Twitter is one of the social networks with a global reach that has fewer users. Its 430 million members leave it far behind the almost 3 billion of Facebook, the 2.5 billion of YouTube, the 1.5 billion of Instagram or the more than 1,000 of TikTok, according to the Digital 2022 report by We Are Social and Hootsuite. Several Chinese social networks double it in users, while Telegram and Snapchat have also already surpassed it. In practice, Twitter is placed on the echelon of minority social networks like Pinterest or Reddit. Only 3% of network users consider it their favorite platform.
If only daily users are counted, the number drops to 217 million. Also, most of its members do not participate in the conversation. According to a Pew Research study, the 25% of the most active tweeters post 97% of the comments. The remaining 75% tweet infrequently, if ever.
However, it is common for this minority of very active users to consider Twitter to be “the digital public square where vital issues for humanity are debated.” This is how Elon Musk defines it, who has just paid 44,000 million dollars for 100% of the shares.
The reason for this transcendent consideration of Twitter is the presence of influential people that occurs in it. The participation of a large number of politicians, businessmen, singers and journalists, profiles that already covered the agenda of the traditional media, has become the hallmark of the platform. Musk, with 85 million followers, is part of that elite of high-impact users, being able to alter the price of a company’s shares or a cryptocurrency at the stroke of a tweet.
Twitter works as a means of communication in itself, which is why the vast majority of its users come only to read. The presence of so many opinion leaders has also given it enormous weight in defining the public agenda, which in turn makes it a regular target of manipulation campaigns. “Regardless of whether it has more or less critical mass compared to other networks, Twitter has developed a very close link with politics and the world of the media,” recalls David Álvarez, an analyst and consultant specializing in social networks.
That’s what Musk has bought at $54.20 a share. However, it is also what has penalized the Twitter results account so far. In the social network industry, the number of users to whom ads can be shown is valued and not so much the influence of these on the rest of society. It is a market that pays by weight.
Until now Twitter has been a listed company and it was due to its shareholders. The key number that investors wanted to see grow each quarter on their income statement was “monetizable users.” With Musk, the first and the second will change, since the tycoon is going to take Twitter out of the stock market and the first package of “new features” that he has announced includes two that will undoubtedly harm the number of “monetizable users”, but can help improve the user experience.
These are a crusade to crack down on “spam bots” and the initiative to “verify all human users.” These are two strategies that were not in the plans of the current management and that will undoubtedly further reduce the statistics of real people who use a platform. This, as reflected in the figures cited at the beginning of this information, suffers to keep up with its competition even with the doping provided by artificial accounts.
The third is the decision to make the algorithms Twitter uses open source, which Musk hopes will help “increase trust.” Years ago, the platform changed the way it displays tweets, which went from being based on a chronological order of publication to using algorithms that analyze the interests of the user.
The operation of these algorithms is opaque, which has triggered theories that Twitter has an ideological bias when it comes to displaying information. This narrative is spread by Donald Trump and the alt-right American, which has spurred rumors that Musk could be in favor of allowing the former US president to return to the platform after being expelled for encouraging the 2021 assault on Capitol Hill.
Asked about it, Musk did not give a clear answer about his plans regarding the former US president. The official data of the social network, by the way, has shown the opposite: that his algorithm is empirically tilted to the right.
The latest and most ambitious of Musk’s goals is to push the boundaries of free speech on the platform to their extremes. “A social network’s policies are good if the extreme 10% on the left and right are equally unhappy,” he tweeted.
The tycoon says that he is in favor of an “absolutist” conception of freedom of expression. In the absence of knowing how that policy is implemented in practice, it is another measure that can cause problems for Twitter’s profit account. As it currently works, extreme speech tends to polarize the entire discussion, making it difficult to expand the user base and also displeasing advertisers.
Musk has been very sparing in his explanations of how he intends to make money from Twitter, especially considering that many of his measures will hurt the income of a company that has only had a profit in two years of the last twelve. The tycoon is the richest person in the world according to Forbes, with an estimated fortune of about 250,000 million dollars. Although he is going to cover it with third-party financing, the purchase operation of the social network is equivalent to 18% of that figure. Specifically, Musk is going to finance those 44,000 million through the largest Wall Street lenders and another 12,500 million with a guaranteed loan with his participation in Tesla. He has not yet clarified where he is going to get the remaining 21,000 million.
The only thing that Musk has suggested as a possibility to increase revenue is to include more payment tools, something that Twitter is already testing in several countries. For the rest, the businessman has limited himself to affirming that money is the least important in this operation. “I have a very strong intuition that having a widely inclusive and highly trusted public platform is extremely important for the future of civilization. I don’t care about the economics at all,” he said.
His arrival has been blessed by the platform’s founder, Jack Dorsey. He considers that transforming Twitter into a listed company was a mistake, since he made it “owned by Wall Street and the advertising model. Removing it from Wall Street is the first correct step,” he tweeted.
“In principle, I don’t think anyone should own or run Twitter,” he added. “However, to solve the problem of it being a company, Elon is the only solution I trust,” says a Dorsey who had to leave the social network’s management a few months ago because the shareholders did not like that the company make it compatible with the leadership of Square, his other company. It remains to be seen what command structure Musk devises and if he sets himself up as president, since he is going to juggle Twitter with Tesla, SpaceX, brain technology company Neuralink and tunneling company The Boring Company.
The way in which Musk has come to Twitter, without explaining his business plan or how he intends to make the huge investment profitable, is not the only factor that makes the purchase exceptional. It will also be the first time that an intensive user of a social network becomes its absolute manager. Musk is also characterized by adopting a troll behavior, usually mocking and sarcastic.
“It is the first time that a single person has acquired all the property of a platform of this type and that it has been operating for years. Musk has used and uses Twitter a lot, also with some connotations and a very specific personal brand strategy,” explains David. Alvarez. “At an internal level within Twitter, he can have a lot of influence. He knows very well how the tool works and the logical thing is that he wants to transfer that experience to the business model.”
Until now, the owners or CEOs of social networks have been characterized by keeping a low profile as users. Musk, on the other hand, is extremely active on Twitter and goes from puddle to puddle. He gave a significant sanction for altering stock values with his tweets to comparing the Prime Minister of Canada with Hitler. Another of the unforeseeable consequences of the purchase will therefore be the merger of the network owner and troll in a single figure.