Twitter is a phenomenally successful social media platform, but new leadership may just be driving it into the ground. Elon Musk, a familiar name to most, just recently bought and become the new owner of Twitter. Elon Musk has shown extreme behaviors, did not hesitate to change guidelines, and granted Twitter account access back to previously banned controversial users. Behind closed doors, Musk is demanding employees commit to intense hours of work and threatened consequences if employees do not conform. Advertisers quickly became wary of his strategy and unsure of his leadership. Musk is now trying to convince advertisers to stay at the company and continue working for him. His actions are not only affecting himself, but the employees, advertisers, and the community of Twitter users as well.
This case will be reviewed under various ethical theories including Individualism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and Virtue Theory. Individualists would argue that Elon Musk is unethical because he is willing to express behaviors, even at the risk of profit. Utilitarianists would claim that Elon Musk is unethical because he is not prioritizing the happiness of employees or other Twitter users. Kantians would argue that Elon Musk is unethical because he has the wrong motivations and a lack of rationality. Virtue Theory would claim that Elon Musk is ethical because he is looking to use Twitter to its full potential. Personally, I say Elon Musk in relation to Twitter is unethical because of his extreme behavior and treatment of others.
ETHICS CASE CONTROVERSY
Twitter has been one of the most popular social media platforms for the better part of the last fifteen years. Twitter is a platform in which users can “tweet” their thoughts, share posts with friends, and see the news. Of course, like any other social media website, Twitter has set regulations and guidelines for limiting the content to keep it appropriate for all users. Twitter, in the past, banned users and controversial figures that failed to follow guidelines and was distributing posts that may not be appropriate for many. Musk has taken over Twitter and made changes regarding those banned accounts. Twitter advertisers think that the new leadership may be causing Twitter to take a turn for the worst.
|Timeline of Elon Musk's|
In January 2022, Elon Musk began buying shares of Twitter. On April 4, 2022, Musk became Twitter’s biggest shareholder, owning just over 9% of the company in shares. On October 27, 2022, Elon Musk officially bought Twitter and fully owned it through a $44 billion deal. Within 48 hours after his takeover, Musk posted, then quickly deleted, a tweet with anti-LGBTQ content. Since then, guidelines have been edited and “far-right figures [began] to test Twitter’s boundaries for anti-LGBTQ speech” (Wile). Musk denied making the changes and because of this, advertisers have claimed they will back away from the company due to being unsure about Musk’s strategy. These actions are ethically controversial because Musk is allowing for more freedom of speech and expression, but this can be hurtful or inappropriate to other users that may be sensitive to such subjects, or just not mature enough yet.
Musk has also shown close to no remorse for the employees at the company. On November 16th, Musk sent out an email to the entire company that demands the employees to commit to longer hours of higher intensity work. He stated those that do not conform to the new expectations, or support his ideas, will receive three months of severance. Elon Musk did not hesitate to make alterations in the company’s staff, as he fired an engineer, top executives, and up to twenty others. Those he fired included ones that criticized him and his tactics for what he is calling “Twitter 2.0”, the new and updated version of Twitter. The treatment of employees is alarming and does not follow the ethical lines of certain theories. Not only is this treatment intimidating to advertisers, but it is also unfair and can cause them to walk away. Watching a business lose bunches of employees at a time is not something a partnering company wants to experience. They want to be able to trust their partner company, but Elon Musk is making it extremely difficult for advertisers to do so.
In political fairness views, Elon Musk has been exposed to fact checking democratic party members and even posted content speaking against the democratic party. Though there may not being anything wrong with expressing one’s political favors, Elon Musk’s speech was strong and aggressive. Being such a big figure that collects a lot of attention, speaking out with political opinions can be controversial. One must be careful when going about this because the wrong words can offend someone viewing it and may even be taken the wrong way. Musk is trying to create a platform that respects all free speech, but a certain algorithm to his madness has been detected. Before his takeover, Twitter was mainly only fact checking republicans. Now that Musk has control, he wants all political parties to get fact checked and seems to be targeting the democrats. This includes fact checking United States President, Joe Biden, about tax claims. Recently, the White House “was forced to delete a tweet that credited [Biden] for an increase in Social Security payments after being flagged by Twitter as being inaccurate” (Tillison). These political interactive behaviors of fact-checking democrats, tweeting against the democratic party, and changing Twitter’s boundaries in favor of republicans is a controversial approach. People feel passionately about their political views, and with Twitter clawing at only one party, people quickly become unhappy, and advertisers do not want unhappy people.
Twitter’s advertisers quickly noticed Musk’s approach strategy and became wary. The top twenty advertisers of Twitter are even “urging their leaders to pull ads unless Musk agrees to crack down on hate speech” (Barrabi). The new behaviors of Twitter are unpleasing to advertisers and are causing them to pull away from associating with the platform. Advertisers are not sitting comfortably with the political and social tactics of the new guidelines. All kinds of attention are being drawn towards the clash between Elon Musk and advertisers, but the ethical aspects of it are also playing a significant role in the dynamics.
This case intertwines several groups of people in diverse ways. First, there is Elon Musk. He is the owner of Twitter, makes all the decisions, has people working for him, and is catching all the blame. Next, there are Twitter users, who are being affected by the change in guidelines. Then, there are Twitter employees, who are being overworked, ordered to commit to intense hours of work, and are threatened with being fired. Lastly, there are the advertisers, who are highly affected by Twitter activity and business decisions. As a result of Musk’s tactics, advertisers are pleading that their leaders opt out of working with Twitter any longer. Some advertisers, like Coca-Cola and Kellog’s, have already stopped working with Twitter. Each of these groups and individuals play a part in this case and can make a difference in the result. Musk can make better decisions, users of Twitter can remain respectful on the app, employees can do their best to work with one another to keep Twitter under control, and the advertisers can decide whether Twitter is the best business partner for them. Each of these people are involved and affected by whatever types of changes are being made through Twitter. But Elon Musk is the single defendant.
Individualists would consider Elon Musk to be unethical because he is not prioritizing Twitter’s profit. He is making choices that are dragging the profit down. In early November, “Musk admitted that Twitter has seen a ‘massive drop in revenue’ since he took over the company” (Barrabi). In an individualist’s perspective, this is unacceptable because being ethical is about prioritizing profit for one’s business. Elon Musk is not doing that. He makes whichever choices he wants, even if they are being disagreed with and looked down upon. The profit for the platform boldly reflects it, but Musk is not making many alterations to fix this. Musk opened and took a poll on whether the previous United States President, Donald Trump, should be invited back to Twitter. This poll collected over fifteen million responses and close to fifty-two percent of them voted “Yes” to allowing Trump back onto the site (MSN). Aside from this poll, there is not much Elon Musk has done to consider the thoughts of users. Musk is thinking of himself first, and this is losing Twitter loads of profit.
|Elon Musk (left), newest owner of Twitter, |
and Tim Cook (right), CEO of Apple.
One of the largest companies on Twitter, Apple, recently stopped advertising on the site. On November 28, 2022, Musk stated that Apple has threatened to take Twitter off the app store. This would tear down the platform. In response, Musk publicly tweeted about the incident, saying that Apple has threatened the removal but without giving a reason. He then posted a following tweet “insinuating the company may hate free speech in the US” (Oparada). Rather than managing an issue and finding a solution, Musk brings it to the public light, knowing the risks. It has become clear that Elon Musk is more concerned with transforming the app how he wants to, rather than focusing much attention on the platform’s profit. Musk is knowingly losing money but carrying on with statements instead of solutions. An individualist would claim it is unethical because it is not what is best for the company.
Because the recent Twitter activity has been bothersome to many, a utilitarian would claim that Elon Musk is extremely unethical. A behavioral tactic that is uncomforting to many people is the alteration of language that is allowed and the fact checking of certain parties. When Musk posted the anti-LGBTQ content, and far-right figures began doing the same, many were bothered by this and the lenience. Those in the LGBTQ community, or those with sensitive feelings towards it, find this disrespectful. The so-called “hate speech” is very upsetting to many people and the utilitarian perspective would observe this overall lack of happiness as unethical, thus concluding the ethical deficiency lies in the fault of Elon Musk.
The strategy of heavily fact checking liberal posts is pleasing and rejuvenating for the republican party but is discomforting for democrats. When Musk’s new algorithm fact checked the White House account, found their content inaccurate, and made them delete the Tweet, “the administration was humiliated” (Tillison). This can be shaky since politicians are expected to give true information, so the tactic can be justified. Republicans will find joy in this correction made by Twitter. But not everyone is happy and that is what a utilitarian would focus on. If not every specimen capable of feeling happiness is happy, then a utilitarian is not pleased.
The main group in this case, the advertisers, are not happy at all. They are watching Twitter spiral downward and have “increasingly balked at the billionaire’s handling of the social media site and raised concerns about whether it will remain ‘brand safe’ for companies” (Barrabi). Elon Musk is making it difficult for advertisers to feel safe with using Twitter as a source and this can become stressful. Advertisers are unhappy with the recent developments, so much so that they are pulling away from the app and deciding to find other ways of advertising. Utilitarians notice the general unhappiness and conclude Elon Musk as unethical.
Due to his motives not coming from goodwill and treating others simply as a means, the Kantianism perspective concludes Elon Musk is unethical. The business decisions made by Musk are shaky and questionable, but his reasons behind these choices are not much better. Targeting the democratic party and plainly favoring the republican side is not the result of wanting to make things “fair”, but it is simply the reflection of Musk’s own political opinions. Continuously making minor decisions that turn a cold shoulder to just liberals is selfish and controversial. For the republicans, it is “a glorious sight to behold” (Tillison) and they can find satisfaction in this, but anyone with different opinions or thoughts than Musk can be irritated. Musk is selfishly making these political actions, not necessarily for the best sake of the site.
Elon Musk has not shown any compassion towards the staff, advertisers, or humanity of the workforce. Firing many employees was not only triggered by a selfish motive but was also a step he took to turn the Twitter staff into his own personal supporters. Elon Musk is firing the employees that disagree with him and by doing such, he is using people and affecting their lives to get what he wants: his own Twitter army. Musk does not care for the employees and lacks compassion for their well-being. His manner of handling the employees is not to directly manage who is working and the quality of work; it is a part of his process in benefitting himself and getting what he wants. He does not consider the impacts this has on advertisers and is still pleading them to stay at Twitter. This contradicts the formula of humanity in Kantianism, which preaches treating humanity as an end and not as a means. Musk is treating the employees, users, and advertisers as a means, not an end. Because Musk’s skills in management contradict the formula of humanity and show poor motives, Kantians would declare he is unethical.
Elon Musk is handling Twitter very unethically by the four business virtues. First, Elon Musk lacks courage. He is not willing to support what’s right. Instead of making the political approach fair or allowing employees to be entitled to their own opinions, Musk is doing what he wants to do with his own interest in mind. People can have their own ideas and thoughts, and just because an employee’s ideas might disagree with Musk’s, they get fired. He does not stand for the ethically right ideas and actions. He does what he thinks is best for himself.
Secondly, he has no honesty regarding employee treatment, Twitter users, and advertisers. Musk ensured he would develop Twitter for the better, but he is terminating employees and advertisers are detecting the danger in pairing with the site. He is dishonest with the employment status, as he fires staff for invalid reasons. Musk has also publicly reported false information, then fired an employee for exposing him. Musk is not upholding the honesty virtue.
The third virtue Musk fails to display is temperance, the virtue of reasonable expectations and desires. Elon Musk wants Twitter to be run in ways that only agree with his personal views and thoughts, including politically and socially. That is not reasonable because the social media platform was made for all people with all sorts of different ideas. Furthermore, he is expecting employees to commit to extreme, long, hard hours of work and has threatened consequences, if not. His expectations for staff and desires for the site do not follow the temperance virtue.
Lastly, Musk lacks the justice virtue. He is reducing the quality of Twitter, his newly owned product, and is not using good ideas or fair practices. His ideas are irrational, and his practices are not fair for all, let alone most. His algorithms are unfair, his ideas are too controversial, the quality of Twitter is decreasing, and he is ultimately having people work harder so he does not have to. Thus, he does not follow the justice virtue. Because Elon Musk fails to cooperate with every single one of the virtues, the virtue theory claims he is unethical
|Elon Musk is promoting more free |
speech on Twitter for all users
JUSTIFIED ETHICS EVALUATION
The ethics being displayed by Elon Musk are poor. When managing a business, and being in full control, there is more to ethics than one may think. Business morals and ethics are not just about benefitting oneself or one’s own business, but also doing what benefits others, including employees and, in this case, Twitter users. Elon Musk has not done a whole lot to benefit anyone than himself.
The well-being and sake of others are not a priority of Musk’s. He has fired people that need their job to make a living, allowed language that is offensive to many people, and targets certain groups of people. In the political aspects, no matter any personal political stance, the heavy fact checking of only one party is not fair. All politicians tend to post and distribute content that they want people to see, rather than the full truth. Targeting one party upsets people, can heavily impact elections, and makes things more difficult. Politics is one of the messiest subjects to be involved in. Elon Musk is stirring the political pot and advertisers are not pleased.
People need to work to make a living and afford a comfortable life. For Elon Musk to come in and fire top executives and engineers, only because they disagreed with him, is selfish and incredibly unethical. A valid reason for termination of an employee is not because they disagree with ideas. Elon Musk fires employees because they do not agree, and he also fact checks democrats because they do not agree. He is selfish in those ways. Disrespecting the simple opinions of others is unethical and an unacceptable approach for business.
The advertisers of Twitter will not be kept happy, for the few and far that are even still happy. Advertisers and companies that have already detached from Twitter are ahead of the game. Advertising and promoting on an app where people are rowdy, unhappy, and aggravated is not good for any company. As a business owner, it is important to remember the audience and keep in mind all the collaborations that are involved. Companies using Twitter to advertise is a type of collaboration. By not doing what is best for Twitter’s partners, Musk is forcing advertisers out the door without even knowing it. He makes decisions selfishly and shows no charisma for others involved. Elon Musk is unethical and is inconsiderate of the advertisers.
Through the takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, there have been significant shifts in the social media site. Users are unhappy with many of the alterations, politicians are being targeted unfairly, employees are being terminated and threatened, and Elon Musk’s leadership is heavily being questioned. For all these events to be occurring, advertisers are uncertain of Musk’s management skills and are pulling away from the app. Not only is it a business issue, but it is an ethical issue as well. Advertisers are urging their bosses and executives to detach themselves from Twitter because it is no longer a good advertising resource for their companies. Now, seeing a brand team up with Twitter is not the best image for any company. There is still a lot that can happen and change the game for Twitter at any moment, but the pleasure of advertisers is always subjective to change.
Barrabi, Thomas. “Elon Musk to Meet with Twitter Advertisers as Tensions Rise: Report.” New York Post, New York Post, 9 Nov. 2022, https://nypost.com/2022/11/09/elon-musk-to-meet-with-twitter-advertisers-as-tensions-rise-report/.
Hsu, Tiffany. “Will Elon Musk Be Able to Keep Twitter’s Advertisers Happy?” NY Times, 28 Oct. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/28/technology/musk-twitter-advertisers-general-motors.html.
“Jack White Deletes Twitter Account after Elon Musk Invites Donald Trump Back to Platform.” MSN, 22 Nov. 2022, https://www.msn.com/en-gb/entertainment/other/jack-white-deletes-twitter-account-after-elon-musk-invites-donald-trump-back-to-platform/ar-AA14oxNL.
Oparada, Pascal. “Apple May Remove Twitter From App Store, Elon Musk Kicks.” Legit.ng - Nigeria News., 30 Nov. 2022, https://www.legit.ng/business-economy/technology/1506807-apple-remove-twitter-app-store-elon-musk-kicks/#:~:text=Apple%20May%20Remove%20Twitter%20From%20App%20Store%2C%20Elon,cent%20before%20they%20get%20listed%20on%20the%20store.
Tillison, Tom. “Biden White House Hit with Yet Another Glorious Twitter Fact Check.” BizPac Review, 25 Nov. 2022, https://www.bizpacreview.com/2022/11/23/biden-white-house-hit-with-yet-another-glorious-twitter-fact-check-1311795/.
Wile, Rob. “A Timeline of Elon Musk's Takeover of Twitter.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 17 Nov. 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/twitter-elon-musk-timeline-what-happened-so-far-rcna57532.