Elon Musk apologized and launched a poll asking whether he should step down as head of Twitter on Sunday night after the company launched a new policy that would suspend accounts linking to certain other platforms, a move that ignited massive backlash from individuals including some of Musk’s own supporters.
He then launched a Twitter poll, surveying users on whether he should step down. Musk had abided by past polls, despite them being unscientific and unrepresentative.
“Should I step down as head of Twitter? I will abide by the results of this poll,” he wrote. He added shortly after: “As the saying goes, be careful what you wish, as you might get it.”
Should I step down as head of Twitter? I will abide by the results of this poll.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 18, 2022
Respondents leaned heavily toward “Yes” in Musk’s poll, indicating Musk should step down, after nearly an hour of voting: 58 percent of more than 3 million votes were in favor of him handing over the reins. The poll was set to expire Monday morning before the opening of the stock market. The value of Tesla’s stock — the source of much of Musk’s net worth — has recently plunged. Investors have said Musk stepping aside from Twitter would improve Tesla’s outlook.
Musk’s sudden reversal came after Twitter earlier in the day said it would start suspending accounts linking to “prohibited platforms” such as Facebook and Instagram if those accounts are “used for the main purpose of promoting content on another social platform,” according to the announcement Sunday.
The policy, dated this month and tweeted Sunday afternoon, said tweets promoting accounts on some sites may be removed if users urge their Twitter followers to join them elsewhere.
“At both the tweet level and the account level, we will remove any free promotion of prohibited 3rd-party social media platforms,” the policy said. It lists several examples of such social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram and Truth Social, which former president Donald Trump co-founded.
The policy appeared to later be deleted, along with the tweets announcing it.
Musk’s ownership of Twitter — which he bought in October for $44 billion — has plunged the site into turmoil. He ousted the company’s executives and installed a team of loyalists, laid off more than half the staff and dialed back Twitter’s content moderation. He has engaged in misinformation as the site’s owner and hastily rolled out new and confusing changes, courting controversy and alarming advertisers, some of whom paused their spending on the site.
His sudden and sometimes arbitrary decisions have grated on many of Twitter’s core users and staff, but also some of his own supporters who pushed his ownership bid rooted in a “free speech” driven approach.
Already Sunday, Musk appeared to be losing the support of some who had backed his management moves at Twitter over the new policy.
George Hotz, a software developer whom Musk hired for an internship at the company after he tweeted enthusiastically about the business mogul’s takeover, tweeted a link to his Instagram account Sunday night.
“If saying that is banned, this isn’t somewhere I want to be anymore. That’s so far from free speech,” he wrote in a tweet.
It was a far cry from just weeks ago, when Musk issued an ultimatum to Twitter staff saying they would need to commit to an “extremely hardcore” pace to build the new Twitter.
“This is the attitude that builds incredible things. Let all the people who don’t desire greatness leave,” Hotz had written.
Meanwhile, Twitter users criticized the suspension of Paul Graham, who had spoken highly of Musk’s leadership, but also promoted his Mastodon handle on Twitter, screenshots on the site showed.
“This is the last straw,” he wrote, according to screenshots posted to the site. Graham’s account was suspended shortly after.
That prompted hordes of users, including National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, to weigh in. “This is a bad policy and should be reversed,” he wrote in a tweet.
The moves put Musk on the defensive, and he appeared to respond to the backlash, a rare move for the leader of Twitter since he took over in October.
“Paul’s account will be restored shortly,” he wrote in a tweet.
Twitter has slashed most of its public relations team since Musk took over the company in October, and Musk did not respond to an emailed list of questions about the new rule earlier in the day. Musk tweeted posts from the World Cup finale in Qatar earlier Sunday.
Musk, the billionaire owner of Tesla and SpaceX, recently suspended and reinstated a slew of high-profile journalists who he said had violated Twitter’s rules.
In the weeks since Twitter’s sale was finalized, Musk has dialed back enforcement of many of the site’s previous policies regarding hate speech and misinformation, while turning in some cases to unscientific polls to make decisions, like reinstating former president Donald Trump.
The new policy banning links to some other social media sites follows many prominent Twitter users promoting their alternate accounts, often expressing the opinion that staying on Twitter may become untenable as Musk overhauls the platform.
On Sunday, the company’s announcement prompted debate about whether the move could create legal challenges for Twitter.
“This is the clearest declaration of weakness I’ve ever seen from a major US tech platform, and a transparent declaration of anticompetitive intent that a GC would set themselves on fire to prevent (if somebody had that job at Twitter),” tweeted former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos, using an abbreviation for “general counsel.” He now leads the Stanford Internet Observatory, “a research, teaching and policy program focused on abuse in information technology,” according to its website.
In addition to linking to Facebook, Instagram and Truth Social, promoting the social media sites Mastodon, Tribel, Post and Nostr is restricted under Twitter’s new policy announced earlier Sunday. Third-party link aggregators such as linktr.ee and lnk.bio are also prohibited. Listing a social media handle without a URL is not allowed.
Twitter said a first violation of this policy may range from requiring deletion of a tweet to temporarily locking an account. An account may be suspended if the violation is in the bio or account name, the company said. Subsequent breaches of the policy could lead to permanent suspension.
Twitter’s abrupt suspension of several high-profile journalists last week, including one from The Washington Post, came as Musk claimed that they had shared “basically assassination coordinates” for him and his family — an apparent reference to tweets about the platform suspending an account using public flight data to track Musk’s private plane. Twitter allowed several of the journalists to return to the platform Saturday.
Musk also temporarily suspended, and then reinstated, a second Post reporter this weekend.
“Again, the suspension occurred with no warning, process or explanation — this time as our reporter merely sought comment from Musk for a story,” Washington Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said in a statement. “Post journalists should be reinstated immediately, without arbitrary conditions.”
Late Sunday, Twitter Safety tweeted an additional poll asking, “Should we have a policy preventing the creation of or use of existing accounts for the main purpose of advertising other social media platforms?”