Elon Musk is building Twitter into something better, bigger, safer and, above all, freer. Yet media headlines claim the company is “dying.”
The doom is overwrought. The eccentric billionaire is creating one of the most powerful media platforms the world has ever seen. This was underscored last week when he schooled an officious BBC reporter who claimed—without evidence—that the amount of hate speech is up on the social-media site. The CEO’s quick-witted lesson on free expression has since made the rounds on the platform, racking up well over 20 million views. That’s impressive reach—as was the company’s performance during the World Cup, when it hosted 147 billion impressions in about four weeks.
Mr. Musk is now accelerating plans to turn the chat room into the “everything app,” a marketplace he calls X.com, where users can buy and sell stocks, open bank accounts, shop for retail goods, pay bills and more. Last week he renamed Twitter’s holding company X Corp. and moved its incorporation from Delaware to Nevada. He also formed a new Nevada-based company, X.AI, and hired a former scientist from Google’s DeepMind laboratory to lead the venture. And Mr. Musk signed a deal with an Israeli online stock trader called eToro, which boasts more than 32 million users across Europe, Asia and the U.S.
In December, Twitter added pricing data for $Cashtags: a function that enables users to type a dollar sign before a stock symbol—say, $TSLA—to see the latest tweets about the company. So far this year, CNBC reported, Twitter users have logged some 420 million searches using the feature. Now the platform will allow Twitter users to click cashtags and jump to eToro to buy or sell stock.
Meantime, Mr. Musk is introducing more capabilities to the app: “We’re releasing features faster than in Twitter’s history—at the same time as having contained the costs and reduced the cost structure by a factor of three, maybe four,” he told the tech podcast “All-In” in December. Twitter’s “views” function is one such, which offers constant updates of how many people saw and clicked on each tweet. Mr. Musk noted that this requires Twitter’s servers to crunch some three million calculations per second—every second.
Another new feature, Community Notes, lets selected contributors rate and add factual context to posts. The site states that if enough contributors from “different points of view rate [a] note as helpful,” it will be publicly affixed to a tweet. No longer can journalistic “fact-checkers” get away with the shoddy work typical of the genre. One recent example: When the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler tweeted what he described as the “incendiary claim” that George Soros “funds” New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg, he was instantly met with popular—and accurate—pushback.
All the while, Mr. Musk has cut a workforce of 8,000—with a median compensation of $232,626 a year—down to about 1,500, drawing the envy of his counterparts in Silicon Valley. The media responded by claiming that hate speech and vile images would soar on the site because of the cuts. Yet all indications suggest that cracking down on this content is a priority of Mr. Musk’s.
In his first two months at Twitter, hate speech was reduced by a third “and will get even lower,” he said in December. The company also suspended 300,000 accounts related to child exploitation in November alone—up 57% from the previous management and “significantly more than any other month YTD.”
Recent reports claimed that anti-Semitic messages had more than doubled under Mr. Musk’s watch in the first few months of his tenure—to 12,700 posts per week. But this is hardly significant, as an estimated 6,000 tweets hit the platform every second.
Though many of Twitter’s top advertisers pulled their support when he took the helm, Mr. Musk says most of them are coming back. The platform was running a $3 billion annual loss when he got there, he says, and it’s on track to hit positive cash flow this quarter. “If Disney feels comfortable advertising their children’s movies, and Apple feels comfortable advertising iPhones, those are good indicators that Twitter is a good place to advertise,” Mr. Musk told the BBC. Enough said.
Mr. Kneale is a writer in New York and host of the podcast “What’s Bugging Me” on Ricochet.