San Francisco, New York At first glance, everything seems harmonious. With friendly words, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal on Tuesday welcomes the promotion of Tesla CEO Elon Musk to the platform’s board of directors. Musk replies that he is looking forward to the collaboration. Yet the collaboration is likely to be anything but harmonious.
When Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey handed the chief executive job to Agrawal in November, Musk responded with a doctored photo in which Agrawal’s head had been superimposed on an image of dictator Josef Stalin. On Tuesday, Musk announced “significant improvements for Twitter within the coming months.” On several occasions, Musk accused the platform of restricting freedom of expression.
Agrawal, 37, represents a different course. He had prescribed a course for Twitter in which the platform takes decisive action against false information.
In an interview with MIT Technology Review magazine, Agrawal had said, “Our job is to ensure healthy public discussion, and our steps reflect the things that we think lead to healthier public discussion.”
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Twitter’s job, on the other hand, is not to guarantee full freedom of expression from the U.S. Constitution, Agrawal had elaborated, drawing criticism from conservative congressmen in particular.
In connection with the war in Ukraine, Agrawal had reaffirmed his course and announced strict action against false information. Twitter had to row back several times, as accounts of analysts and experts who had reported on the development of the war had been falsely blocked.
Agrawal and Musk are also very different on a personal level. Agrawal wants to embody a new kind of CEO of a U.S. technology company. When corporations like Apple, Google and Facebook announced mandatory office hours for their employees, Agrawal took the exact opposite approach. He promised not to mandate a work location. “You can work wherever you feel most productive and creative,” Agrawal wrote to the workforce.
Agrawal is married, and his family is expecting their second child. Agrawal has already announced that he will then take “a few weeks” of parental leave. Twitter offers its employees 20 weeks of paid parental leave, regardless of gender, which is a rarity in the United States.
Musk, on the other hand, had in the past downplayed his role as a father. In 2020, after the birth of his son X Æ A-Xii, when asked how he found time in his calendar to spend with his children, he replied that his partner Grimes played “a much bigger role” in parenting. “Currently, I can’t do much,” Musk explained to The New York Times, “Babies are just eating and bowel movement machines.” His relationship with Canadian musician Grimes later broke up.
Musk is likely to use his role at Twitter to insert himself into the ongoing business, surmised Daniel Ives, managing director at asset management firm Wedbush Securities. The fact that Musk was offered the board position immediately after becoming the largest single shareholder should be seen as an attempt to welcome him with open arms, Ives said. “Now is the time to get out the popcorn and watch the developments in the coming months with Musk on the board,” Ives said.
Agrawal is from India and studied computer science at Stanford before earning his doctorate. In 2011, he started as a software engineer at Twitter. As CTO, he improved the company’s in-house advertising platform and was responsible for launching new services; as board chairman, he announced an ambitious growth program.
After taking office, Agrawal promised to speed up decision-making and bring numerous new products to the platform. Twitter has ambitious growth targets: For example, annual revenue is to increase to $7.5 billion by the end of 2023 (2021: $5.0 billion), and 315 million users are also to log on daily by then.
It already seems clear today that the aggressive growth targets will change the social network. At its core, Twitter still works the way it did when it was launched in 2006: users inform themselves and discuss with each other on the basis of short text messages, supplemented on a case-by-case basis by links, images and videos. The biggest change to the platform was raising the limit from 140 to 280 characters per tweet in 2017.
At last count, Twitter had 217 million daily active users, with the vast majority of tweets written by a small minority. Many professional Twitter users – including managers, politicians and journalists – appreciate the focus on core functions, such as compared to Facebook, which has bloated over the years. But that’s a problem for Twitter: its user base has been growing slowly for years.
Agrawal began adding more features to the service while he was still CTO. For example, a feature called “Super Follows” was introduced, allowing some users to charge their fans for additional material. 2021 launched “Twitter Spaces,” an audio service that allows users to start or listen to live conversations – similar to the app Clubhouse, which was hyped in the corona pandemic.
A July 2020 hack caused a stir when 130 celebrity profiles were briefly taken over, including those of Elon Musk, Barack Obama and Bill Gates. The hackers used their reach for dubious advertising of bitcoin investments.
In the wake of the corona pandemic, Twitter experienced a surge in users and, on the other hand, an increasing politicization of discussions on the platform. Repeatedly, the company was accused of doing too little to combat misinformation and conspiracy theories related to the pandemic and covid vaccination. Twitter responded – and announced in March 2020 that it would flag tweets containing misinformation. Some of these were subsequently tagged with links to reputable covid information.
According to its own statements, Twitter is testing a function for the subsequent modification of tweets. It has been working on this since last year, the short message service announced on Tuesday. Musk had launched a poll the previous day among users on the question of whether they wanted a redact button. The Tesla boss met
a nerve, because users have actually wanted this function for a long time.
Twitter emphasized, however, that the idea for the redact button did not stem from Musk’s survey. The function will be tested in the coming months in the Twitter Blue payment service, he said. The trial, he said, is intended to help the company “get a handle on what works, what doesn’t, and what’s possible.” So it may be a while before the redact button possibly arrives.
With agency material
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