(CNN) — Elon Musk has now owned Twitter for an entire business day — and while he has certainly entered the company in erratic fashion, both employees and the public are still very much in the dark as to what he plans to do with it.
Big, consequential decisions remain, including whether former President Donald Trump will be permitted back on the platform, even though the Mar-a-Lago resident claims that he prefers his own Truth Social app.
It also comes at a crucial time in US politics. The important midterm elections are only days away. Not only do politicians sometimes stretch the rules in the run-up to elections, but foreign actors aiming to disrupt the process often run operations on social media aiming to spread disinformation.
Musk on Friday addressed the Trump question with an effective non-answer: “Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints,” Musk tweeted. “No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”
That statement indicated two things: First, the “Chief Twit” is seemingly unfamiliar with the basics of his own company, given Twitter already has such a policy council in place. Second, and more importantly, Musk seems to already be attempting to distance himself from arguably the most consequential decision Twitter will make under his stewardship.
For some time now, Musk has enjoyed being on the sidelines, able to heap criticism onto Twitter without having to manage the business (which is reliant on advertisers that don’t want their brands adjacent to hate speech) and enact actual policies. Now he’s in the driver seat.
Musk is trying to thread a difficult needle. He has said he will run Twitter in a way that hues closer to free speech absolutism. But he evidently understands some rules will be in place, as he sought to assure advertisers that the platform “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences.”
But, if rules are in place, that means disciplinary actions must also be in place, and that means that Musk will find himself in the position of having to slap users with punitive measures.
In other words, Musk will have no choice but to effectively censor people.
What happens when the “free speech absolutist” is suddenly the person responsible for censorship on the platform? How will Musk handle criticism from his fanbase when they accuse him of being anti-free speech?
In the meantime, it is unclear what rules are currently being enforced or not on Twitter. Musk tweeted Friday that “anyone suspended for minor & dubious reasons will be freed from Twitter jail.” That suggests he believes some of the Twitter rules are “minor & dubious” and should not be enforced — at least the way they have in the past.
Most employees are still in the dark at the company after Musk took ownership and exiled its now-former executive leadership team. There still has not been an all-hands meeting at Twitter to inform staff of the key decisions and changes underway. And Twitter’s corporate communications team, usually quite responsive to journalist’s inquiries, has gone dark.
Twitter is often referred to as a social media website. But that downplays what it is. It’s much more. It’s one of the most influential communications platforms in the world, affecting all pockets of society — and at the moment, during this particularly pivotal time, there isn’t a steady hand at the helm.