Musk Says He Wants One Billion Users on Twitter: Live Updates

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SAN FRANCISCO — For weeks, Elon Musk has trashed Twitter in public. On Thursday, he acted like he would finally own the company.

In an hourlong question-and-answer session in the morning with Twitter’s 8,000 or so employees — the first time Mr. Musk has spoken with them since he struck a $44 billion deal to buy the social media company in April — the world’s richest man opened up about his plans for the service. In an effusive and at times rambling address, he touched on growth, potential layoffs, issues like anonymity, Chinese apps and even the cosmic nature of Twitter.

“I want Twitter to contribute to a better, long-lasting civilization where we better understand the nature of reality,” Mr. Musk said in the virtual meeting, which was live streamed to Twitter employees and which The New York Times listened to. He added that he hoped the service could help humankind “better understand the nature of the universe, as much as it is possible to understand.”

The meeting, which Mr. Musk participated in from his cellphone in what appeared to be a hotel room, suggested that he was set on closing the blockbuster deal. In recent weeks, his intentions toward Twitter have been in doubt. The billionaire, who also runs the electric carmaker Tesla and the rocket company SpaceX, has repeatedly raised questions about Twitter’s fake accounts. This month, his lawyers said the company was refusing to give him information, an apparent pretext for potentially trying to end or renegotiate the acquisition.

Mr. Musk, who offered $54.20 a share to buy Twitter, may have had a change of heart after global markets tumbled. Twitter’s stock is now trading around $38. And shares of Tesla, which are Mr. Musk’s main source of wealth, have also plummeted.

In April, Mr. Musk had agreed to buy Twitter without doing any due diligence. He is on the hook for a breakup fee of $1 billion if he walks away. Under the terms of the deal, Twitter also has the right to sue him to force a completion of the acquisition, if his debt financing for the purchase remains intact.

Twitter has insisted that the deal remains on track and that it has been sharing information with Mr. Musk.

In his remarks on Thursday, Mr. Musk did not directly address whether he would close the deal with Twitter. But he said he had grand plans for the service.

In the conversation, which was moderated by Twitter’s chief marketing officer, Leslie Berland, Mr. Musk said he hoped to grow the service so that it would be used by more than one billion people across the world. That would be nearly four times the number of people who use Twitter currently. He added that he was hands-on at Tesla and expected to be so at Twitter, and would be especially involved in the social media service’s features.

“I do expect that they will listen to me in this regard,” Mr. Musk said.

Mr. Musk answered questions collected from Twitter employees on the internal Slack messaging system in the past week.

Some of the questions were about workplace culture, including remote work. This month, Mr. Musk sent memos to workers at Tesla and SpaceX, saying he expected them to be in the office for 40 hours a week. Twitter’s employees have largely worked remotely in the coronavirus pandemic.

In the meeting, Mr. Musk said he was open to Twitter employees who worked remotely, given that developing software was different from showing up daily to build cars. But he noted that a broad lack of in-office participation could contribute to a dwindling “esprit de corps” and said he hoped that people would be willing to come into the office more in the future.

Mr. Musk dodged directly answering whether there would be layoffs at Twitter under his watch, though his answer was ominous.

“Right now, costs exceed revenue,” he said. “That’s not a great situation.”

Mr. Musk, a longtime power user of Twitter with more than 98 million followers, has long said he believes the company’s potential is underutilized. He has added that he hopes to rejuvenate the service outside the eye of the public markets by taking the company private and making significant changes to how Twitter operates.

Inside Twitter, some employees have had mixed feelings about Mr. Musk. Some have said they are concerned by his Twitter habits and murky politics, and are worried by how he has said he would prefer to take a laissez-faire approach to policing the platform. That has stoked questions, given the years that Twitter spent building up its policy department.

Others point to Mr. Musk’s reputation as an innovator. After past Twitter executives set but failed to reach high financial and user performance goals, some employees have said Mr. Musk could reinvigorate the company.