How opinions on Elon Musk have changed since he first offered to buy Twitter

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
December 12, 2022, 4:56 AM GMT+0

When Elon Musk first announced his interest in purchasing Twitter in April, Americans were somewhat more likely to approve than to disapprove of him doing so. Now, roughly eight months after this announcement and barely a month after the deal went through, Americans hold similar views of his purchase.

In an April poll of 1,022 U.S. adults, 30% said they expected Musk's purchase of Twitter to be good for the platform, while 24% thought it would be bad. Now, in a December poll of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens, slightly more — 34% — say Musk has had a good effect on the platform, while slightly more — 29% — say it's been bad; fewer are unsure. (Polls of U.S. adults and adult citizens generally have very similar results and we'll be comparing the polls throughout, referring to the findings of both as reflecting American opinion.)

Certain views regarding Musk have changed, however, such as the amount of influence Americans believe he holds in the tech industry. In April, 52% of people thought that Musk was a "very influential" figure in the tech industry; now, just 37% do.

Over this same period, views of Musk's personal characteristics have also shifted. When asked to select from a list of adjectives, more now describe him as impulsive, right-wing, funny, and a disruptor than did in April. Fewer now see him as an inventor, an innovator, or a visionary.

The poll also asked about some of the ongoing debates around Twitter's monetization and content-moderation policies. Shortly after purchasing the platform, Musk alleged that the company had experienced a massive drop in revenue due to activist groups pressuring advertisers not to advertise on the site. When asked how frequently advertisers are influenced by certain factors when deciding where to advertise, 27% of people say advertisers often are influenced by pressure from consumers or activist groups. This is less than the shares who say advertisers often are driven by a desire to protect their brand from association with controversial topics (34%) or a desire to reach customers who will buy their products (56%).

In some respects, Americans are divided in their opinions on content moderation: 31% of people think social media platforms aren't strict enough in regulating content, while 27% say they're about right and 21% say they're too strict. But majorities do agree that social media companies have a responsibility to prevent users from harassing one another (74%) and posting hate speech or racist content on their sites (70%). Somewhat fewer — 59% — say the companies have a responsibility to prevent users from spreading conspiracy theories or false information.

Musk recently enlisted journalists to release what he refers to as the "Twitter files," which are a set of internal company documents that he claims reveal attempts to suppress information and "shadow ban" users espousing certain political beliefs. Near the center of this controversy is Twitter's prior blocking of posts containing material taken from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden's son. Twitter explained its decision to block posts relating to this story as stemming from a company policy against posting private information obtained through hacking; our poll finds that 80% of Americans support platforms removing material obtained in this way. (There is still debate as to where the material on the laptop came from.)

The Twitter files also allege that people on Biden's campaign requested the removal of certain posts about Hunter Biden, including one in which he appears nude; 83% of Americans agree that nude photos posted of people without their consent should be removed from social media sites.

Majorities of Americans also support removing posts for other reasons – such as calling for violence (78%) or posting hateful symbols such as a swastika (58%).

Most Americans — 62% — say that social media companies are not very or not at all transparent in sharing the process they use to regulate and remove content posted to their sites; just 25% say they are very or somewhat transparent. Few are satisfied with this perceived opacity; 63% of Americans believe social media companies should be more transparent in their moderation of content, while only 22% are satisfied with the current level of transparency or say they should be less transparent.

— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs from the YouGov poll conducted on December 5 - 8, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens.

Methodology: This poll was conducted on December 5 - 8, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

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