The biggest media and tech story of this week has been Elon Musk’s revelation that he has become Twitter’s single biggest shareholder. He was asked (and agreed) to take a board seat at the company, and all involved seem to be publicly very happy with the outcome.
The Tesla CEO has had his run with the press through the years and remains, let’s say, unimpressed with journalists and what they do. Mostly because he thinks his companies and his efforts have been covered unfairly (probably the one thing journalists get told the most).
At the same time, Twitter remains the most influential social network for spreading news and all kinds of information globally. Despite that the platform has been unable to capitalize on its own status, growth is slowing, and the recent quarterly earnings have not been impressive.
Media people are also obsessed about it and can’t hold back discussing it even though, for a regular audience, it is possibly, and most probably, less than interesting (yes, I’m guilty of that too, hopefully, this piece is intended for people who care the same way as I do).
Casey Newton of Platformer pointed out nicely the state of things at the power center of the company: while he (Elon Musk) will have only one vote out of 12, his status as both the platform’s largest shareholder and most influential board member will likely give him soft power that exceeds his technical authority.
Since Twitter’s co-founder and double-time CEO Jack Dorsey left, the platform has been on a run of new product releases that are still not moving the needle for it to become more popular among the public, but has gotten praise from loyalists.
Newsrooms, for example, like to use Twitter Spaces for live audio conversations. Many journalists and outlets use Revue, Twitter’s newsletter platform, and the US-based journalists in my feed seem to be all subscribed to Twitter Blue that gives them some extra features.
In the past, Scott Galloway has floated the idea, which got much attention, that Twitter should buy CNN, set up a paywall and go all in on capitalizing on its already influential position in the media ecosystem.
CNN launched CNN+ and Twitter’s future product roadmap might hang in the air as things have once again changed considerably within the company.
Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s current CEO, Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk all agree that there is too much centralization on the internet and would love to give users more power.
Musk especially is an outspoken free speech advocate, and Trump supporters have already started to rally him to reinstate the former US president on the platform.
Put all that together you come out with a product (Twitter) that has a devoted audience, no real competition, has trouble making money, has to fend off activist investors and now there is an unpredictable billionaire on the board with not great history with press.
It’s not all doom, though. In the beginning of March, Washington Post reported that Twitter hired Michael Sayman, who dropped out of high school at age 17 after being recruited by Mark Zuckerberg to work for Facebook, as part of an effort to get more young, hyper-engaged users to the platform.
Sayman helped Facebook managers understand his generation better (here is a good podcast interview with him about his time at the company), then he moved to Google and worked on YouTube Shorts and later joined Roblox.
Sayman tweeted this week asking followers for input on what kind of features did they wish for. The responses were overwhelming.
Getting feedback and feature wishes from audiences is something newsrooms have been talking about the last few years, mostly because the business of news is towards direct reader revenue (kind of a “keep your subscribers happy and subscribed” approach).
The two philosophies, one presented by Musk and the second by Twitter employees like Sayman, could potentially live next to each other. The problem is the uncertainty the Tesla CEO brings to the table.
My biggest fear is Twitter turning into a limitless free speech cesspool. Twitter is by no means great, but it is the information go-to network for many journalists who depend on it to get stories, ideas and spread their journalism.
The platform needs a good steward and better monetization options. It remains to be seen whether it will be fixed or broken even more by a billionaire at the seat.
Hi! I'm David Tvrdon, a tech & media journalist and podcaster with a marketing background (and degree). Every week I send out the FWIW by David Tvrdon newsletter on tech, media, audio and journalism.