Elon Musk Twitter poll ends with users seeking his departure

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Elon Musk is still working to buy Twitter (Photo: TED / YouTube / MGN)

(AP) — Millions of Twitter users asked Elon Musk to step down as head of Twitter in a poll on the platform that the billionaire had created and promised to abide by.

When the poll closed Monday, however, it wasn’t clear if there would be a new leader for the social media platform, which has grown more chaotic and confusing under Musk’s leadership with rapidly changing policies that are issued, then withdrawn or altered.

The billionaire Tesla CEO Musk had attended the World Cup final Sunday in Qatar, where he opened the poll. After it closed 12 hours later, there was no immediate announcement from Twitter or Musk, who may be midflight on his way back to the U.S. early Monday.

More than half of the 17.5 million respondents voted “yes” in answer to Musk’s Twitter poll asking whether he should step down as head of the company.

Musk has taken a number of unscientific polls on substantial issues facing the social media platform, including whether to reinstate journalists that he had suspended from Twitter, which was broadly criticized in and out of media circles.

The polls have only added to a growing sense of tumult on Twitter since Musk bought the company for $44 billion at the end of October, potentially leaving the future direction of the company in the hands of its users.

Among those users are people recently reinstated on the platform under Musk, people who had been banned for racist and toxic posts, or who had spread misinformation.

Since buying Twitter, Musk has presided over a dizzying series of changes that have unnerved advertisers and turned off users. He’s laid off half of the workforceaxed contract content moderators and disbanded a council of trust and safety advisors. He has dropped enforcement of COVID-19 misinformation rules and called for criminal charges against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert helping lead the country’s COVID response.

Musk has clashed with some users on multiple fronts and on Sunday, he asked Twitter users to decide if he should remain in charge of the social media platform after acknowledging he made a mistake in launching new restrictions that banned the mention of rival social media websites on Twitter.

The results of the unscientific online survey regarding whether Musk should remain as top executive at Twitter, which lasted 12 hours, showed that 57.5% of those who voted wanted him to leave, while 42.5% wanted him to stay.

The poll followed just the latest significant policy change since Musk acquired Twitter in October. Twitter had announced that users will no longer be able to link to Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon and other platforms the company described as “prohibited.”

That decision generated immediate blowback, including criticism from past defenders of Twitter’s new owner. Musk then promised that he would not make any more major policy changes to Twitter without an online survey of users, including who should lead the company.

The action to block competitors was Musk’s latest attempt to crack down on certain speech after he shut down a Twitter account last week that was tracking the flights of his private jet.

The banned platforms included mainstream websites such as Facebook and Instagram, and upstart rivals Mastodon, Tribel, Nostr, Post and former President Donald Trump’s Truth Social.

A growing number of Twitter users have left the platform under Musk, or created alternative counts on Mastodon, Tribel, Nostr or Post, and included those addresses in their Twitter profiles. Twitter gave no explanation for why the blacklist included some websites but not others such as Parler, TikTok or LinkedIn.

A test case was the prominent venture capitalist Paul Graham, who in the past has praised Musk but on Sunday told his 1.5 million Twitter followers that this was the “last straw” and to find him on Mastodon. His Twitter account was promptly suspended, and then restored, as Musk reversed the policy implemented just hours earlier.

Graham has not posted on Twitter since saying he would leave.

Policy decisions by Musk have divided users. He has advocated for free speech, but has suspended journalists and shut down a longstanding account that tracked the whereabouts of his jet, calling it a security risk.

But as he has changed policies, and then changed them again, created a sense of confusion on the platform about what is allowed, and what is not.

Musk permanently banned the @ElonJet account on Wednesday, then changed Twitter’s rules to prohibit the sharing of another person’s current location without their consent. He then took aim at journalists who were writing about the jet-tracking account, which can still be found on other social media sites, alleging that they were broadcasting “basically assassination coordinates.”

He used that to justify Twitter’s decision last week to suspend the accounts of numerous journalists who cover the social media platform and Musk, among them reporters working for The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Voice of America and other publications. Many of those accounts were restored following an online poll by Musk.

Then, over the weekend, The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz was suspended after requesting an interview with Musk in a tweet tagged to the Twitter owner.

Sally Buzbee, The Washington Post’s executive editor, called it an “arbitrary suspension of another Post journalist” that further undermined Musk’s promise to run Twitter as a platform dedicated to free speech.

“Again, the suspension occurred with no warning, process or explanation — this time as our reporter merely sought comment from Musk for a story,” Buzbee said. By midday Sunday, Lorenz’s account was restored, as was the tweet she thought had triggered her suspension.

Musk was questioned in court on Nov. 16 about how he splits his time among Tesla and his other companies, including SpaceX and Twitter. Musk had to testify in Delaware’s Court of Chancery over a shareholder’s challenge to Musk’s potentially $55 billion compensation plan as CEO of the electric car company.

Musk said he never intended to be CEO of Tesla, and that he didn’t want to be chief executive of any other companies either, preferring to see himself as an engineer. Musk also said he expected an organizational restructuring of Twitter to be completed in the next week or so. It’s been more than a month since he said that.

In public banter with Twitter followers Sunday, Musk expressed pessimism about the prospects for a new CEO, saying that person “must like pain a lot” to run a company that “has been in the fast lane to bankruptcy.”

“No one wants the job who can actually keep Twitter alive. There is no successor,” Musk tweeted.

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AP writer Brian P. D. Hannon contributed to this report.

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