The world's richest man is now in control of one of the world's biggest social media platforms.
SpaceX CEO and billionaire Elon Musk officially took the helm of Twitter Thursday (Oct. 27) "with brutal efficiency", according to Reuters (opens in new tab), including firing CEO Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal, and legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadde.
Musk, who has called himself a "free speech absolutist (opens in new tab)", also plans mass layoffs at Twitter while also preparing to send a massive Falcon Heavy rocket to orbit Monday (opens in new tab) (Nov. 1).
"The bird is freed," Musk tweeted (opens in new tab) Thursday (Oct. 27), adding (opens in new tab) "let the good times roll" after closing the $44 billion acquisition he had fought in the summer. (Musk had been trying to back out of a hostile takeover he initiated in April, alleging there were too many bots on the platform.)
Musk made the $44 billion purchase final on the eve of a deadline imposed by a Delaware Chancery Court judge, who was overseeing litigation between Musk and Twitter concerning the deal. If Musk had not closed Twitter's purchase by today (Oct. 28), the court was expected to initiate a date in November to start a trial.
Musk agreed to restart his purchase deal on Oct. 4 amid reported "great distrust on both sides" (to quote the Washington Post (opens in new tab)) between the billionaire and the company. The day before, Musk tweeted out a proposal (opens in new tab) to bring Russia's invasion of Ukraine to an end and asked his followers to vote on the matter.
Musk's acquisition will likely influence the Nov. 8 midterm elections, warned the Washington Post (opens in new tab) Thursday, pointing out the platform's disproportionate influence in movements like #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, the Arab Spring and Donald Trump's presidency.
Musk is expected to lift many of Twitter's recent content restrictions, including inviting Trump back to the platform. The former president was banned following the Jan. 6, 2021 invasion of the Capitol by rioters that resulted in five deaths.
This month, a House committee issued a subpoena to Trump amid an investigation to determine the former president's role in the events. Trump's lawyers accepted service of the subpoena Wednesday (Oct. 27), according to CNN (opens in new tab), and have until Nov. 4 to turn over requested documents and Nov. 14 to testify.
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How Musk will shape Twitter and its estimated 400 million users, which in turn will influence how information is spread in social media, the news cycle and politics, is also a matter of controversy.
In June, Musk informed Twitter employees that they should let "pretty outrageous things" be tweeted as long as the information was not illegal, a report in the Guardian (opens in new tab) said at the time. A roundup of comments on Vox (opens in new tab) Thursday (Oct. 27) also shows Musk promising to make Twitter a "free speech" platform.
Musk's comments on social media attracted negative attention at SpaceX a few months ago. A group of anonymous employees said their CEO's "behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us", in an open letter posted in an internal Microsoft Teams channel with more than 2,600 employees, according to a Verge report (opens in new tab) on June 16. At least five SpaceX employees were fired after this incident, the New York Times reported (opens in new tab) the next day.
In June, Musk (also Time Magazine's 2021 person of the year) denied an allegation of sexual misconduct with a flight attendant in 2016, as first reported by Business Insider (opens in new tab). His behavior on Twitter has included, according to media reports, crude jokes (opens in new tab), insults (opens in new tab) and a 2018 incident in which he implied a man involved in rescuing Thai boys from a flooded cave was a pedophile (opens in new tab).
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).