SAN FRANCISCO — Elon Musk’s own Twitter poll results say he should step down from the helm of the social network, in a referendum that Musk had promised to follow after broad criticism of his stewardship of the company.
The poll closed early Monday morning after 12 hours of voting, with 57.5 percent of more than 17 million responses calling Musk to hand over the helm.
After the poll’s close, Musk’s tweets notably did not make any mention of leaving his “chief Twit” role or who he would name as a successor. And he appeared to be hedging in some tweet replies to users saying he should redo the poll.
Should I step down as head of Twitter? I will abide by the results of this poll.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 18, 2022
If Musk follows the results of the poll, it could thrust the company into even more uncertainty. Musk would still remain owner of the social network, which would still give him enormous control over its policies. But he has not yet said whom he might choose as his successor, and that person could steer the company differently, and perhaps less erratically, than Musk has for the past two months.
Roughly 12 hours after the poll closed, Musk appeared to be potentially laying the groundwork to invalidate its results. He replied to a tweet thread alleging a “deep state” bot army swinging the results against him.
“Interesting,” Musk wrote. He added that Twitter would make a change to ensure only Twitter Blue subscribers be able to vote in policy-related polls. (Twitter Blue is the company’s $8 monthly subscription service, which company executives have said could help reduce the prevalene of spammy accounts.)
The billionaire and self-dubbed “Chief Twit” purchased the company for $44 billion in October and made himself chief executive. Since then, it has become a frequent subject of his tweets, and employees have said he’s been a regular presence at the company’s San Francisco headquarters.
What happened in the stalking incident cited by Elon Musk?
But that has raised concerns among investors — particularly in his electric car company Tesla — that the entrepreneur is stretched too thin. Some have questioned his effectiveness as CEO of two large technology companies, wondering whether he can effectively serve in both roles at once in addition to head of the rocket company SpaceX.
Adding fuel to the fire, Musk is known for running polls to affirm decisions he’s already made, perhaps most famously when he asked Twitter if he should sell off 10 percent of his stake in Tesla. Later, filings showed Musk had already adopted a trading plan, calling the poll at least partially into question.
Shares of Tesla opened up slightly higher on Monday morning following the poll results. Tesla has lost half of its more than $1 trillion valuation from the spring, when Musk’s interest in buying the embattled social network first became clear.
The mood inside the company was demoralized on Monday afternoon, as employees learned of Musk’s plans on Twitter and received no communication from management about the future of company leadership, according to a Twitter employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Musk and Twitter did not respond to a request for comment Sunday night.
Musk has made a rash of changes at Twitter, where he has said a chief priority is fixing the company’s code. He laid off approximately half the company’s 7,500 employees, issued an ultimatum mandating a hardcore culture that caused hundreds more to leave, and changed Twitter’s rules on the fly and by relying on polls — including reinstating former president Donald Trump.
Musk previously signaled that he didn’t plan to stay in charge of Twitter long term. He testified in Delaware court last month that he planned to find someone else to run Twitter and scale back his time at the company. He took the stand in response to a Tesla shareholder lawsuit, which argued that he was overpaid for his work in a 2018 compensation package from the automotive company, while he was splitting his time among several other companies.
Several of Musk’s supporters urged others to keep the billionaire at the helm. Seth Dillon, CEO of self-described Christian satirical site Babylon Bee, shared the poll Sunday, simply saying “No.” Musk reinstated Babylon Bee’s previously suspended account when he took over the company.
“Public mistakes > private malice,” Dillon said in a reply to Musk’s poll. “Twitter has never been more fun or fair than it is now.”
Twitter pushed ahead with product updates Monday at which Musk previously hinted, announcing a gray check mark badge that would appear by government entities’ pages, and new square profile boxes for company accounts. One of Musk’s first product launches at the head of the company was to announce a feature that would allow people to pay for a blue check mark on the site, which was previously reserved for accounts with verified identities.
Twitter quickly paused that feature after the initial rollout after people were using it to impersonate celebrities, politicians and brands — but the company launched it again a month later, with a few changes.
The unscientific and unrepresentative poll regarding Musk’s leadership came after a whirlwind week for Musk. Tesla’s stock price sank about 15 percent last week, capping off a dismal performance for the past few months, as some investors called on him to step aside from leadership at one of his companies to better focus.
Is plane tracking doxing? How public data enraged Elon Musk.
On Wednesday, Musk abruptly suspended an account that tracked his private jet by drawing on publicly available data. He followed that the next day by suspending reporters who had apparently tweeted about it — accusing them of posting “basically assassination coordinates” for him and his family. Musk launched a poll Thursday in which users voted to reinstate those banned.
By Sunday, as Musk tweeted from the World Cup finale, watching next to former Trump adviser Jared Kushner, Twitter enacted new rules prohibiting users from repeatedly promoting rival social media networks on the site, calling “free promotion” against the rules. Hordes of users, including some of Musk’s own supporters, rejected the new policy as draconian, despite Musk’s pledge to restore what he called “free speech” to the site.
Musk’s new policy also prohibited promotion of Facebook, Instagram and the app Truth Social, which was co-founded by Trump.
Musk issued a rare apology on Sunday after Twitter enacted new rules prohibiting users from repeatedly promoting rival social media networks on the site, saying he would put future policy decisions to a vote.
Later that night, @TwitterSafety tweeted a poll asking, “Should we have a policy preventing the creation of or use of existing accounts for the main purpose of advertising other social media platforms?”
The tweets and page outlining the new policies prohibiting content from outside networks also appeared to have been deleted.
The disjointed changes at the company appeared to catch the attention of European regulators, who have introduced new rules governing content moderation at Silicon Valley social networks.
“Platforms can’t keep flip-flopping on policies,” tweeted Thierry Breton, a European Union commissioner. He said that he’s instructed the commission’s teams to enforce the rules, known as the Digital Services Act, by Sept. 1. But he called for companies to comply sooner.
Elon Musk’s role at Tesla questioned as Twitter occupies his attention
“Those who want power are the ones who least deserve it,” Musk tweeted late Sunday, as millions of users voted and the poll trended toward his stepping down.
View more on Youtube Elon Musk's Twitter poll ends; Majority say he should step down
More than 17 million users voted ‘yes’ to Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s informal poll on whether he should step down as head of the company. For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO: https://cnb.cx/2NGeIvi
» Subscribe to CNBC TV: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBCtelevision
» Subscribe to CNBC: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBC
Turn to CNBC TV for the latest stock market news and analysis. From market futures to live price updates CNBC is the leader in business news worldwide.
Connect with CNBC News Online
Get the latest news: http://www.cnbc.com/
Follow CNBC on LinkedIn: https://cnb.cx/LinkedInCNBC
Follow CNBC News on Facebook: https://cnb.cx/LikeCNBC
Follow CNBC News on Twitter: https://cnb.cx/FollowCNBC
Follow CNBC News on Instagram: https://cnb.cx/InstagramCNBC