Is Musk bad for business?
Good morning! Elon Musk is now on the board of Twitter and wants to make “significant improvements” with his newfound power. Does Elon just want an edit button (like all of us) or is he going all in on anarchy? We’ll soon find out. I'm Nat Rubio-Licht and I officially hate desert hiking after spraining my ankle in Joshua Tree. 🥲
Elon rules the roost
Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal announced Tuesday that Elon Musk would be joining the platform's board of directors a day after it was revealed that Musk is now Twitter’s largest shareholder. As a long-time Twitter user with a following of more than 80 million, Musk has become a favorite among the company’s higher-ups: Former CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted Tuesday morning that he’s wanted Musk on the board “for a long time.”
Musk has complained that Twitter limits free speech, even teasing that he was giving “serious thought” to starting his own social media platform. Instead, he may be bringing these ideas to Twitter. Agrawal seemingly sees Musk’s problems with Twitter as a plus, calling him both a “passionate believer and intense critic of the service.”
Twitter may no longer be just a place for Elon Musk to make outlandish promises and Tesla announcements. Now, it could be a place for him to make changes — potentially problematic ones, at that.
Musk’s ideas might be bad for business. The Tesla CEO calls himself a “free speech absolutist” who wants Twitter to open-source its algorithm. Both of those concepts would destabilize Twitter’s existence as a money-making enterprise.
- If Musk pushed Twitter to adopt a laissez-faire policy toward content moderation, trolls would run free on the platform. That would be bad for both average users and advertisers.
- “Few large brands would want their message adjacent to a tweet accusing a cave rescuer of pedophilia or objectively violating securities laws,” Brian Wieser, digital media agency GroupM’s global president of business intelligence, told Protocol, referencing two things Musk actually did on Twitter. “Large brands generally don't want to be associated with the extremes of what some call free speech in the same way that advertisers wouldn’t want their message to be associated with someone yelling fire in a crowded theater.”
- The open-source Twitter algorithm Musk wants may also be a business risk — and potentially a security one. It would also give spammers a road map to manipulating the feed.
Musk’s status as Twitter’s troll-in-chief could open the floodgates. Critics of Musk’s appointment to the board are concerned that Musk’s influence will revert the platform back to a darker time, before the company got serious about content moderation and abuse prevention. Folks still face harassment on Twitter, and rolling back those efforts would make the user experience worse.
- “I hope the team at Twitter is figuring out how to limit Musk's influence. They've been making progress on harassment, and now they're a target. He wants to take them back to a free-for-all, and most users don't want that at all,” tweeted former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao.
- “Wish they would have taken any of the many other suggestions of active users who could have been added to the board over the years,” tweeted Glitch CEO Anil Dash. “Including those who are developers or experienced creators of healthy communities.”
- But not everyone thinks Musk will take free speech to the extreme. Respondology President Erik Swain, whose company moderates social media comments on brands’ posts, told Protocol that Musk is “not trying to say people should be able to be absolutely brutal and toxic on Twitter or any other platform in my opinion.” Swain added: “He's trying to make sure that open discussions and discourse continue to happen from people of different political parties or viewpoints or philosophies.” That’s certainly an optimistic viewpoint.
Twitter may have some safeguards in place. The company’s corporate governance for its board of directors states that certain topics are “unrelated to [their] duties and responsibilities." These include product complaints and inquiries, as well as new product suggestions.
- But The New York Times reported that, "Unlike some other Twitter board members, Mr. Musk did not sign an agreement that forbade him from influencing the company’s policies." So he may still have latitude to work with Agrawal on some of the aspects of the social network that he's been vocal about.
- Musk did, however, agree as a condition of his board membership not to own more than a 14.9% stake in Twitter (he currently owns 9.2%) or take over the company.
- Twitter spokesperson Adrian Zamora also told The Verge that the company wouldn’t let any special treatment fly when it comes to Musk's use of the social network, adding that it is “committed to impartiality” in developing and enforcing its rules. Despite Musk’s new seat of power, he still has to follow the same rule book as every other Twitter user.
This is Elon Musk we’re talking about, though. He’s notorious for not playing by the rules — not even the federal regulations that his companies are required to follow by law. Will he take over Twitter, start his own social network (as he tweeted about in March) or tire of being a social media star and go back to shooting rockets into space? Knowing Musk, all of the above.
On the calendar
How is the infrastructure rollout going — and what does it mean for tech?
It’s been almost six months since Congress passed the landmark $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. With bad data to go on, like inaccurate broadband maps, how should the government distribute funding? Which tech companies are going to benefit most from the five-year push for EV growth? Who's getting left out? Join us at 9 a.m. PT April 21, where we'll explore how the infrastructure bill rollout is going and what it means for you. RSVP here.
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People are talking
Steve Aoki said NFTs are giving musicians more ownership of their work:
- “When people start seeing that, then it’s going to become very normal and then we’re not going to have this conversation of what is an NFT.”
Google’s Javier Soltero said companies should stand by the office policies they set:
- “It is truly a walk-the-walk kind of approach.”
Michael Smith of climate-focused venture capital fund Regeneration.VC says we need to rethink consumerism:
- "We need to ... find new ways of consuming that look a lot more like our grandparents’ and generations before us."
Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is happening online again. It’ll run from June 6 to June 10.
Pam Greer is leaving Amazon. Greer was the HR exec tasked with making Amazon the "best employer on Earth."
Jason Kilar is leaving WarnerMedia as chief executive, just before AT&T and Discovery merge into Warner Bros. Discovery. Kilar has led WarnerMedia for about two years.Kimberly Cassady is MX’s new chief people officer. She was most recently the chief talent officer at Cornerstone OnDemand.
In other news
Twitter is working on an edit button after all. In fact, it’s been working on one for the past year or so and will start testing the tool with Twitter Blue subscribers.
Uber is experimenting with becoming a travel super app, adding buses, planes and trains as booking options in its U.K. app in the coming months. It could expand the experiment if it works well.
Fast is already coming to a halt. The one-click checkout company apparently gave investors the option to lay off workers to help cut costs.
Elon Musk likely broke rules to become Twitter’s biggest shareholder. He was probably supposed to disclose his stake much earlier, and postponing the notice may have saved him a lot of money.
Roblox is paying its interns a lot of money. It offers the highest-paying internship in the U.S. with a median monthly pay of over $9,500, according to a Glassdoor report.
Apple is toying with automatic subscription price changes. It’s working with Disney and others on a feature that would automatically enroll subscribers in price hikes.
Amazon is trying to compete with Starlink. It signed a deal with three companies, which notably does not include SpaceX, to launch Project Kuiper internet satellites.
Honda and General Motors are working together on EVs. They’re hoping to create “a series of affordable electric vehicles” by 2027.
Google Cloud has built a data lakehouse on BigQuery. Called BigLake, it will be at the center of Google Cloud’s data platform strategy and is now available in preview.
Google Docs is getting emoji reactions. Finally!
The to-do list that lists less
Some of us are overly ambitious about what we think we can get done in a day. That’s why we fill our to-do lists with tasks — only to end up feeling unaccomplished at the end of the day. A new to-do list app called Bento is trying to solve that.
The app limits users to three tasks — one small, one medium and one large — in a single “Bento box,” which can represent any unit of time. So you could have one Bento box for morning tasks and one for afternoon assignments. The idea is to help people figure out their priorities and better organize their day without a never-ending to-do list.
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