WASHINGTON: Overspending on Twitter Inc for $44 billion was the easy part.

Now, Tesla Inc Chief Executive Elon Musk must prove why he believes that Twitter is worth 10 times that amount and turn around a social media platform that he has spent months ridiculing.

Earlier this month, the outspoken billionaire said: “Myself and the other investors are obviously overpaying for Twitter right now. The long term potential for Twitter in my view is an order of magnitude greater than its current value.” Musk has provided few concrete details about his plans, and what he has shared appears far-fetched or contradictory.

Here is what lies ahead for Musk, the self-proclaimed “Chief Twit”, according to current and former Twitter employees, analysts and investors who considered funding the deal.

Obeying the laws

Musk has promised to preserve free speech of all kinds, but has also struck a more conciliatory tone with global leaders who aim to rein in Big Tech, worrying activists and former leaders of Twitter.

Just three hours after Musk declared victory by tweeting “The bird is freed,” European Commissioner

Thierry Breton shot back: “In Europe, the bird flies by our rules.”

He reshared a video from May, in which he said in a Twitter video that he agreed with the European Union’s new digital media regulation, which will force Big Tech to do more to tackle illegal content or risk fines of up to 6% of global revenue, in one of the world’s most severe approaches to regulating content online.

In India, regulators also reminded Musk on Friday on the rule of law. “Our rules and laws for intermediaries remain the same regardless of who owns the platforms,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Indias minister of state for electronics and information technology.

For years, Twitter has waged a “sophisticated battle” with the government to protect free speech online, and this battle would be at risk with Musk in charge, said Jason Goldman, a former Twitter board member.

Tesla’s expanding business in China, where it generated $14 billion last year, could also put Twitter at risk, Goldman said.

“The idea that hes going to be the one liaising with the Chinese government and potentially turning over information on users, thats very scary,” he said.

Twitter is staffed with experts who review data requests from governments, but Musk has shown his contempt of these experts, he added.

“Whether or not (former U.S. President Donald) Trump is going to come back on, I think that’s a parlor game,” Goldman said. “But what’s actually going to happen is a dissident’s IP address will be dropped on the floor.”

Cutting content moderation

Current and former employees who spoke with Reuters said Musk’s plans to lower the guard rails that are common across all social media platforms would lead to a deluge of hateful, harmful and potentially illegal content on Twitter. Already, it has struggled with identifying and removing child porn.

Members of Twitter’s trust and safety team, which includes content moderators, are expected to be among Musk’s deepest job cuts, employees fear.

“Imagine a world where all those people are gone,” one employee said. “It’s going to be a hellscape.”

Published in Dawn, October 29th, 2022

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