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Musk offers billion-user vision but few details to Twitter staff

·4-min read

Elon Musk pitched a vision Thursday to Twitter staff of a one-billion-user platform, but was hazy on potential layoffs, free speech limits and what's next in his chaotic buyout bid.

The Tesla chief talked of letting people say pretty much whatever they want on Twitter while at the same time keeping it a friendly place that users enjoy visiting.

While fielding questions in his first meeting with staffers, the Tesla chief offered no updates on whether he will go through with a proposed $44 billion takeover deal which he himself has called into doubt.

A transcript of the employees-only virtual meeting posted at website Recode indicated Musk professed "love" for Twitter, joking that while some people express themselves with hair styles he does so on the global messaging stage.

Musk said he wants to have "at least a billion people on Twitter" in what would be massive growth for a platform that has about 229 million now.

Musk told Twitter employees he favors moderate political positions, but that users should be able to say outrageous things.

He qualified that by saying that freedom of speech doesn't mean an intrinsic freedom for comments to reach far and wide.

The Tesla chief has already made comments on how he'd run the platform -- including lifting Donald Trump's ban.

"People should be allowed to say pretty outrageous things that are within the bounds of the law, but then that doesn’t get amplified," Musk said, according to the transcript.

"We have to strike this balance of allowing people to say what they want to say but also make people comfortable on Twitter, or they simply won’t use it."

Musk answered a question about possible layoffs by saying the company "needs to get healthy" when it comes to its financial situation.

"Anyone who’s obviously a significant contributor should have nothing to worry about," Musk told Twitter workers.

He endorsed advertising and subscriptions as ways to make money at Twitter, saying ads should be entertaining as well as legitimate.

Musk talked anew about making money at Twitter by charging to verify identities of those behind accounts, then making verification a factor in which tweets get higher ranking at the platform.

Regarding Twitter's policy of letting people work from home, Musk said it would be an option only for those proven to be exceptional at their jobs.

"The Musk Twitter all-hands call was the wrong call at the wrong time in our opinion," Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a tweet.

"Lots of answers Musk could not provide given fluid nature of deal."

Ives added that the virtual exchange spotlighted a contrast between the kind of culture fostered by Musk and the "Twitter DNA."

Musk touched on his Tesla and SpaceX endeavors during the meeting, talking of sustainable energy and extending the "scope, scale and lifespan of consciousness as we know it."

"Can we travel to other star systems and see if there are alien civilizations?" he asked rhetorically.

"There might be a whole bunch of long dead, one planet civilizations out there that existed 500 million years ago."

His comments came a day after a Verge report that SpaceX employees shared a letter internally complaining that Musk's behavior on Twitter is a distraction and embarrassment to the private space exploration enterprise.

- Market not convinced -

Musk shocked the tech world with an unsolicited buyout bid in April for the platform that is a key exchange for news, entertainment and politics.

The board eventually came around to supporting his $54.20 per share offer, but since then he has cast doubt on the deal by clashing with the firm's leadership over user numbers.

Musk has kept employees and Wall Street on edge over how the buyout saga will end.

Reports coming out of the meeting evidently left the market unconvinced about the buyout, with Twitter shares slipping more than two percent in mid-day trade far below the purchase price agreed to my Musk.

Tesla shares, meanwhile, ended the formal trading day down more than 8 percent in an apparent sign investors are worried Musk's focus is not on the electric car maker.

The proposed Twitter sale has stoked protests from critics who warn his stewardship will embolden hate groups and disinformation campaigns.

US securities regulators have also pressed Musk for an explanation of an apparent delay in reporting his Twitter stock buys.

For his part, Musk has repeatedly raised questions about fake accounts on the platform, saying on Twitter he could walk away from the transaction if his concerns were not addressed.

gc/dw

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