiar with the situation, Musk's teams are looking into Twitter's code and asking questions about how various aspects of the platform work.
According to a screenshot obtained by Reuters, Musk appeared to have joined the company's Slack channel by Friday.
Musk also announced on Friday that Twitter will form a "content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints," and that no major decisions on moderation or account reinstatement will be made until the council meets.
Despite his Thursday appeal to advertisers that he hoped to make Twitter "the most respected advertising platform in the world," at least one major automaker, GM, said it had temporarily paused advertising and was working to "understand the direction of the platform under their new ownership."
Employees were also concerned about the future of their jobs. Fewer than 10% of 266 Twitter employees polled on the messaging app Blind expected to be employed in three months. After signing up for corporate emails, Blind allows employees to air their grievances anonymously.
According to people familiar with the situation, Musk fired Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal, and legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadde. He accused them of deceiving him and Twitter investors about the number of bogus accounts on the platform.
According to the sources, Agrawal and Segal were in Twitter's San Francisco headquarters when the deal closed and were escorted out.
Musk, who also owns the rocket company SpaceX, intends to take over as interim CEO of Twitter, according to a person familiar with the situation and in line with an earlier report by Reuters. Musk also intends to end permanent user bans, according to Bloomberg, citing a person familiar with the matter.
Musk walked into Twitter's headquarters on Wednesday with a big grin and a porcelain sink, later tweeting, "let that sink in." He changed the title of his Twitter profile to "Chief Twit."
European regulators also reiterated previous warnings that, under Musk's leadership, Twitter must still comply with the region's Digital Services Act, which imposes heavy fines on companies that fail to control illegal content.
"In Europe, the bird will fly by our EU rules," EU industry chief Thierry Breton tweeted on Friday morning.
Patrick Breyer, a European Parliament lawmaker and civil rights advocate, suggested that people look for alternatives where privacy is a priority.
"Twitter already knows our personalities dangerously well due to its pervasive surveillance of our every click. Now this knowledge will be falling into Musk's hands."
Musk has stated that he sees Twitter as a platform for developing a "super app" that will provide services ranging from money transfers to shopping and ride-hailing.
However, Twitter is having difficulty engaging its most active users, who are critical to the company's success. These "heavy tweeters" account for less than 10% of all monthly users but generate 90% of all tweets and half of all global revenue.
Musk will struggle to generate revenue "given that the controversial opinions he appears to want to give more leeway to are often unpalatable to advertisers," according to Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Susannah Streeter.
As word of the deal spread, some Twitter users expressed their willingness to walk away.
"I will be happy to leave in a heartbeat if Musk, well, acts as we all expect him to," said a user with the @mustlovedogsxo account.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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