The news of Tesla chief executive Elon Musk’s board seat on Twitter has some Twitter employees worried about the future of the social media firm’s ability to control content, company insiders told Reuters.
Within hours of this week’s amazing revelation that Musk, a self-described “free speech tyrant,” has gained enough shares to become a top Twitter shareholder, political conservatives have begun flooding social media with calls for Donald Trump’s return. The former US president was banned from Facebook and Twitter after the January 6 capital riots over concerns over incitement to violence.
“Now that @ElonMusk is Twitter’s largest shareholder, it’s time to lift political censorship. Oh … and bring back Trump!” Tweet Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert on Monday.
Despite Twitter’s reiteration this week that the board did not make a policy decision, four Twitter employees who spoke to Reuters said they feared Mask’s ability to influence company policies on offensive users and harmful content.
With Mask on board, employees say his views on restraint could undermine years-long efforts to make Twitter a healthier discourse and develop trolling and mob attacks.
In the wake of Trump’s ban on Facebook and Twitter, the billionaire tweeted that many people would be dissatisfied with US technology companies acting as “de facto arbitrators of freedom.”
Musk did not specify what he wanted to do as a member of the new board, but he telegraphed his motives through his Twitter activity: A week before Musk released a 9.1 percent share on Twitter, he polled his 80 million followers to see if the site complied. The principle of freedom of speech, and the majority does not vote.
Employees, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, pointed to the history of the mask to use Twitter to attack critics. In 2018, Musk came under fire for accusing a British diver who helped rescue children trapped in a cave in Thailand as a pedophile.
In 2019, Musk won a defamation suit against divers.
Asked for comment, a Twitter spokesman reiterated a statement Tuesday that the board “plays an important advisory and feedback role across our entire service,” but that day-to-day activities and decisions are taken by Twitter’s management and employees.
“Twitter is committed to the development and enforcement of its policies and regulations,” the spokesman said.
Some employees told Reuters they were not so sure about the company’s commitment in this regard. “I find it hard to believe (the board) has no influence,” said one employee. “If so, why would Elon want a board seat?”
But other employees told Reuters that Mask’s involvement could help accelerate new features and product launches and provide a new perspective as an active Twitter user.
Neither Tesla nor Mask responded to requests for comment.
Twitter’s board statistics are mainly discussed in Twitter, compared to other technology companies, an employee said. This is because unlike Meta Platform, where founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg controls the company through a dual-class share structure, Twitter has only a single class of shares which makes it more risky for employees like Mask. Teams within Twitter often consider how to communicate a strategy or decision to the board, for example, the employee said.
An employee familiar with the company’s operations said there were no current plans to reinstate Trump. A Twitter spokesman said there were no plans to reverse the policy decision.
But an experienced auto analyst who covers Tesla’s mask operating style says it’s probably a matter of time. Guidehouse Insights analyst Sam Abulsamid said, “If Donald Trump were really rich, he would love to do the same thing, but he couldn’t. So Elon is doing what Trump likes to do.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised” if Twitter now retrieves Trump’s account that Elon owns about 10 percent of the company.
In the long run, activists say Musk’s involvement could change Twitter’s corporate culture, which they say currently values inclusion. Musk has been widely criticized for posting memes mocking transgender people, trying to stem the spread of COVID-19, and comparing world leaders to Hitler.
Several employees were shocked to see the warm welcome of the mask by Twitter CEO Parag Agarwal and co-founder Jack Dorsey, which prompted them to hit the job market this week.
“Some people are dusting off their CVs,” said one person. “I don’t want to work for anyone (like Musk).”
Thomson Reuters 2022