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Elon Musk addresses layoffs, remote work and ‘free speech’ during his first meeting with Twitter employees

<i>Susan Walsh/AP</i><br/>Elon Musk on June 16 doubled down on his desire to relax content restrictions on Twitter.
Susan Walsh/AP
Elon Musk on June 16 doubled down on his desire to relax content restrictions on Twitter.

By Clare Duffy and Donie O’Sullivan, CNN Business

Elon Musk on Thursday doubled down on his desire to relax content restrictions on Twitter during a meeting with employees, some of whom have previously raised concerns about how the billionaire might change the platform.

In his first town hall event with Twitter employees since agreeing to acquire the company, Musk faced a series of questions about his stance on content moderation and reiterated his desire to allow all legal speech on Twitter, even when that includes so-called “lawful but awful” content such as extremism or abuse.

“I think it’s essential to have free speech and for people to be able to communicate freely,” Musk said.

However, Musk also noted that Twitter should work to prevent potentially harmful or offensive content from getting amplified so that users will be “comfortable on Twitter.”

“There’s freedom of speech and freedom of reach,” he said. “Anyone could just go into the middle of Times Square right now and say anything they want. They can just walk into the middle of Times Square and deny the Holocaust … but that doesn’t mean that needs to be promoted to millions of people. So I think people should be allowed to say pretty outrageous things that are in the bounds of the law but that don’t get amplified and don’t get a ton of reach.”

The meeting came against the backdrop of ongoing turmoil over the $44 billion deal, and questions about how serious Musk is about completing it. Musk last week threatened to walk away from the deal if the company didn’t hand over more data to help him understand the prevalence of fake and spam accounts on the platform. Some analysts have suggested it is an attempt at finding a pretext for him to get out of a deal that he may see as overpriced.

On Thursday, Musk seemed to try to reassure employees about his intention to follow through with the deal, even as he showed up about 10 minutes late to the meeting and appeared to speak to employees by holding up his smartphone.

Musk laid out some ambitious plans for the company, including his desire to grow Twitter’s daily active user base from just over 200 million to “at least a billion people.” Musk also said he wants to increase monetization opportunities for creators and explore potential payments features.

“I think an important goal for Twitter would be to try to include as much of the country, as much of the world, as possible,” he said, before comparing its potential to a popular social networking service in China. “You basically live on WeChat in China because it’s so usable and helpful to daily life, and I think if we can achieve that, or even get close to that at Twitter, it would be an immense success.”

Crucially for some Twitter employees, Musk suggested that he may be at least somewhat flexible about employees working from home as the owner of Twitter. A note Musk sent to Tesla executives earlier this month requiring them to return to the office had prompted speculation that he would do the same at Twitter in a major reversal for the tech company, which relies heavily on a distributed workforce

“There is a hit one takes remotely, because it does reduce espirit de corps,” Musk said at the town hall. “Even if someone is working remotely, they’ve got to come in sometimes so they recognize their colleagues … The bias for me may be strongly toward working in person, but if somebody is exceptional then remote work can be okay.”

On the other hand, when asked about whether he was planning layoffs at Twitter if the takeover deal goes through, Musk didn’t entirely dismiss the idea for anxious employees.

“Right now, [Twitter’s] costs exceed the revenue, so that’s not a great situation to be in,” he said. “But anyone who’s obviously like a significant contributor should have nothing to worry about.”

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