“I have a ton of ideas,” Elon Musk texted Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal in April, “but lmk if I’m pushing too hard. I just want Twitter to be maximum amazing.” This was a few days after he agreed to join the company’s board — and a few weeks before he decided to buy the company instead, before trying to renege on that deal, before suing and being sued by Twitter, before apparently deciding to go through with it after all. For all the back and forth over the last several months, it’s still clear that Musk likes Twitter as a platform, understands its appeal and power, and has lots of ideas for how to change it.
“I just want Twitter to be maximum amazing.”
In a normal situation, we’d now be able to say with virtual certainty that Musk will, in fact, become the majority owner of Twitter. But, of course, this is Elon Musk, so the “anything can happen and the most insane thing probably will” rule still applies. There’s still a trial scheduled for October 17th and plenty of time left for chaos in this deal.
But let’s play this out a bit and assume the deal actually closes at some point in the near future. We can begin to turn to the next question: what will a Musk-owned Twitter be like? Over the last six months, Musk has given us some clues as to how he might push to change the platform and even the whole purpose and point of Twitter. And on Tuesday, he pointed to where it’s headed. “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app,” he tweeted after the news of his renewed offer went public.
As usual with Musk, and especially with Musk and Twitter, you should believe him about as much as you’d believe any other Extremely Online poster — which is to say, not much at all! Musk often says things he doesn’t mean; his beliefs change over time; things could change once he actually owns the company; he might not end up owning the company or owning it for very long; he might just shut the whole thing down for the fun of it!
But with a thousand caveats assumed, here’s what we think we know about how Twitter, the product and platform, might change with Musk as its owner:
WeChat is the app to copy
X, the “everything app” Musk referred to yesterday, is pretty clearly modeled after WeChat. WeChat, which is owned by the Chinese tech giant Tencent, is absolutely essential to everyday life in China for hundreds of millions of users. It’s like a messaging app, an app store, and a web browser, all in one service; it’s basically the iPhone built into an app.
“There’s no WeChat equivalent outside of China,” Musk said during a Q&A with Twitter employees in June. “You basically live on WeChat in China. If we can recreate that with Twitter, we’ll be a great success.”
This is roughly the vision that Evan Spiegel has for Snapchat and Mark Zuckerberg for WhatsApp. Even WeChat has tried to replicate its China success in other countries, to no avail. Everybody wants to be a super app, but nobody has pulled it off.
But so is Signal
Musk has long been a fan of the Signal messaging app, and the platform has been on his mind from the earliest days of his involvement with Twitter. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, earlier this year, texted Musk that the future of Twitter should involve a protocol run by a foundation, so it was separate from any business concerns. “A bit like what Signal has done,” Dorsey wrote. “Otherwise you have surface area that governments and advertisers will try to influence and control.”
Musk, too, has been thinking about how to bring some of Signal’s features — or even its actual platform — into Twitter. “Trying to figure out what to do with Twitter DMs,” he texted Brian Acton, Signal’s co-founder and executive chairman. “They should be end to end encrypted (obv). Dunno if better [sic] to have redundancy with Signal or integrate it.”
Payments will be everywhere
One big reason Musk seems to be chasing the WeChat model? Payments. WeChat makes money in part by taking a cut of all the payments — for rent, food, concert tickets, clothes, everything — made in the app. Musk seems to be interested in doing the same with Twitter: in his investor presentation, he said payments could be a $1.3 billion business by 2028.
Remember, Musk is part of the PayPal Mafia, the early group of founders and executives that got rich after PayPal was acquired by eBay and then set off to conquer the rest of the tech industry. Add his love of all things crypto in there, and you can see why turning Twitter into a payment processor might be compelling.
Musk wants in on the creator economy
Few people would probably think of Twitter as a great platform for video, but Musk is clearly interested in changing that. He has talked with several friends and colleagues about how to make video advertising work on Twitter and how to bring video creators over from platforms like YouTube and TikTok.
“From a social perspective — Twitter allowing for high-quality video uploads (1080p at a minimum) & adding a basic in-app video editor would have quite a big impact I think,” Vivien Hantusch, a longtime Musk fan who now works for him in Germany, texted to Musk. “Especially useful for citizen journalism & fun educational content. Might even help Twitter regain market share lost to TikTok.” Musk’s response: “Agreed.” And then, “Twitter can’t monetize video yet, so video is a loss for Twitter and for the those [sic] who post.”
Pushing Twitter to become more creator-friendly also matches with Musk’s other ambitions for the platform. Creators are the most reliable source of big audiences, and Twitter’s payment tools would take a cut of subscriptions and tips.
Users could get to choose their own algorithm
On the subject of the Twitter algorithm, Musk’s take is hard to pin down. He told Twitter employees he wants the app to be more like TikTok, offering an automatically generated feed of endless cool stuff. But he has also encouraged people to switch to the reverse-chronological feed and said that “you are being manipulated by the algorithm in ways you don’t realize.”
Musk’s plan seems to be to give people choice. Instead of one algorithm governing users’ experience of the platform, he has said he wants to “open-source” the algorithm and let others make new ones. This whole idea is a lot more complicated and less plausible than he makes it sound, of course, but it seems likely that he’ll push for users to have more options for how their timeline works.
The blockchain won’t be the answer
For a brief moment, the idea of a blockchain-based future of Twitter seemed to appeal to Musk. “I have an idea for a blockchain social media system that does both payments and short text messages/links like twitter,” he texted his brother Kimbal. “You have to pay a tiny amount to register your message on the chain, which will cut out the vast majority of spam and bots. There is no threat to choke, so free speech is guaranteed.”
Musk also seemed interested in running a decentralized social network as something apart from Twitter — an idea similar to what Twitter has already been exploring with Bluesky. But ultimately, Musk seemed to decide it simply wouldn’t work — at least not yet. “Blockchain Twitter isn’t possible,” he texted the banker Michael Grimes a few weeks after the texts to his brother, “as the bandwidth and latency requirements cannot be supported by a peer to peer network, unless those ‘peers’ are absolutely gigantic, thus defeating the purpose of a decentralized network.”
But paid memberships might be
Musk has talked a lot about Twitter Blue over the last several months and seems to see paid memberships as a core part of Twitter’s future. He pitched investors a plan that involved getting 69 million Blue subscribers by 2025 and 159 million by 2028. He wants to cut advertising to less than 50 percent of Twitter’s revenue, and the only way to do that is to convince users to pay up in a big way.
To pull that off, Musk appears ready to overhaul the features Blue offers. He and venture capitalist Jason Calacanis talked multiple times about how bad Blue was and the features they might add to improve it. “Premium feature[s] abound...and Twitter Blue has exactly zero,” Calacanis wrote. The edit button is an already available Blue feature Musk probably likes, but that probably won’t get 69 million people to pony up for Blue. There are likely more to come. Musk has even suggested that users should pay to be verified on the service.
Is this the end of the bots?
Obviously, Musk has spent the last few months ranting and raving about the problem of spam and bots on Twitter. And while he probably has a bigger crypto-scam-reply-guy problem than your average Twitter user, there’s no question that inauthentic users are a thing on Twitter. Musk has pledged to make “authenticating all humans” a priority while also purging the bots from the platform. In fact, that’s one of the reasons he wanted to take the company private in the first place: to remove all the bots and crater Twitter’s user numbers without scaring investors.
How will this play out, and what does it mean for the many harmless and fun bots on Twitter? Hard to say. Anyone who has tried to fight spam and bots knows that differentiating between human and machine is much harder than it sounds.
He’ll embrace free speech with a vengeance
Practically as soon as Musk first announced he’d bought a large chunk of Twitter stock, he began to position himself as the free-speech savior of the platform. About 12 hours after Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal tweeted that Musk was joining the board, Musk — apparently fresh from a phone call with Dorsey — texted him about his first wishes. “Would be great to unwind permanent bans, except for spam accounts and those that explicitly advocate violence.”
Musk has indicated that he would reinstate Donald Trump to the platform and wants to drastically reduce Twitter’s content moderation to allow everything that doesn’t violate local laws. (This, like so many things Musk says he wants to do, is dramatically more complicated and difficult than he makes it sound. There are a lot of laws! And they’re pretty different from place to place!)
Some users have taken this to mean Musk wants to push the platform in a right-wing direction, but Musk claims he’s neutral on the subject and only wants to make Twitter the same.
This could all have big implications for the 2022 midterms, the 2024 election, and the general day-to-day experience of using Twitter. But again, it’s important to remember that Musk doesn’t yet own Twitter, that Twitter is a large and complicated product that will be hard to shift in the way Musk is describing, and that Musk’s plan is to essentially emulate everyone else’s plan to build the most important app you use all day every day.
To pull this off, Musk will also have to rebuild the company itself. Morale is low inside Twitter, long-term projects have been shelved or canceled, and many employees are less than thrilled about the changes to come. But say this for Elon Musk: he’s not shy about taking big swings. Whatever it looks like, you can safely bet that the Twitter we know now won’t be around for much longer.