By Danielle Chua and Joseph Clyde Famularcano

Elon Musk has a new toy! A 44 billion USD toy named Twitter. Since acquiring the social media platform in the first half of 2022, Twitter, more than ever, has become the subject of conversations instead of just being the platform of communication. 

Elon Musk, who?

Before actually having a conversation about the said bird app, it is equally important to know who Elon Musk is…even way before he bought Twitter in his pockets. 

Tracing a huge success, Musk has always sparked public attention due to his go-getting mindset ever since. According to Sherman (2022), his entrepreneurial skills and talents were highly evident in his childhood and teenage years. Originally born in South Africa, concrete examples were his brave decision of seeking bigger opportunities in the United States and Canada — and even developing his own video game at 12 years old!

In the lens of both his early years and his business journey, it was certainly not an easy feat. There were unpleasant issues and conflicts traced along Musk’s way. His parents’ divorce eventually led him to live with only his father and to experience such a strict childhood, as he described it. Being labeled as the “unusual child”, he also experienced bullying. Just for a brief glimpse in the present, Musk also did undesirable things online and offline (Levin, 2022) just like the wrong usage of Twitter to distort audiences’ viewpoints and the abuse of his entrepreneurial power to practice workplace discrimination.

Going back, his college education both in the U.S. and Canada was also filled with his entrepreneurial spirit. Right after studying at Queen’s University for two years, it was the time when he went to the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton School. For Musk, his aim was not only to study but also to pay his rent. To sustain his college needs, he ran a nightclub with his roommate where they divided their responsibilities (Locke, 2022). He primarily graduated with a degree in physics and economics as well. 

In line with Blystone (2022), he departed to California to take up an applied physics-aligned PhD at Stanford University; however, he quit the course after 2 days. His main justification was because of his entrepreneurial spirit — once again — making him take good advantage of the extensive internet. 

The gist is, Musk is rich and ambitious. His hopes for the generation are somewhat specific; as Strauss (2017) puts it, these were mainly sustainable energy, conversion of automobiles, underground tunnels to aid traffic congestion, creation of a mind-computer interface, and so forth. 

He is currently a 51-year-old entrepreneur who holds high positions such as the Co-founder of PayPal, founder of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation or SpaceX, Chief Executive Officer of Tesla, and recently the Owner of Twitter. With all these well-known companies and a total net worth of 203 billion U.S. dollars, it is no wonder why he was named as the richest person in the world (Moskowitz, 2022). 

The unstable bird flight before Musk

It became such a heated topic when Musk successfully acquired 44 billion USD and modified some of the Twitter policies, which will be elaborate more later on. Now, the challenge to ask is the app’s status and condition even way before him.

For 16 years and counting, it has been an avenue for the public. Twitter is a social media platform that allows users to microblog and ‘tweet’ our thoughts. The topics being discussed range from political, social, economic, emotional, mental, physical, sociological, and so forth. To show a clear picture of its diverse content, it can be both an outlet for personal jokes or even important news updates. 

It all started in 2006 when Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams built Twitter as a “side project” (Vanian, 2022). In the next few years, its huge success was already evident. Twitter was able to receive funding, become highly popular in public usage, report important political events like protests, and establish its name. On the other hand, the hardest pill that the app had to swallow was its controversial downfalls and issues.

First, the uncertainty lies in its changes in executive positions. According to Griffith (2015), Dorsey was fired as the CEO last October 2008 due to his way of executive supervision and bragging; Williams replaced him. Later in 2010, Williams also stepped down from the same position; Dick Costolo, the operating chief, replaced him. 

While Twitter remains unprofitable in 2015, Dorsey came back as the CEO again. But he left again in 2021 — leading chief technology officer Parag Agrawal to take the position. This year, Musk took over; Chapman (2022) stated that he will find a new CEO as time passes by.

Second, Twitter’s large involvement with politics specifically with the Former U.S. President Donal Trump has been an enormous mess. It all started in 2016 when Trump started utilizing it to spread false information but there seemed a blind eye being turned. Additionally, Dorsey defended him by saying that it just permits people to understand what the president-elect wants to express. In 2019, they met for a productive meeting about Twitter and its devotion to public discussions. 

Despite the close connections between them, the company suspended Trump’s Twitter account in 2021. The strong grounds were his provocative tweets in the U.S. Capitol Riots that could lead to violence instigation. What made this even more aggravating was the reactivation of his account under Musk’s acquisition.

Third, the COVID-19 pandemic is undeniably an emerging virus that continues to negatively impact individuals and institutions globally. Agley and Xiao (2021) emphasized the alarming spread of misinformation about the roots and preventive measures of this pandemic. Unfortunately, Twitter was one of the platforms used to nurture fake news and to draw terror to its users. 

Aside from this matter, cybercriminals were also able to hack its system which revealed its lack of security preparedness (Kovach, 2020). With the said goal of social engineering, they used prominent users’ accounts to spread bitcoin scam tweets. Examples were Joe Biden, Bill Gates, and so on.

And yes, these were all before Musk. 

"Chief Twit" in the House

Garnering both positive and negative reactions, Musk's acquisition of Twitter signaled a major change in the platform. In the United States, right-wing pundits lauded the takeover, seeing the deal as a win for free speech. On the other hand, Democrats, liberals, and progressives had a completely opposite reaction, fearing that it will pave the way for ramped-up misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech. Musk, a Republican donor and self-proclaimed "free speech absolutist," is known for spreading fake news and conspiracy theories, especially at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also prompted several personalities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Gigi Hadid, and Shonda Rhimes to leave Twitter.

On October 28, 2022, Paul Pelosi, the husband of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was attacked with a hammer in their home in California by a right-wing assailant named David DePape, who was looking for his wife. Subsequently, in a tweet replying to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Musk promoted the homophobic conspiracy theory that DePape is actually a male prostitute in a gay bar where Pelosi came home drunk from, alluding that the two were in a fight that ended in the incident.

According to a study by Montclair State University's School of Communication and Media, 12 hours immediately after the acquisition, there has been a spike in hate speech on Twitter with vulgar and hostile terms tweeted around 4,778 times. These terms include malicious words based on an individual's race, religion, ethnicity, and orientation such as the "n-word," "k-word" and  "f-word."

In his first major change in the platform, Musk announced that verification will be included in the Twitter Blue Subscription Program. Users will be able to be "verified" or receive the blue badge by paying $8 a month. In a sense, it is also a way to reduce the app's reliance on advertisements.

"Twitter's current lords & peasants system for who has or doesn't have a blue checkmark is b*llshit. Power to the people! Blue for $8/month," the CEO of Tesla tweeted early November. However, Musk's newly implemented policy backfired and caused a huge havoc.

Is Lebron James announcing his departure from the Los Angeles Lakers? Is Mario from Super Mario giving the finger? Coca-Cola saying Pepsi is better? Roblox adding sex? (what does that even mean?) It was a crazy town on Twitter! After rolling out the revamped blue check guidelines a day after the 2022 US Midterm Elections, several accounts impersonating various high-profile personalities,  companies, and organizations surfaced, causing confusion and impactful consequences.

After a bogus account posing as Lockheed Martini, an American weapons manufacturing giant tweeted that it will be halting all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States due to their human rights record, the actual company's stocks plummeted overnight, causing it to lose almost 7 Billion USD. The same thing happened to Eli Lilli and Company, a pharmaceutical company known for selling insulin in the United States. It lost almost 15 Billion USD in market value after a fake "verified" account said that it will be distributing insulin for free. Due to these catastrophic developments, Twitter temporarily suspended the blue tick subscription on November 11.

Additionally, Musk lifted its suspension on former US President Donald Trump's account, with justification from his self-initiated poll. The twice-impeached one-term president is known for inciting an insurrection after encouraging his supporters to protest against the certification of the 2022 US Presidential and Vice Presidential Election. A pro-Trump mob filled with right-wing extremists, white supremacists, and Christian Nationalists stormed the US Capitol, where Congress was about to convene and officially certify Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' win on January 6, 2021.

It seems as if Elon Musk, the richest person in the world, is planning to set a new world record: the fastest person to buy a company then cause its demise. The future of the bird is still up in the air, though the present holds a significant sign of how the social media platform will be heading under its new owner.