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Are Twitter's days numbered after Elon Musk's chaotic takeover of the company?


Elon Musk's chaotic takeover of Twitter has led to the departure of nearly half of Twitter's staff, including engineers who are crucial to the maintenance of the platform's infrastructure and security. This all has sparked questions about whether Twitter is going to survive at all and what the impact would be. For more, we're joined by Joanna Stern, senior personal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Thanks so much for being here, Joanna.

JOANNA STERN: Good morning.

MARTIN: I mean, you log on to Twitter, and you see people saying goodbye to each other like it's the apocalypse, as if Twitter is going to disappear at any moment. Give us some ground truth, Joanna. How likely is that?

STERN: It's true. I said some goodbyes, but I really was being very sarcastic. Look, people are having fun right now. There are some people having fun, some people not having fun on Twitter. They're leaving Twitter for other platforms because they feel what's going on there is, just as you said before, chaotic and not a lot of fun. But yeah, there's genuine fear that the platform could see some sporadic outages. The fact that it would go away forever is really, really, really unrealistic. I'm not a betting woman, but I would put a lot of money - I mean, I don't have $44 billion like Elon Musk, but if I did, I'd put a lot of money on it that it's not going to go down because he put a lot of money on this company. But there's fear that because he has let go so many employees - and some have left them on their own accord - that there isn't the proper infrastructure, the right engineering talent to keep all the systems going as they should. And will that result in specific types of outages, parts of the service going down? We don't know. But there are certainly fear from even very smart people in this industry that parts of the service can go down.

MARTIN: But it's not just technical, right? A lot of the concern is around editorial decisions. Donald Trump has been allowed to come back on Twitter. His feed has been restored. This is after he was barred for inciting violence on January 6. I mean, Elon Musk did this with, like, a Twitter poll. Does that mean that there is no longer any group of public ethics professionals at Twitter making decisions about disinformation and violent speech?

STERN: Some may still work there. It does not appear that many do, but it is certainly the case that Elon Musk is in charge of those decisions now. And the fact is, is that he is obviously showing us through this decision over the weekend to put Trump back on Twitter, to put Kanye West back on Twitter, that he is in charge of this. And he may take a poll, but at the end of the day, he is in charge of it. And, of course, he points to the fact that the poll had 52% in favor of Trump, but also I don't want anyone to forget here that Elon Musk fought - after saying he wanted to acquire Twitter, he fought the idea of taking over Twitter. He took - it was a legal battle. And his main point in that legal battle was that there are bots, automated accounts, people who are not real on this platform, and yet he is trusting a poll that he puts up on his Twitter account. It's a little bit ironic.

MARTIN: Well, so how is this going to affect advertisers? I mean, we've already seen corporations dropping off Twitter say they want to take a pause. But now we see, as you say, the reinstatement of Donald Trump and Kanye West and others. How are corporations weighing this?

STERN: Well, certainly in the last couple of weeks, they are weighing this, and they have been meeting with Twitter, with - Elon Musk himself has been doing groups of meetings with hundreds of advertisers, big marketing firms, to assure them that things are going to be OK on the platform. Now, he has said there will be continued moderation. He is planning to build certain new systems to increase moderation. But that does not mean that in the here and now people feel that this is a platform that has stability, that has - you know, that is not - the big thing that advertisers are concerned is is, hey, we put up an ad and then we're right next to some hate speech or some other terrible thing. And so advertisers are not feeling that confidence. And certainly they're pulling out. Some are pulling out, some are pausing. But the big question is, over time, does Elon Musk care? Obviously, right now, he may care in the near term because that's a big hit. But he's looking to diversify this business with more subscription revenue and other ways of monetizing social media that just isn't reliant on advertising.

MARTIN: Joanna, real quick, I mean, it seems to me if you were a scrappy former employee at Twitter, you'd be building your alternative right now.

STERN: Many are. Many are. There are certainly some people going - many people going to alternatives. The big thing is, is building a new social media network is not easy, and it's not easy to start all over again. I will say even on my own - I don't know, Rachel, if you're a Twitter user, but, you know, you've built your following here. You've built your group of people. And taking that and packing it all up, it's not like we had some go bag prepared for this exit, right? I mean, so you've got to find a platform you like. You've then got to rebuild that following there. You've got to make sure other people you know and trust and like are at that platform. Some are going to a social media app called Mastodon. We'll see if that one takes off.

MARTIN: Yeah, exactly. We'll see how viable these things are. Joanna Stern with The Wall Street Journal, thank you.

STERN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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