San Francisco, April 26 (BUS): Tesla CEO Elon Musk is expected to be the next owner of Twitter, after pledging nearly $44 billion to buy the social platform and make it private. Assuming that happens, his next agenda will plan how to deliver on his promises to develop new Twitter features, open his algorithm to public scrutiny and defeat “spambots” on a service that mimics real users.
He would also need the company to start “endorsing all humans,” as he described it in a statement quoted in a Monday press release announcing the acquisition. What exactly Musk means by this phrase remains unclear.
So is the question of whether his ideas are technically feasible and how we’ll know if those changes will benefit users or serve another purpose, the AP reports.
Experts who have studied content moderation and researched Twitter for years have expressed doubts that Musk knows exactly what he’s getting into. After all, there are plenty of nascent examples of platforms focused on “freedom of speech” that have been launched in the past few years as a Twitter treat, largely by conservatives unhappy with the company’s campaigns against hate, harassment, and misinformation. Many struggled to deal with toxic content, and at least one was cut down by its tech providers in protest.
“This move shows how effective[moderation features]can be at harassing those in power,” said Kirsten Martin, professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. “I would be concerned about how this would change the values of Twitter.”
Scott Kessler, an analyst at Third Bridge, said the fact that no other bidders had appeared publicly before Musk’s deal was a sign that other acquirers might find it very difficult to improve Twitter.
“This platform is pretty much the same as the one we’ve had over the past decade or so,” Kessler said. “You had a lot of smart people trying to figure out what to do, and they got in trouble. It would probably be difficult to make a lot of progress.”
Musk received some excessive, albeit very abstract, praise from an unexpected hand — Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who praised Musk’s decision to take Twitter back “from Wall Street” and tweeted that he trusted Musk’s mission to “prolong light awareness” — a reference to the idea Dorsey said, “Twitter is the closest thing we have to global consciousness.”
But others familiar with Twitter say they remain upset about the success of Musk’s bid for the company.
“Twitter will allow a man and a child to take over their platform,” said Leslie Miley, a former Twitter employee who has also worked with Google and Apple. Miley, who was the only black engineer at Twitter to hold a leadership position when he left the company in 2015, echoed doubts about Musk’s understanding of the platform’s intricacies.
“I’m not sure if Elon knows what he’s going to get,” Miley said. “He may find that owning a Twitter is a lot different than wanting a Twitter.”
The laissez-faire approach to modifying the content that Musk envisions worries many users that the platform will become more than a haven for disinformation, hate speech and bullying, something it has worked hard in recent years to mitigate. If he goes too far, Wall Street analysts said, he might also alienate advertisers.
Twitter Inc. shares soared. over 5% on Monday to $51.70 per share. On April 14, Musk announced an offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share. While the stock has risen sharply since Musk made his bid, it’s well below the high of $77 per share in February 2021.
Musk has described himself as the “absolute of free speech” but is also known for blocking or belittling other Twitter users from asking or disagreeing with him.
In recent weeks, he has proposed loosening Twitter content restrictions — such as rules that suspended former President Donald Trump’s account — while ridding the platform of fake “spam” accounts and moving away from advertising as the primary revenue model. Musk thinks he can boost revenue with subscriptions that give paying customers a better experience — and maybe even an ad-free version of Twitter.
Asked during a recent TED interview if there are any limits to his concept of “freedom of speech,” Musk said Twitter will comply with national laws that restrict expression around the world. Furthermore, he said, he would be “very reluctant” to delete posts or permanently ban users who break company rules.
It wouldn’t be perfect, Musk added, “but I think we really want him to have the realization and reality that the talk is as free as reasonably possible.”
After the deal was announced, the NAACP issued a statement urging Musk not to allow Trump, the 45th president, to return to the podium.
“Do not allow the 45 to return to the stage,” the civil rights organization said in a statement. “Don’t allow Twitter to become a petri dish of hate speech or lies that undermine our democracy.”
As a candidate and president, Trump has made Twitter a powerful speaker for speaking directly to the public, often using divisive language on hot issues. He was permanently banned from service following the storming of the Capitol on January 6.
said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia. “I think he’ll find very quickly that inviting fanatics back is bad for business.”
On Monday, some users said they were planning to exit the platform if Musk acquired it. He responded on Twitter: “I hope even my worst critic remains on Twitter, because that’s what freedom of speech is.”
While Twitter’s user base of more than 200 million is still much smaller than that of competitors like Facebook and TikTok, the service is popular with celebrities, world leaders, journalists and pundits. Musk himself is a prolific megaphone with a following that rivals many pop stars in the ranks of the most popular accounts.