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Tesla CEO Elon Musk makes bold moves in his first day leading Twitter

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Well, it is the first full day with Elon Musk as the head of Twitter. It's a big deal for politicians, the media and all sorts of people who use Twitter to get their messages out and to learn information. NPR's Raquel Maria Dillon has been keeping tabs on the famously unpredictable CEO's first moves at the tech company. She joins us now. Welcome.

RAQUEL MARIA DILLON, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: Hey. OK, so what has Musk been doing already now that he's in charge of Twitter?

DILLON: Today he announced - via tweet, of course - that there will be a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints. He promised no major content decisions or account reinstatements before this new council meets. Keep in mind, there is a fundamental tension here for Musk. He has to reassure advertisers that Twitter will still be a place where they can feel comfortable putting their products and logos. Already, General Motors has said it's temporarily suspending ads on Twitter to take stock.

And then at the same time, Musk wants to run Twitter as a free speech platform with all that entails. He moved quickly to sweep out the top executives, some of whom he's criticized publicly before - the CEO, CFO, top lawyer and, importantly, the public policy chief who was responsible for deciding which accounts got suspended when they ran afoul of Twitter policies.

CHANG: Right, a whole bunch of people said goodbye. OK. So, Raquel, what do you think we should make of these moves?

DILLON: I spoke with Paul Barrett from New York University's Center for Business and Human Rights. He says if Musk appoints qualified experts to this content council, no matter what side of the political spectrum they're on, they won't open the doors to any and all kind of speech. Content rules are necessary, Barrett says.

PAUL BARRETT: If you remove those filters, I think you'll see something of a cesspool. And that may please some people who want to splash around in a cesspool, and I think it will cause others to back away. And if a lot of users back away, then the site becomes much less viable as a business.

DILLON: Twitter needs advertisers 'cause that's how the company makes money. Ads were 90% of Twitter's revenue last year.

CHANG: OK. So I know it's still early, but what does all of this look like for users so far? Like, can they actually see any of these changes we're talking about while they're on Twitter right now?

DILLON: There's this curious case that says a lot about Elon Musk's management style and maybe what's going to happen with Twitter. It's an account called catturd2.

CHANG: (Laughter) OK.

DILLON: Yesterday this person - yeah - claimed Twitter was somehow limiting the reach of the account and nothing had changed with Musk in charge. This user has 800,000 followers and a podcast. And Musk is really active on Twitter, engages with his fans and foes alike. So early this morning, Musk replied personally to catturd2 to say he would dig into it. This is not sustainable though, for the owner of the company to be handling help tickets...

CHANG: Right.

DILLON: ...Especially this particular boss. He already owns two other major companies - Tesla, SpaceX. Musk has not yet named a new CEO or leadership team for Twitter.

CHANG: So what are you hearing from people about, like, how they feel about the Musk takeover of Twitter at this point?

DILLON: It depends on your perspective. For some, there is a feeling of desperation, with people wondering what's next, mourning their online communities, reminiscing about funny tweet threads or memes from back in the day. Others, there is a tone of celebration about an end to what they call censorship on the platform. Take former President Donald Trump, whose account was suspended after the January 6 attack...

CHANG: Right.

DILLON: ...On the U.S. Capitol. Trump said today that he's happy to see Musk in charge. We'll see if Musk reinstates his account.

CHANG: NPR's Raquel Maria Dillon in San Francisco. Thank you.

DILLON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Raquel Maria Dillon
Raquel Maria Dillon has worked on both sides of the country, on both sides of the mic, at Member stations and now as an editor with Morning Edition. She specializes in documenting wildfires and other national disasters, translating the intricacies of policy into plain English and explaining the implications of climate change.
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