Six things we learned from the Elon Musk interview
Elon Musk has defended how he runs Twitter in a rare and wide-ranging interview with the BBC.
The world’s second-richest man was questioned by BBC technology reporter James Clayton for nearly an hour at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco.
Here are six things we learned.
1. He denies a spike in hate speech on Twitter
Mr. Musk has rejected the idea that more hateful content has emerged on the platform since he took over.
In an interview with the BBC earlier this yearsome Twitter insiders believe the company is no longer able to protect users from trolling, state-coordinated disinformation and child sexual exploitation following layoffs and changes by owner Mr. Musk.
In March, Twitter said it removed 400,000 accounts in one month alone to help “make Twitter safer.”
To fully assess Mr. Musk’s claims, you need two things we don’t currently have — access to Twitter data before and after his takeover, and, most importantly, a clear understanding of how he defines misinformation and hate speech.
U.S. law does not have a comprehensive definition of hate speech, and because of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws are generally much more lenient than in other countries.
2. He voted for Joe Biden
Mr Musk said nearly half the country voted for Mr Trump in the last US election, but added: “I’m not one of them. I voted for Biden.”
In another part of the interview, he defended ending Trump’s Twitter ban, which was removed in 2021 after the platform accused him of inciting violence.
3. He says Twitter is beating bots in the war on disinformation
Mr Musk claims his efforts to remove bots (automated accounts) after he took over have reduced misinformation on Twitter.
“My experience has been less misinformation not more,” he told our reporter.
Some outside experts disagree. A Learn from Newsguard Studies that track misinformation online have found a spike in interactions with popular accounts spreading misinformation after Musk took office.
The most popular and least trusted accounts saw a nearly 60% increase in engagement in the form of likes and retweets in the week after he acquired Twitter, the survey showed.
bbc also independently analyzed More than 1,000 previously banned accounts were reactivated on Twitter after Mr. Musk took over, and it was found that more than a third had spread abuse or misinformation since reinstatement.
This includes false anti-vaccine claims, misogynistic and anti-LGBT rhetoric, and denial of the 2020 US election results.
4. He opposes banning TikTok
Mr. Musk said he did not use the most downloaded app in the United States, but opposed any move to shut it down.
The United States is considering a ban amid security concerns over TikTok’s Chinese ownership. Some other countries have banned government employees from using it.
“I’m generally against banning something,” Mr. Musk said, though he said a ban would benefit Twitter because it could mean more people would spend time on his platform.
5. He would turn down the $44 billion takeover of Twitter
Mr. Musk initially claimed in interviews that if someone offered to buy Twitter immediately for the price he paid, he would say no.
If he did sell, he said it was more important to find a buyer who valued the “truth” than how much they were willing to pay because, as he said: “I don’t care about the money.”
But is it true? Remember, he was desperately trying to get out of the deal.
Mr. Musk said Twitter had only a few months to live when he took over and ran it like a nonprofit.
Twitter’s costs outweigh the revenue it generates. In the last full-year results released before Musk took over, total sales for 2021 hit $5 billion, but costs and expenses hit $5.5 billion. In fact, since 2012, it has only been profitable in two years.
He thinks Twitter is now close to breaking even. No wonder – laying off 6,500 workers would indeed reduce costs.
But he’s also been actively looking for ways to boost sales, such as changing Twitter users to “blue tick” verification.
So yes, Twitter may now be close to breaking even thanks to aggressive cost-cutting. But the question is whether it can sustain this path to profitability and return the company to a $44 billion market cap.
6. He will drop the BBC label
Mr Musk confirmed he would change the label on BBC Twitter from “government funded” to “public funded” following last week’s spat.
The BBC disputed the initial characterization, stressing the company’s independence. It is largely funded by the British public through television license fees.
In an interview on Wednesday, Mr Musk said: “If we used the same words as the BBC to describe ourselves, then probably it would be fine.”
Licensing fees account for around 71% of the BBC’s £5.3bn total revenue in 2022 – with the rest coming from its commercial and other activities such as grants, royalties and rental income.
The BBC also receives more than £90m a year from the government to support the BBC World Service, which mainly caters to non-UK audiences.
Reporting by the Reality Check team, BBC Monitoring and business reporter Dearbail Jordan