Will Elon Musk, 51, resign as the CEO of Twitter — the world’s most influential social media platform?
It has been several hours after a surprising poll posted by Musk resulted in 57.5% of participants (more than 10 million users) voting that he should step down as head of the social media company.
Then in an equally chaotic about-turn, the billionaire reinstated the journalists’ accounts. However the step drew massive condemnation from news organisations, top advocacy groups and elected officials across the US and beyond.
On Sunday, Twitter went ahead and banned accounts that promoted rival social media platforms such as Facebook, drawing questions even from long-time Musk supporters, including Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.
What’s in store for Twitter?
The social media company has been faced with a rocky few months — ever since Musk took over. He began by laying off half of the company’s staff; firing others who disagreed with him; and welcoming back onto the platform previously banned figures who trafficked in misinformation, conspiracy theories, and hate speech.
What baffled many was Musk’s decision (he is a self-declared ‘free speech’ absolutist) to ban an account that tracked the location of his private jet (mass suspension of journalists who reported on the ban followed).
This triggered a major rewrite of Twitter’s rules and also highlighted how the Twitter boss was allowing his personal preferences to colour his professional commitments towards a hugely influential platform used by hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Given his run-ins with media and his almost non-stop propensity to generate headlines, investors and shareholders at Tesla are spooked. Already Tesla is one of the worst performing stocks among major car makers and technology companies this year, as investors worry that Musk’s buyout of Twitter is diverting his attention.
Alarm bells at Tesla
Last week the value of Tesla shares — listed on the technology-heavy Nasdaq index in New York — closed below $500 billion for the first time since 2020. At the end of last year the company was worth more than $1 trillion but its value has slumped in recent months.
Musk completed the takeover of Twitter in October 2022 and since then has focused a significant amount of his time on the business. He has sold billions of dollars worth of Tesla shares to help fund his purchase, which helped to push the shares down.
Not surprisingly, this week Musk lost his position as the world’s richest person after a massive drop in the value of his shares in Tesla.
But as things stand, Musk remains the majority owner of Twitter — a privately held company — and there is little anyone can do to force him out.
While many of Musk’s closest backers are anxious, some are even breaking ties with him, with the biggest names in the industry and politics openly starting to critise his style and leadership.
Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the world’s largest private philanthropic organisation, hit out Tuesday.
“I think, certainly, the Twitter situation is stirring things up. That, instead of an objective set of measures done by a broad group of people, you’re sort of seeing seat-of-the-pants type activity,” he told Financial Times.
Gates, the world’s fourth-richest person, who heads the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said social media platforms “need to focus on the things that incite riots or lead to huge misconceptions about the safety of vaccines or masks, or those types of things”.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, is among those who have spoken out against Musk in recent days, asking whether the Twitter CEO has created a series of conflicts of interest with and misappropriation of resources from Tesla, the electric carmaker he also runs.
In a letter to the Tesla board, the 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate asked whether the carmaker’s investors have been harmed by the billionaire tech mogul’s time running the social network.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others also blasted Twitter CEO for banning people on the platform. “You’re a public figure. An extremely controversial and powerful one,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet.
“I get feeling unsafe, but descending into abuse of power + erratically banning journalists only increases the intensity around you.”
Advertisers take note
Advertisers are taking note too — with half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers pausing their ads. There have been multiple reports on Tesla investors increasingly frustrated with “Musk’s erratic behaviour.”
As one investor put it, sounding like the exasperated parent of a toddler, “You’ve got a great car company — just stop it.”
A few days ago Tesla’s third-largest individual shareholder, Leo KoGuan, called on Musk to step down as Tesla CEO, tweeting, “Elon abandoned Tesla and Tesla has no working CEO. Tesla needs and deserves to have working full time CEO.”
Ads for blue-chip brands including Jeep and Mars candy, whose corporate parents were among the top 100 US advertisers on Twitter in the six months before Musk’s purchase, are also reportedly holding back.
Pharmaceutical company Merck, cereal maker Kellogg, Verizon and Samuel Adams brewer Boston Beer also have stopped their advertising in recent weeks, per Washington Post.
Vox Populi, Vox Dei
Musk, true to his form, seemingly unfazed by the storm building up around Twitter, asked users whether he should step down as the head of the company, promising to abide by the results of his poll. When the poll closed on Monday, 57.5% said he should step down.
A prolific user of the platform, Musk did not tweet for long hours post the poll results. He finally broke his studied silence when he responded with “Interesting” to multiple suggestions that the results of the poll were skewed by fake accounts.
Replying to a Twitter user’s suggestion that “Blue subscribers should be the only ones that can vote in policy related polls”, Musk said: “Good point. Twitter will make that change.”
A day after nearly 10 million people voted in favour of him stepping down as Twitter’s chief executive, who knows if Musk will bow out or come up with something entirely unpredictable.
Watch this space.
(With inputs from agencies)