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Charging For Quotes And Firing The Board: How Realistic Are Musk's Ideas For Twitter?

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Dr. Katie Spalding

Freelance Writer

clockMay 5 2022, 16:06 UTC

Will Musk be the one to work out how to actually make money from Twitter? Image: FellowNeko/Shutterstock

Elon Musk may have bought Twitter, but now he’s got to figure out what he’s actually going to do with it. And so, as with so many of the mogul’s most important financial decisions, he’s taken to Twitter itself for inspiration, brainstorming his future corporate policy in 280 characters or less.

The pressure’s on, too, as nearly three-fifths of the $44 billion he spent on the social media giant wasn’t actually his. A Reuters report revealed last week that Musk secured $25.5 billion in bank loans by promising to cut costs and raise revenue from the company – though, once again, the proposal was thin on any exact details of how to accomplish this, sources familiar with the situation said.

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One idea that reportedly made the pitch won’t come as welcome news to Twitter’s 7,500 employees, as Musk specifically mentioned job cuts, reports Bloomberg. While the specifics of which people or departments would be affected by this decision are yet to be determined, a mid-April tweet from Musk may reveal one target of the newly minted media mogul’s cost-cutting measures: Twitter’s board of executives.

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“Board salary will be $0 if my bid succeeds,” Musk tweeted, “so that’s ~$3M/year saved right there.”

While that may sound impressive on the face of it, it’s unlikely to impress his financial backers – it’s a “saving” that would take about 8,500 years to pay off the loans he secured. But Musk has another idea up his sleeve to generate money from the site: charging its users.

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Don’t panic – “Twitter will always be free for casual users,” Musk announced in a tweet Wednesday. But there may be “a slight cost for commercial/government users” in future, he added.

No further details were included in the tweet, which itself was a reply to a strangely conspiratorial message referencing the Freemasons, although Reuters reported that Musk also suggested charging media to embed or quote tweets in his funding pitch.

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But if Musk wants to follow through on these ideas, he’s likely to run into a few hurdles, as Mike Masnick explained for Techdirt.

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“[T]hanks to the 1st Amendment (that he claims to support so much) he’s unlikely to be able to do that successfully,” Masnick pointed out. “Quoting a tweet … in almost every damn case is going to be fair use under copyright law. And, a key reason we have fair use in copyright law… is that the 1st Amendment requires it, or else copyright law would stifle the very free speech that Musk claims to love so much.”

From early on in his bid to buy the social media platform, Musk positioned himself as a “free speech absolutist” – he even cited his belief in “Twitter[‘s] … potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe” in his purchase offer.

It’s going to be hard to square charging for tweets with that avowed loyalty to free speech – especially if you’re simultaneously trying to reduce the company headcount, since such a move would inevitably come with quite an administrative headache. Two headaches, actually, since we haven’t even started on how the company could go about charging companies or governments for use of the platform.

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But even if Musk somehow figures all that out, that won’t be the end for the problems with this approach. Back in late April, he tweeted that he would “defeat the spam bots or die trying!” – but as Masnick points out, monetizing the platform is likely to do the exact opposite.

Still, when you’re dealing with someone like Musk – famous for basing his business decisions on impulse and self-belief – perhaps it’s wiser not to try to anticipate his future moves. After all, as he said at a TED conference after making his offer for Twitter, “I don’t care about the economics at all.”


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