If he’s a man of his word, then Elon Musk will ‘step down as the head of Twitter’ after 10 million users voted for him, ending his reign over the company he bought there barely 53 days old.
But the promise in his tweet accompanying the poll, apparently made as he relaxed after watching the World Cup final in Doha in the company of Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, is sparse on specifics. Here’s what we know – and what we don’t know – about what’s in store for Twitter:
Musk had a bad week
Musk’s bad week began with his decision to take action against an account that reported his private jet movements, using a new rule written on the fly to suspend the account. It then suspended the accounts of some prominent journalists who reported on the furor and then banned all promotion of “third-party platforms”, after users began discussing where they would go when leaving Twitter.
The movements caused an instant recoil. Preventing people from leaving is not a sign of confidence in your ability to convince them to stay. Users pointed out that Musk himself had said in June that: “The litmus test for two competing…systems is which side must build a wall to keep people from escaping.”
Musk quickly rolled back the journalism suspensions and the rule of thirds, and promised to subject any future major changes to a user survey. But the damage seems to have been done.
He’s been planning this for a while
The suggestion that Musk would back down didn’t come out of nowhere. “There is a first wave of activity needed after the acquisition to reorganize the business,” he told a Delaware court last month in testimony defending his $56 billion salary package at Tesla. . “But then I expect to reduce my time on Twitter.”
Despite this, he insisted he had no successor in mind, gnomically tweet that “those who want power are those who least deserve it”. However, he has enlisted close confidants to help him oversee Twitter, with venture capitalist allies Jason Calacanis and David Sacks each taking on semi-official roles. The pair have a long history of running big businesses, with Sacks remaining as COO of PayPal after Musk was fired as chief executive, and Calacanis building the blogging empire Weblogs Inc, before selling it. at AOL.
He has experience as a hands-off owner
The open secret to Musk’s success is that he only really runs two of the three big companies of which he is chief executive. While Twitter and Tesla employees describe it as dauntingly convenient, at SpaceX day-to-day operations are overseen by President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell.
She joined in 2002, the same year Musk founded the company, and her job is still to realize her vision. These days, that means reassuring Nasa that Musk isn’t going to destroy SpaceX torching Twitter.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters last week that he asked Shotwell if Twitter would be a “distraction,” and she said no. “I hugged her with a smile on my face, because I know she’s running this thing. She runs SpaceX,” Nelson told reporters.
What does mean ‘Well‘management means to Twitter?
The big question, however, is whether Twitter can be saved by a capable administrator like Shotwell — or if it’s too tied to America’s culture wars to be managed quietly and sanely. Before Musk bought the company, Parag Agrawal was supposed to be just that kind of executive, promoted from the company’s engineering department to take over after Jack Dorsey left.
But during his short time at the top, Agrawal has learned that running a social network gets you into the political sphere whether you like it or not.
Whoever replaces Musk will face the same issues. And with Musk still very proprietary, and still embroiled in political fights, their freedom to deal with these issues independently will be severely limited.