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Elon Musk struck a deal in April to buy Twitter for US$44 billion, though the acquisition has not been finalised. Photo: TED Conferences, Ryan Lash via AFP

Elon Musk envisions remaking Twitter in WeChat’s image

  • ‘You basically live on WeChat in China. If we can re-create that with Twitter, we’ll be a great success’
  • Musk has agreed to acquire the social media platform for US$44 billion, but the deal has not yet closed

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and founder of SpaceX, believes Twitter needs to be more like China’s WeChat to be successful.

In a video meeting with about 8,000 Twitter employees on Thursday, Musk shared his vision for the social media platform, which he has agreed to buy for US$44 billion.

The question and answer session was unusual since the deal, which was announced in April, has not yet closed and the acquisition is wobbly given the drop in the price of the Tesla shares that may finance the purchase.

“There’s no WeChat equivalent outside of China,” Musk said, according to a leaked transcript. “You basically live on WeChat in China. If we can re-create that with Twitter, we’ll be a great success.”

Musk also complimented TikTok – a Chinese-owned short video app that is globally popular – for being a platform for videos that are “not boring” and that keep people engaged.


Japanese middle-aged heartthrobs dance on TikTok to save their disappearing hometown

Japanese middle-aged heartthrobs dance on TikTok to save their disappearing hometown

Turning Twitter into a WeChat lookalike could be a challenge, however. Social media, online payment, video, messaging and voice markets – to name a few of WeChat’s features – are far more fragmented in the United States, and subject to very different economic, regulatory and technological environments than in China.

The Chinese government has increasingly used Twitter for overseas propaganda even as it blocks the platform on the mainland.

When asked what success would look like for Twitter in five to 10 years, Musk said he wanted to see 1 billion or more daily active users, up from the 229 million that the company reported at the end of March.

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WeChat has 1.288 billion monthly active users in China for messaging, news reading, shopping, gaming, payments and more. The platform – which is owned by Tencent, China’s most valuable tech company – is also known to be an active censor of politically sensitive content or posts that do not align with “positive social values”.

Musk has faced criticism for his autocratic and authoritarian leadership style even as fans praise his vision and persistence. His quest to buy Twitter has been criticised over freedom of speech concerns and charges of racial discrimination and sexual harassment in his workplaces.

Questions remain about whether Musk will lower his offering price given the sharp decline in the company’s stock. On Friday, shares closed at US$37.78, down from more than US$50 in April and May, and well below Musk’s offer of US$54.20.

This is not Musk’s first nod to WeChat. A few weeks after announcing his bid to buy Twitter, he complimented WeChat, saying it is a “good model”.

“It’s kind of like Twitter plus PayPal plus a whole bunch of other things,” he said in May. “It has got a great interface; it is really an excellent app.”

“This thing can be something new,” he added. “It does not have to be from Twitter, it can be something made out of scratch, but I think this app needs to exist.”

Musk has extensive business interests in China. In 2019, Tesla was authorised to become the first company to open a production facility wholly owned by a non-Chinese carmaker.

It is now Tesla’s second-largest market, generating US$4.65 billion in China during the first quarter of 2022, a year-on-year increase of 52.8 per cent.

He has praised workers’ willingness to work long shifts, even as he criticised American workers for “trying to avoid going to work at all” in an interview last month with the Financial Times.