May 16, 2022

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Elon Musk owns Twitter. Right here's what he should determine subsequent.

When Jack Dorsey stepped down as CEO of Twitter in November 2021, the corporate appeared vaguely at peace for the primary time in its tumultuous 15-year historical past. True, the inventory wasn’t lighting any fires, however the firm had navigated its manner via the Trump storm with a world-changing ban. Trolls and bots had been nonetheless an issue, however the numbers had been trending downwards. Fb was an irredeemable trash fireplace of misinformation — however a greater Twitter, the place we might lastly, actually hear one another assume, appeared doable.

Nobody might have predicted that the home Jack constructed would fall in lower than 5 months. However fallen it has — to a brand new proprietor who posted (and deleted) a Hitler meme, who obtained COVID all fallacious on-line, who calls himself a “free speech absolutist” regardless of censoring staff and retaliating towards critics, and whose newest in a protracted line of sexist gags and horrible tweets was a (now-deleted) suggestion that the corporate be renamed “Titter.”

That new proprietor, after all, is none aside from Elon Musk. The Tesla and SpaceX proprietor has held, or claimed to have held, some sturdy and wacky opinions on and in regards to the info platform that’s about to change into his sole property (barring any regulatory hurdles). A current account of his Tesla life offered him as an entitled management freak, but additionally one which was distracted by a number of considerations in his ever-widening portfolio.

Musk has a historical past of shopping for or beginning corporations, then restlessly transferring on to the subsequent large factor. What occurs subsequent at Twitter is anybody’s guess, however the reply depends upon how Musk solutions some essential questions earlier than he loses curiosity.

Earlier than we get to the questions, although, let’s make one factor clear: That is no odd media buyout. It is a large deal. Some jaded Twitter customers dismissed the world’s richest human’s US$44 billion buy of Twitter on Monday by evaluating it to second richest human Jeff Bezos’ US$250 million buy of the Washington Put up in 2013. The Put up has round 1,000 journalists and 1,000,000 readers. Twitter has over 200 million lively each day customers, all of whom can double as content material creators.

Twitter isn’t any odd medium. It sits on the middle of occasions, with a reverse chronology that makes it essentially the most quick platform ever constructed. Its wittiest and most controversial content material will get distributed, in screenshot type, throughout its bigger elder brother Fb. When Twitter thinks one thing is information, the media tends to agree. It has a very symbiotic relationship with TV, the place presenters like to learn out tweets (imply or in any other case).

And it has an unlimited community of communities in each human discipline you may think about, lovingly crafted and stitched collectively over years of fascinating threads. Which leads us to the primary of three essential questions:

Does Musk actually care about Twitter’s present customers?

In Twitter’s assertion asserting the takeover, Musk was as measured as his previous few weeks of tweets have been weird. He described Twitter in reverential phrases: “Twitter is the digital city sq. the place issues very important to the way forward for humanity are debated,” he stated. “Twitter has great potential — I look ahead to working with the corporate and the group of customers to unlock it.”

And who amongst that group might argue with the checklist of options he urged: defeating the spam bots, authenticating people, making the algorithm open supply? “Maximally trusted and broadly inclusive,” which Musk gave as his aim for the service, couldn’t have been crafted higher to attraction to every kind of customers.

The difficulty might come, nonetheless, with Musk’s naivety about free speech. The brand new proprietor appears oblivious to the issue of hate speech and the paradox of tolerance, not to mention the way in which mobs can swarm on Twitter and conduct focused harassment. Musk can blithely tweet all he desires about hoping his “worst critics remain on Twitter“; let’s examine what he does if these worst critics get doxxed by Elon stans.

Human rights groups are already raising concerns over Musk’s ownership. “The last thing we need is a Twitter that willfully turns a blind eye to violent and abusive speech against users, particularly those most disproportionately impacted, including women, non-binary persons, and others,” Michael Kleinman, a director at Amnesty International, told Reuters.

If Twitter does slink again in the direction of the cesspool of hate below Musk, nonetheless, which will have a chilling impact on the 217 million each day customers who prefer it nice simply now. Perhaps Musk is betting on the notion that he can by some means win again sufficient customers who left Twitter (usually due to unspecified cancellation) to make up for any who would go away.

If Twitter does slink again in the direction of the cesspool of hate below Musk, nonetheless, which will have a chilling impact on the 217 million each day customers who prefer it nice simply now.

Flip Twitter right into a Wild West, anything-goes-if-it’s-legal surroundings with no content material moderation, nonetheless, and I’d not guess on these artistic, knowledge-rich, carefully-threaded communities sticking round for lengthy. Musk might discover that “maximally trusted” doesn’t play nicely with “broadly inclusive,” not if the latter embody the worst sorts of troll.

What sort of enterprise does Musk wish to run?

Credit score the place it is due: By taking Twitter personal, Musk has gained the service some respiration room from the market’s fixed demand for revenue. “Taking it again from Wall Avenue is the primary right step,” Jack Dorsey wrote in a thread Monday night. “It has been owned by Wall Avenue and the advert mannequin.”

Granted, Dorsey stands to benefit enormously from Musk’s offer — to the tune of US$978 million. But he has a point. Twitter stands at a crossroads. In one direction, the same old business model of selling ads on the platform. On the other, a US$3-a-month subscription service called Twitter Blue.

Can Musk’s showmanship promote sufficient of the latter to assist Twitter stop counting on its US$4.5 billion of annual advert income? It is a powerful name, particularly for the reason that buyout engineered by Musk and the dozen banks he signed up requires Twitter to tackle a lot debt that the curiosity funds alone can be US$1 billion a yr. That is just a bit below the quantity that Twitter advert income grew by — US$1.3 billion — in 2021.

Quitting advert income goes to be laborious, particularly when so most of the firm’s 7,500 staff are depending on it. These staff had been already cautious of Musk’s model when he grew to become Twitter’s largest shareholder earlier this month. They know they’re coping with somebody who has proven no signal he is as much as the duty of operating a media firm.

So if Musk sweeps apart the corporate’s moderation techniques, and advertisers frightened of content material chaos head for the exits in consequence, worker resentment will pile up like firewood. And one moderation query particularly might present the spark.

Does Musk wish to reinstate Trump?

Donald Trump claims he would not come again to Twitter even when invited. Longtime Trump watchers know the way a lot this declare is price. Along with his Fact Social tanking, and aides nonetheless printing out tweets for him to learn, the previous man is extra more likely to be lacking his previous dwelling on-line like loopy.

“We always evolve our insurance policies,” Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal informed staff at an inside assembly when requested whether or not Trump can be reinstated below Musk. “As soon as the deal closes, we don’t know what path this firm will go in.” (Certainly, Agrawal would not even know if he’ll have a job below Musk.)

The drumbeat from the fitting, demanding Trump’s return, goes to sound ceaselessly in Musk’s ears. These of us who dislike lies, demagoguery, and criminality can be pushing laborious in the wrong way. And Musk can be precisely the place he desires: on the middle of a serious controversy, with all eyes on him.

Dragging out and always teasing the reply to the Trump query could also be nice leisure for Elon Musk and likeminded trolls. The reply might profoundly have an effect on the 2022 midterm elections, to not point out 2024. And if worker walkouts end result, the home that Jack constructed might begin to look very shaky certainly.

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