It’s official: Elon Musk has reached a deal to buy Twitter for about $44 billion. The move not only makes the social media platform a privately owned company, it could also spell out big changes for Twitter users.
After news of the purchase broke Monday, Musk released the following statement:
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated. I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”
Musk, an avid user of Twitter with more than 83.5 million followers, has previously suggested these changes. Here’s what we know about them.
An edit button
On April 1, Twitter said it was working on an edit button, a feature that would allow users to change or correct tweets after they are posted. While some users chalked it up as an April Fools’ joke, Musk – then the platform’s largest outside stakeholder – tweeted a poll asking followers if they wanted an edit button.
Of the more than 4.4 million voters in his poll, 75% said they wanted the option. The next day, Jay Sullivan, head of consumer product for Twitter, tweeted, “We’ve been exploring how to build an Edit feature in a safe manner since last year and plan to begin testing it within Twitter Blue Labs in the coming months.”
Twitter Blue, a paid subscription option on Twitter, allows users to cancel a tweet before anyone else sees it, but even being a paying subscriber doesn’t yet give you access to an edit button.
Twitter co-founder and Musk friend Jack Dorsey said in a 2020 interview with Wired that the company would “probably never” create an edit button, noting that while it would be helpful for some errors, it could give way to malicious changes to tweets. Dorsey stepped down as Twitter’s CEO in 2021.
No more ads or Bots
In a series of tweets earlier this month, Musk suggested multiple changes to Twitter, including dropping ads and bots from the platform.
“The power of corporations to dictate policy is greatly enhanced if Twitter depends on advertising money to survive,” Musk said at the time. Nearly 90% of Twitter’s revenue in 2021 came from advertising. Twitter did announce last week, on Earth Day, that it would no longer allow advertisers on its site who deny the scientific consensus on climate change.
While he didn’t touch on ads in his statement released Monday, Musk did state that he wants to “[defeat] the spam bots” on the platform. Twitter recently reported about 5% of its users are bots, but noted “not all bots are bad” and that “good bots” are being labeled.
Musk previously suggested improving Twitter’s authentication of verified user accounts, saying it would discourage the proliferation of spam accounts by making them too expensive to maintain.
Opening the algorithm
Ever felt like your algorithm has somehow sucked you into staying on Twitter or any other social media platform? Musk wants to tackle that, too.
Last month, Musk tweeted the “Twitter algorithm should be open source.” Dorsey even expressed his agreement. Twitter did roll out a feature in early March allowing users to alternate their timelines between seeing posts in chronological order and an algorithmic order. Just a few days later, Twitter walked back the change.
Musk hasn’t offered many details about an open-source algorithm but explained during a recent TED Talk that users should be able to see if tweets have been promoted or demoted. He also said users should be able to view the algorithm and offer improvements to it. A former Twitter employee told The Washington Post that the company has already considered an “algorithm marketplace” that would allow users to choose how their feed looks.
Musk has previously asked followers in a Twitter poll if they believed the platform was protecting free speech. About 70% of the 2 million who responded said “no.” In his statement Monday, Musk called free speech “the bedrock of a functioning democracy” with Twitter serving as “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
Censorship on social media has been a major talking point, especially among right-leaning users. A recent study by MIT and Yale researchers found more Republican users were suspended within a six-month period, but that these users tended to share “more news from misinformation,” which Twitter has been working to remove from its site.
Musk has detailed some specific potential changes surrounding free speech on Twitter — like favoring temporary rather than permanent bans — but has mostly described his aim in broad and abstract terms. He has described himself as a “free-speech absolutist” but is also known for blocking other Twitter users who question or disagree with him.
Sources told Bloomberg Monday that any changes to Twitter itself have been “locked down” through Friday, meaning any updates to the product aren’t allowed unless they are “business critical.”
The Associated Press and Nexstar’s Jeremy Tanner contributed to this report.