Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, is in line to become the next owner of Twitter, after pledging $44 billion to acquire the social media network and take it private. If that happens, the next item on his agenda will be figuring out how to follow through on his pledges to build new Twitter features, open the service’s algorithm to public scrutiny, and combat “spambots” that imitate genuine users.
He’ll also have to get the corporation to start “authenticating all humans,” as he put it in a comment featured in the announcement news release on Monday. It’s still unclear what Musk meant by the remark.
The question of whether or not his proposals are technologically feasible, as well as how we’ll know whether or not these modifications would assist users or serve some other purpose, remain unanswered.
Experts who have studied content moderation and Twitter for years have voiced reservations about Musk’s understanding of the situation. After all, there have been a slew of “free speech”-focused platforms founded as Twitter counter-measures in recent years, mostly by conservatives dissatisfied with the company’s anti-hate, harassment, and disinformation policies. Many have struggled to cope with harmful information, and at least one has had its technical suppliers cut it off in protest.
“This action demonstrates how effective (moderation tools) have been in annoy[ing] people in power,” said Kirsten Martin, a technology ethics professor at the University of Notre Dame. “I’m concerned about how this will affect Twitter’s values.”
According to Third Bridge analyst Scott Kessler, the fact that no other bids came up publicly before Musk’s offer was a clue that other would-be acquirers could find Twitter too tough to improve.
“It’s very much the same platform we’ve had for the previous decade or so,” Kessler said. “You’ve got a lot of brilliant people trying to figure out what they should do, and they’re having a hard time. Making significant progress is likely to be difficult.”
Musk received some effusive, if ethereal, praise from an unexpected source: Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who praised Musk’s decision to ” take Twitter back from Wall Street ” and tweeted that he trusts Musk’s mission to ” extend the light of consciousness ” — a reference to Dorsey’s belief that “Twitter is the closest thing we have to a global consciousness.”
Others acquainted with Twitter, on the other hand, remain disappointed by Musk’s successful offer for the firm.
Leslie Miley, a former Twitter employee who has previously worked for Google and Apple, stated, “Twitter is going to allow a man-child effectively take over their platform.” Miley, who left Twitter in 2015 as the company’s lone Black engineer in a top role, shared worries about Musk’s knowledge of the platform’s complexity.
“I’m not sure Elon understands what he’s receiving,” Miley said. “He could discover that having Twitter isn’t the same as desiring Twitter.”
Many users are afraid that Musk’s more hands-off approach to content filtering would make the site more of a sanctuary for misinformation, hate speech, and bullying, which it has fought hard to combat in recent years. According to Wall Street experts, if he goes too far, he risks alienating advertising.
Twitter Inc.’s stock gained more than 5% to $51.70 per share on Monday. Musk made an offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share on April 14. While the price has risen significantly since Musk’s offer, it remains much below its February 2021 high of $77 per share.
Musk has called himself a “free-speech absolutist,” yet he is also renowned for barring or criticizing other Twitter users who challenge or disagree with him.
In recent weeks, he has recommended loosening Twitter content restrictions, such as the ones that led to the suspension of former President Donald Trump’s account, as well as removing bogus “spambot” accounts and moving away from advertising as the platform’s major income model. Musk believes he can raise income by offering subscriptions that provide a better experience for paying users, potentially even an ad-free version of Twitter.
When asked if there are any boundaries to his concept of “free speech” during a recent TED talk, Musk stated Twitter will follow national laws that restrict speech across the world. He said that he’d be “extremely hesitant” to remove content or permanently ban individuals who break the company’s guidelines.
“But I think we want it to genuinely have the illusion and reality that communication is as unfettered as reasonably feasible,” Musk continued.
Following the announcement of the partnership, the NAACP issued a statement demanding Musk to deny Trump, the 45th president, access to the platform.
In a statement, the civil rights organization stated, “Do not enable 45 to return to the platform.” “Do not let Twitter become a breeding ground for hate speech and lies that undermine our democracy.”
Trump used Twitter as a tremendous megaphone for communicating directly to the public as a candidate and as president, frequently employing fiery and divisive rhetoric on hot-button subjects. Following the assault of the Capitol on Jan. 6, he was permanently barred from serving.
“If Musk dismisses or drives away the crew at Twitter dedicated to keeping it clean and less hate-filled, he’ll notice a decline in user engagement very immediately,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia. “I believe he’ll quickly realize that bringing the racists back in is terrible for business.”
Some users stated on Monday that if Musk took over the network, they planned to leave. “I hope that even my harshest detractors remain on Twitter, since that is what free expression means,” he wrote on Twitter.
While Twitter’s user base of more than 200 million people is far lower than that of competitors such as Facebook and TikTok, celebrities, global leaders, journalists, and intellectuals utilize the service. Musk is a frequent tweeter, with a following that matches that of numerous music singers among the most popular accounts.