Elon Musk reassures advertisers following visit to Twitter headquarters

USC professors discuss the implications of Elon Musk taking over Twitter.

A photo of Elon Musk.

Elon Musk, who is expected to take ownership of Twitter Friday, sent a message to concerned advertisers on his social media Thursday. The tweet assures them that the platform will not become a “free-for-all hellscape,” a concern expressed by Twitter users and advertising firms alike—especially after Musk said that he would allow former President Donald Trump back on Twitter after he was banned following the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

“He may be sounding this conciliatory note for the short term to keep everyone from fleeing the ship,” said Professor Freddy Nager, lecturer of communication at USC Annenberg. “But again, we’ll see how it goes.”

After Musk, the owner of Tesla, attempted to back out of the deal, legal pressure from Twitter forced him back in line. He then threatened to layoff three-quarters of Twitter employees, which some observers took to be a new strategy to avoid buying the company for $44 billion.

When visiting Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, Musk carried a sink in with him and then posted a video of it with the caption, “let that sink in!”

While he may have come to terms with the deal, advertisers are not necessarily as enthusiastic. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, “advertisers are concerned about the billionaire’s plans to soften content moderation and what they say are potential conflicts of interest in auto advertising.”

David Craig, a clinical professor of communication at USC Annenberg elaborated on content moderation concerns.

“Content moderation across all platforms is perhaps one of the most complicated and difficult issues of our day… because speech and money have now been intertwined in a way that we’ve never really had before,” Craig said. “So we’re dealing with First Amendment issues in the context of a commercial public space, but privately held platforms.”

In Thursday’s Twitter message, Musk justified his decision to buy Twitter.

“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital square,” Musk wrote. He has previously referred to himself as a “free speech absolutist,” and said that people should be able to say “pretty outrageous things” on Twitter, adding that the platform “empowers citizen journalism…without an establishment bias.”

He is expected to address Twitter’s employees on Friday, the day the deal is supposed to go through.

“It’s already sent shockwaves throughout the Twitter corporation,” Nager said. “Employees are baffled. They’re scared. You know, him coming out saying that he would want to layoff 75% of the employees does not do a whole lot for morale.”

The implications of Musk’s Twitter buy are still left to be seen with his coming decisions.

“I believe the right position is to wait and see what happens,” Craig said. “But [we should] treat whatever happens with a high level of skepticism,” adding that as time goes on, we will get a clearer picture of Musk’s intentions.

Gordon Stables, the director of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, mentioned similar thoughts about Musk’s impact.

“The consequences could be very wide ranging depending on some of the changes that he might make in terms of changes to content moderation policy, changes to advertising policy and/or the ability to share across his different business models,” Stables said.

Some are more concerned with issues relating to free speech.

“I think [advertisers’] concerns are relevant to them, but in the bigger scheme of things, freedom of speech is more important in my mind,” Sean Hall, a sophomore majoring in physics, said. “And if the advertisers have an issue with it, or they feel like it’s not safe to post there, there are millions of other sites to post their advertisements on.”

This big-money deal is backed by a multitude of investors, including over $1 billion from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. With this investment and the $1 billion from Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, Musk and other new Twitter investors have numerous business interests that, critics say, could lead to conflicts of interest.

Although there are many concerns over the changes in Twitter, Craig believes that the impact is being blown out of proportion.

“This idea that Twitter is singularly capable of destroying or negatively influencing the way that the world thinks is not well founded by the reach and scale of the platform.”