It’s been a week since Elon Musk walked into Twitter’s headquarters with a kitchen sink, signaling his formal takeover of the company.

After having time to let the news of his $44 billion purchase pass, Twitter users are now wondering what he’s going to do with the platform.

What will Musk do with Twitter?

After months of trying to evade its commitment to buy the platform, and just before entering what was shaping up to be a lengthy, potentially embarrassing and costly legal battle to enforce its original deal, Twitter is now private property.

If we sift through some of the reactionary early media pundits, we see that Musk paid way too much for a platform that has yet to realize its commercial potential for investors, or its social potential for users.

The billionaire’s hostile takeover of the social media platform has left its users worried about its future. Are they right to worry? And do they have alternative options?

This likely explains some of his first moves since taking office, such as planning to charge users US$8 (country-adjusted) for a blue tick, and threatening to fire half of Twitter’s staff.

He has already fired former CEO Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal, legal director Vijaya Gadde and general counsel Sean Edgett.

Will Twitter become (more) a trash fire?

Musk’s intentions were perhaps best signaled with his first tweet after buying the platform: “the bird is released.”

Prior to the purchase, one of his oft-tweeted criticisms of Twitter was that there were too many limits on “freedom of speech”, and that moderation should be reframed to unlock Twitter’s potential. as a “de facto public place”.

There’s no doubt that Musk is pretty good at making performative statements on social media, but we’ve yet to see any real changes to content moderation — let alone Musk’s utopian vision of a public square. digital.

The “twit leader” suggested the future appointment of a “content moderation board with widely diverse views” that would be tasked with making decisions on moderation and account reinstatements.

It’s not a new idea. Meta has convened such an oversight board since 2018, made up of 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 Facebook’s “indefinite” suspension of former US President Donald Trump after the US Capitol riots.

It’s unclear whether a board would meet to discuss Musk’s suggestion to “reverse the permanent ban” placed on Trump by Twitter, or whether Musk would authorize a board to override his decisions.

Nonetheless, Musk’s suggestion of a moderation council is a step backwards from his previously self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” views on content moderation.

Many fear his approach to moderation will further fuel hate speech on Twitter.

Last week, coordinated troll accounts attempted to test the limits of a Musk-run Twitter by flooding the platform with racial slurs. According to the US-based National Contagion Research Institute, use of the N-word skyrocketed by more than 500% on October 28. However, Twitter safety and integrity officer Yoel Roth said many of the offensive tweets came from a small number of accounts.

Another study by researchers at Montclair State University found a massive increase in hateful terms in the run-up to Musk’s acquisition.

Both Roth and Musk confirmed that “Twitter’s policies have not changed”. The rules on “hate conduct” remain the same.

Musk remains a loose cannon

Perhaps more disturbing than the troll reactions is Musk’s decision to tweet and then delete a conspiracy theory about American speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi. We could dismiss this as Musk’s love of sh*tposting, but if the right to post misinformation and personal attacks is the kind of speech he wants to protect, it’s worth asking what kind of public square he envisions.

Musk takes a technocratic approach to social issues that emerge from our use of online communication tools. This implies that open access to technology absolves “freedom of expression” from its cultural and social context, and makes it easily and readily available to everyone. This is often not the case. This is why we need content moderation and protections for vulnerable and marginalized people.

The other question is whether we want billionaires to have direct influence in our public squares. If so, how do we ensure transparency and respect for users’ interests?

In a less pompous takeover report, Musk this week took to Twitter to find more than US$1 billion in annual infrastructure cost savings, which will allegedly occur through cuts to services. cloud and server space. These cuts could put Twitter at risk of crashing during periods of high traffic, such as during an election.

Perhaps this is where Musk’s digital town square vision fails. If Twitter is to be such a space, the infrastructure that supports it must withstand the most crucial moments.

Where to go if you’re tired of Twitter?

Although there are no indications of a mass exodus from Twitter so far, a number of users are flocking elsewhere. Shortly after Musk acquired Twitter, #TwitterMigration started trending. In the week that followed, the Mastodon micro-blogging platform reportedly gained tens of thousands of followers.

Mastodon is made up of independent, user-managed servers. Each server is owned, operated and moderated by its community and can also be made private. The downside is that servers cost money to run and if a server goes down, all content can be lost.

Twitter defectors have also moved to sites such as Reddit, Tumblr, CounterSocial, LinkedIn and Discord.

Of course, many will be waiting to see what Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey comes up with. While Dorsey retains a stake in Twitter, he launched a decentralized social media network, Bluesky Social, which is currently in beta testing.

Bluesky aims to provide an open social networking protocol. This means that it would allow multiple social media networks to interact with each other through an open standard.

If this experiment succeeds, it would be more than a competitor for Twitter. This would mean that users could easily switch services and take their content with them to other providers.

It would be a whole new user-centric social networking model. And it could force traditional platforms to rethink their current data collection and targeted advertising practices. This might just be a platform takeover worth the wait.

The author is editor at The Conversation, UK. Republished from The Conversation

Posted in Dawn, EOS, November 13, 2022


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