MORE: Musk owns Twitter. What can go wrong?

With his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter, Elon Musk has a shiny new thing.

But, unlike many of Musk’s innovations (unmanned robot taxis, brain-machine interfaces, hyperloops, bulletproof cybertrucks, etc.), Twitter is a mature product that hundreds of millions of people use every day. And with that comes a number of challenges, including the sometimes tedious day-to-day management tasks that the richest person in the world may not want to take on.

A shiny new thing can quickly lose its luster.

“It’s like the figurative ‘dog that caught the car’ now that he owns Twitter,” William Klepper, a corporate governance expert and Columbia University business school professor, told HuffPost. “He will need to provide the executive leadership needed to sustain and grow the company. He can’t just keep it in his portfolio!”

Integral to this is respect for Twitter’s existing corporate culture, which Klepper feared Musk might not take the time to understand, much less appreciate and work with.

“Twitter employees are already facing the pending changes,” Klepper said. “The mask will now increase their disorientation. The best thing for him would be to learn how to make constructive changes in the existing corporate culture, that is, in the way they work with Twitter.”

In addition to domestic governance issues, the deal also makes Musk the face of controversial external decisions, including intractable free speech issues at home and abroad.

These issues, and how he handles them, pose a reputational risk that could spread to other parts of his vast technological fiefdom.

What happens, for example, when Vietnam asks Twitter to silence government critics or face a country-wide access restriction? Will Musk agree in exchange for a deal to open up the market for Tesla? And will this spoil the perception of Tesla at home?

(This is not a hypothetical: Faced with a very similar request, Facebook playfully played along.)

“Musk leads without empathy, and the thought of leading on Twitter with even less empathy [than it already does] terrible”.

– Brianna Wu

These concerns are shared by Brianna Wu, CEO PAK Rebellion who spent years advising the Twitter team on trust and security issues after the platform was inundated with violent threats during Gamergate in 2014, some of them so seriously she and her husband are gone their home.

Wu told HuffPost that Twitter has long had a tension between doing what’s good for users and what’s good for the company’s finances.

“Which makes sense when you think about it, right? A death threat or a rape threat on Twitter is great for interaction,” Wu said. “Everyone is looking at it, everyone is saying something about it, you know, more eyeballs, more attention, more publicity. But that’s not good for the user experience.”

Wu said that with Musk at the helm, she worries that profitability and engagement will take precedence. At the same time, the necessary protection measures for marginalized groups may not be provided, leading to renewed persecution.

“Musk is leading without empathy,” Wu said, “and the thought of Twitter leading with even less empathy” than it is now is “terrifying.”

Evan Greer, director of non-profit digital rights organization Fight for the Future, gave a similar assessment.

“Content moderation decisions on important platforms like Twitter must be made carefully and with human rights in mind,” Greer said in an emailed statement. “But over the past few years, major social media platforms have increasingly made changes to their moderation methods based on news cycles and public relations. There is now one person who can make changes to Twitter policy. This is not good for freedom of speech, it is a mockery of it.”

“It was a problem when Twitter responded to Wall Street. But it’s certainly not better if it’s run by a single billionaire.”


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