It’s been a week since Elon Musk strode into Twitter’s headquarters with a kitchen sink, marking his official takeover of the company.
For a while the news of his $44 billion purchase “sinks” and Twitter users are now wondering how he will use the platform.
What is Musk going to do with Twitter?
After months of trying to walk away from a promise to buy the platform, and just before entering a seemingly lengthy, potentially embarrassing and costly court battle to enforce his original deal, Twitter is now private.
If we dig into some of the early reactionary media authorities, we see that Musk has paid too much for a platform that has yet to realize its commercial potential for investors and social potential for users.
The billionaire’s hostile takeover of the social media platform has users uneasy about its future. Are they right to worry? Do they have other options?
That may explain some of his initial moves after taking office, such as plans to charge users $8 (adjusted by country) for a blue tick and threats to fire half of Twitter’s staff.
He has fired former chief executive Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal, legal director Vijaya Gadde and general counsel Sean Edgett.
Will Twitter become (more) trash?
Musk’s first tweet after buying the platform probably best expressed his intentions: “This bird is free.”
One of the criticisms he frequently tweeted about Twitter before the purchase was that “freedom of speech” was too restrictive and moderation needed to be redefined to unlock Twitter’s potential as a “de facto public town square.”
There’s no doubt that Musk is very good at performative social media announcements, but we haven’t seen any real changes in content moderation — let alone Musk’s utopian vision for a digital city square.
The “chief Twitter” suggested the future appointment of “a content moderation committee with widely divergent views” responsible for making decisions on moderation and account recovery.
This is not a new idea. Since 2018, Meta has established such an oversight committee, comprising former political leaders, human rights activists, academics and journalists. The board oversees content decisions and has been known to oppose CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decisions, particularly his “indefinite” suspension of former US President Donald Trump’s Facebook following the US Capitol riots.
It was unclear whether the committee would meet to discuss Musk’s proposal to “reverse the permanent Twitter ban imposed on Trump” or if Musk would allow the board to overturn his decision.
Still, Musk’s recommendations for the moderation committee are a far cry from what he has previously described as a “free speech absolutist” on content moderation.
Many feared his moderation could spark more hate speech on Twitter.
Over the past week, coordinated troll accounts have attempted to test the limits of Musk-run Twitter through a platform riddled with racial slurs. According to the U.S.-based National Institute of Infectious Diseases, use of the N-word jumped more than 500 percent on October 28. However, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of security and integrity, said many of the offensive tweets came from a handful of accounts.
Another study by researchers at Montclair State University found that hate speech increased substantially before Musk’s acquisition.
Both Ross and Musk confirmed that “Twitter’s policy has not changed.” The rules on “hateful conduct” remain the same.
Musk is still a loose cannon
Perhaps more worrisome than the trolls’ reaction was Musk’s decision to tweet and then delete conspiracy theories about Paul Pelosi, the husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We can think of this as Musk’s disdain for his love of posting, but if the right to post misinformation and personal attacks is the kind of speech he wants to protect, it’s worth questioning what his envisioned public square looks like.
Musk takes a technocratic approach to the social issues that arise from our use of online communication tools. This means that free access to technology exempts its cultural and social context from “freedom of speech” and makes it easily accessible to everyone. Usually this is not the case. That’s why we need content moderation and protection of vulnerable and marginalized people.
Another question is whether we want billionaires to have direct influence on our public squares. If so, how do we ensure transparency and safeguard the interests of users?
In a less exaggerated takeover report, Musk this week directed Twitter to save more than $1 billion in annual infrastructure costs, which it said would be achieved by cutting cloud services and server space. Those cuts could put Twitter at risk of collapsing during high-traffic times, such as during elections.
This may be where Musk’s vision for a digital town square fails. If Twitter is going to be a space like this, the infrastructure to support it must hold up when it matters most.
Where do you go if you’re sick of Twitter?
While there has been no sign of a mass exodus from Twitter so far, many users are flocking elsewhere. #TwitterMigration took off shortly after Musk bought Twitter. In the following week, the microblogging platform Mastodon reportedly gained tens of thousands of followers.
Mastodon consists of independent, user-managed servers. Each server is owned, operated and managed by its community and can also be made private. The downside is that it costs money to run the server, and if the server is no longer running, everything can be lost.
Twitter defectors have also moved to sites like Reddit, Tumblr, CounterSocial, LinkedIn and Discord.
Of course, many will wait to see what Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has in mind. While Dorsey retains a stake in Twitter, he launched Bluesky Social, a decentralized social media network that is currently in beta testing.
Bluesky aims to provide an open social networking protocol. This means it will allow multiple social media networks to interact with each other through an open standard.
If the experiment is successful, it will be more than just a Twitter competitor. This means users can easily switch services and bring their content to other providers.
This will be a brand new user-centric social network model. It could force legacy platforms to rethink their current data collection and targeted advertising practices. This may just be a platform acquisition worth waiting for.
The author is editor of The Conversation, UK.Reprinted from Conversation
Posted in Dawn, EOS, November 13, 2022