In rare move, Elon Musk meets Twitter employees to give ‘freedom of speech’ address

Elon Musk met directly with employees at Twitter on Thursday for the first time since he reached a deal to acquire the company in April, focusing on “freedom of speech” in an online address.

The billionaire had moved to purchase Twitter for $44bn in April but has since been critical of the company, threatening to put the deal on hold over concerns about bots, or fake accounts, that exist on the app.

“Trust is as trust does. I tend to be extremely literal in what I say … One does not to read between the lines. One can simply read the lines,” Musk said in the meeting, according to a tweet from Nola Weinstein, Twitter’s global head of brand experiences and engagement. Weinstein subsequently deleted all her tweets about the meeting and did not respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press.

During the call Musk pushed lofty goals for Twitter, saying he hoped it would be used by 1bn people globally, according to the New York Times. That figure is nearly four times its current user base.

“I want Twitter to contribute to a better, long-lasting civilization where we better understand the nature of reality,” he said, according to the Times, adding that he hopes Twitter could help us to “better understand the nature of the universe, as much as it is possible to understand”.

He’s also targeted Twitter’s work-from home policy, having once called for the company’s headquarters to be turned into a “homeless shelter” because, he said, so few employees actually worked there. The comment also served as a thinly veiled jab at San Francisco, which has a large homeless population.

Musk did not do much to assuage fears of layoffs at Twitter, declining to directly answer questions about potential restructuring and saying “right now, costs exceed revenue – that’s not a great situation”, according to the Times.

The billionaire businessman had earlier created a stir when he said he wants to “verify all humans” on the service. At the meeting, he clarified that this does not mean he wants to have everyone on Twitter use their real names, like on Facebook, since pseudonyms can allow people to express their political views freely, according to the New York Times.

Twitter’s chief executive, Parag Agrawal, had announced an all-hands meeting to employees in an email on Monday, saying they’d be able to submit questions to Musk in advance, according to The Wall Street Journal. Such a move is rare in the case of a purchase that has not been completed yet, said Harry Kraemer, a former CEO Baxter International and professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“In my experience it is very unusual and almost bizarre for someone who has not purchased the company to speak to current employees of the company he is looking to purchase,” he said, adding that the deal is “not a guarantee until it is done”.

Musk has in recent months levied a barrage of criticism at the company, from its moderation and safety policies, which he terms a threat to “free speech”, to its anonymous user accounts, which he would like to eliminate, to its ban of Donald Trump, which he has pledged to reverse.

“We should allow people to say what they want,” he said on Thursday’s call.

Such actions have made many employees wary of the irascible billionaire’s impending takeover, with some lodging pointed inquiries his way in Thursday’s meeting. “When you assume ownership of this company, do you intend to continue to make factually incorrect statements about Twitter products and operations, and to publicly disparage its employees?” one person asked, according to the New York Times.

If history is any guide, Musk might consider moving the company to Texas, as he did with Tesla’s headquarters in December. An unabashed crypto devotee, he has floated ideas about accepting the cryptocurrency dogecoin as payment for premium accounts. Musk also once had Tesla purchase $1.5bn in bitcoin and for a brief period allowed buyers to pay for their cars using cryptocurrency.

It’s not clear if this week’s meeting means that the two sides have come closer together on resolving their issues. Shares of Twitter have been trading well below the $54.20 per share that Musk has agreed to pay amid Wall Street doubts that the deal will be consummated. Twitter stock was up 1% on Thursday following the call.

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