The social network’s owner talks about bots, blue checks and why he went ahead with the $44 billion acquisi
Trying to turn a profit at Twitter
Elon Musk gave one his most extensive interviews since promising a series of big changes to Twitter that he hopes will return the money-losing social media platform to profitability. In a wide-ranging discussion with the BBC that was also broadcast on Twitter, and was at times full of contradictions, regrets and dog jokes, Musk defended his management of the company and gave an update on layoffs, cash flow, the status of the blue checks and who might succeed him as C.E.O.
Here are the highlights:
On why he bought Twitter: Mr. Musk admitted that he went ahead with the $44 billion acquisition because he believed he would lose his legal case to try and back out of it. Buying Twitter has come with “emotional strain,” he added, saying running it had been “painful.” But he said he still thought buying it was the right thing to do.
On profitability: Since buying Twitter six months ago, Mr. Musk has slashed staff and made big changes to the platform — including an $8 monthly blue-check subscription — to try to reverse losses. (The slimmed-down Twitter has experienced a series of outages and user unrest, but he largely blew off those problems as glitches.) Mr. Musk reiterated that Twitter was on a path to be cash-flow positive this quarter (without giving evidence) and claimed advertisers were returning to the platform.
Head count: There are 1,500 Twitter staffers on payroll, down from “just under 8,000” when he took over, Mr. Musk said. He defended the mass layoffs, saying the company was four months from going bankrupt and “drastic action” was needed. But he added that it was “not fun at all” to fire people, and admitted that not everyone had been told in person: “It’s not possible to talk with that many people face to face.”
On bots, disinformation and mainstream media: Mr. Musk, who has described himself as a free speech absolutist, pushed back hard on the BBC’s assertions that there had been more hate speech on the platform since he took over. He said it was his mission to make Twitter as accurate as possible — by, for example, removing automated accounts — but he added that “no system is going to be perfect.” He also returned to a favorite punching bag: the mainstream media, which, he complained, “is able to trash me on a regular basis.”
On blue checks: With advertising revenue shrinking, Mr. Musk is going all in on subscriptions. He says the blue checks that were once given to celebrities, influencers and journalists to verify their accounts will be phased out by next week, after the company missed an earlier deadline.
But he also grumbled that big media companies were reluctant to pay for blue checks. “It’s a small amount of money, so I don’t know what their problem is,” he said.
On who succeeds him as C.E.O.: Mr. Musk said in December that he would abide by the results of a Twitter user poll and step down from running the company. When pressed on that promise, he joked that his dog was in charge. But his jovial mood vanished when he was asked about running the business. He said that the workload meant he sometimes sleeps on a couch at Twitter headquarters. (Another regret: When asked about his sometimes controversial tweets, he said, “I think I should not tweet after 3 a.m.”)
Would he sell? No, he responded, and then said … maybe, if he could find a buyer as committed as he is to free speech.
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