(The Hill) — Twitter’s potential for a viable future under Elon Musk appears to have reached its bleakest point in the course of his roughly seven-week run as its owner. Over the weekend, Musk faced a familiar chorus of criticism from politicians, pundits and regulators in the U.S. and abroad over his ever-changing Twitter policies and suspensions of journalists. But even some of Musk’s Silicon Valley supporters changed their tune and balked at Musk’s latest decisions as “Chief Twit.”
Musk isn’t beholden to a board, after taking the company private when closing his $44 billion deal in October, but he indicated Sunday he may “step down” after polling his 122 million followers and broader Twitter community. More than 57 percent of the 17.5 million poll respondents told Musk he should relinquish his role as Twitter CEO. The poll lacks any substance to require Musk to follow through, but so far in his less than two months serving as Twitter CEO, he has abided by the results of the Twitter polls that have guided several of his controversial policy changes.
The policy-by-poll process seems to be part of the reason Musk is facing a multipronged battle. The quick changing policies and seemingly erratic decisions are leading to pushback from the business community, regulators and users. Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said the poll results are not a surprise, calling the state of Musk-run Twitter a “disaster of epic proportions.” “I think even he is reading the room, recognizing the clock struck 12. The patience has worn thin,” Ives told The Hill. Wedbush, a Los Angeles-based investment firm, estimates Twitter is potentially on track to lose roughly $4 billion per year, based on advertisers broadly pausing ads on the site.
On Sunday, venture capitalist Paul Graham tweeted that “this is the last straw” with a link to his Mastodon profile. Just one month before, earlier in Musk’s tenure, Graham showed support for Musk and said it is “remarkable how many people who’ve never run any kind of company think they know how to run a tech company better than someone who’s run Tesla and SpaceX,” referencing Musk’s electric vehicle and space companies.
Balaji Srinivasan, an investor and former chief technology officer of Coinbase, also slammed Twitter’s since-reversed policy banning users from posting links to accounts on other platforms. He called it a “bad policy” and said the “right way to compete is to build a better product, not to restrict the use of your product.” The widespread criticism, even from some of Musk’s former supporters, stemmed from the short-lived Twitter ban on posting alternative platform accounts. The Twitter Support account posted Sunday that the platform would “no longer allow free promotion of certain social media platforms” that and content containing links or usernames from Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribal, Nostr and Post would be removed.
The tweet was later deleted, and a page about the policy appeared to be quietly removed. The Hill reached out to Twitter for comment about the policy change and a potential timeline for Twitter leadership to change if Musk follows through with the poll results. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment, as has been the case since Musk’s takeover at the company.
Washington Post tech journalist Taylor Lorenz said she was suspended over “retroactively” violating the policy on sharing links to other accounts. Her account has since been reinstated. “Twitter has served as an essential real time news source and played a crucial role in the journalism world, but Musk’s arbitrary suspensions of journalist’s who report on him should worry anyone who values free speech and expression,” Lorenz wrote in a Substack newsletter Sunday. A string of controversial suspensions kicked off last week when Twitter suspended the @elonjet account that tracked the movements of Musk’s private jet, going back on his pledge to keep the account active when he took over Twitter.
Another Post tech reporter, Drew Harwell, had his account suspended late last week, along with other journalists who reported on Musk, including CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan and Mashable’s Matt Binder. Musk suspended accounts over claims that they “doxxed” his location. Doxxing is the act of publishing private or identifying information without the person’s permission. But reporters who were suspended over Musk’s claims of doxxing defended their actions, noting that information shared by the @elonjet account, seemingly the cause, is publicly available and not an example of doxxing.
The accounts were reinstated by Musk over the weekend after he used another poll to gauge user feedback. The poll was posed to users after backlash Musk was facing not only from the media, but also policymakers and regulators in the U.S. and European Union. Even conservative figures, such as Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator and Jason Miller, a former adviser to former President Trump, questioned Musk’s suspensions of journalists.
Roy Gutterman, director of Syracuse University’s Tully Center for Free Speech, said the suspension of journalists on Twitter speaks to the broader “perils of individual owners of major public platforms.” “It’s well within his [Musk’s] right to dictate who can be on his platform, but banning journalists who are critical of him certainly doesn’t speak to any free speech absolutism,” Gutterman told The Hill.
Musk previously deemed himself a “free speech absolutist” and said he would use that approach in guiding how he runs Twitter. “It’s hard to figure out what his management style is. It’s a little erratic. But there’s a reason why you take a company private. It certainly raises questions about what’s going on and where it’s going,” Gutterman said. Those concerns are also shared on the business side, Ives said.
The majority of Musk’s wealth is tied up in stock of his electric vehicle company Tesla. Ives likened Tesla to Musk’s “personal ATM” to fund the Twitter acquisition — and now Twitter losses. Although there’s no “official association” with Twitter, the situation “taints the Tesla story,” Ives said. “Tesla is the golden child of the Musk ecosystem. And now that there’s brand destruction for Musk, there’s brand destruction for Tesla, because Musk is Tesla, Tesla is Musk,” he said.
The political animus facing Musk-owned Twitter is still fairly siphoned on the left, but on the business side, those lines are blurring. “Whether you’re on the left or the right, as a Tesla shareholder, [it’s] a black cloud that’s resulted in significant value destruction,” Ives said.
Dominick Mastrangelo contributed to this report.