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Elon Musk owns Twitter. What comes next?


It took months. It took a lawsuit. But Elon Musk now owns one of the most influential speech platforms in the world. How will Twitter change under Elon Musk? What does it mean for speech online? We're joined now by NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn. Bobby, thanks so much for being with us.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Morning, Scott.

SIMON: We've seen a few changes already, haven't we?

ALLYN: We have. Musk came in and fired the CEO. He canned other upper management. He then tweeted, quote, "The bird is freed," which apparently is a reference to Twitter's blue bird logo. Musk reportedly has considered laying off 75% of the staff, something that really has people inside of the company on edge. In terms of changes to Twitter itself, you know, we're still in the early innings of Twitter's Elon era, so hard to say right now. But he has promised a whole host of changes, including relaxing rules against things like hate speech and harassment, unbanning controversial figures like former President Trump and cracking down on spam bots. These are just a few of the items from his wish list.

SIMON: Pew Research says that about a quarter of adults in the United States use Twitter. They are more likely to be under 30 years of age and to lean toward the left politically. Are they going to notice big changes?

ALLYN: Again, it's too early to say. Musk says, though, that he will not be making any major decisions on platform rules or on Twitter account reinstatements until he forms what he is calling a content moderation panel. He also has long said he's - like I mentioned - he's going to roll back content moderation rules. But what's interesting is he also is saying he doesn't want Twitter to turn into, quote, "a free-for-all hellscape." Good luck with that balance. But already, online safety groups and civil rights organizations and others are deeply worried that Musk is going to unleash, you know, a tsunami of bullies, hate speech, misinformation and other sludge to the platform, which would be really bad for advertisers. And at the end of the day, that's how Twitter butters its bread.

SIMON: Of course, people are already voting in midterm elections. What do you see, Bobby, as political implications for a revamped Twitter?

ALLYN: Yeah, some of the most poisonous misinformation campaigns involve elected officials and election falsehoods. And, you know, whether bad actors try to manipulate the platform to, you know, achieve some kind of political ends remains to be seen. But yeah, if these changes create vulnerabilities, they might be exploited, and that could be a real problem for our electoral process.

SIMON: Of course, Donald Trump was permanently banned from Twitter following the January 6 attack on Congress. Elon Musk at one point said that he would reinstate Trump's Twitter account. Have we heard from Donald Trump?

ALLYN: Yes, we have. Trump wrote on his own social media site, Truth Social, that Twitter is now, quote, "in sane hands." But his return is far from certain because Trump himself has said he doesn't want to come back to Twitter. He says he prefers his own site, Truth Social. Now, I'm personally skeptical that he won't return to the platform, especially because he's publicly weighing another run for president. And it's just hard to see the rise of Trump without Twitter, right? It helped shape him as a political animal. It helped him find an enormous national fan base. Now, researchers I've talked to have said since Trump left Twitter, disinformation across the whole platform has dropped in a pretty meaningful way. But will he come back? Will Elon extend an invitation? Probably, but just not sure when exactly.

SIMON: NPR's Bobby Allyn, thanks so much.

ALLYN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.