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Elon Musk: Twitter’s salvation or impending disaster?

Elon Musk: Twitter’s salvation or impending disaster?

Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, is taking over the influential platform Twitter for 44 billion dollars. This is keeping a lot of people busy, not least on Twitter itself. Is it a good thing that Elon Musk is becoming Twitter’s new owner, or is it actually a dangerous development that an eccentric billionaire can wield so much influence?

Musk is paying $44 billion for the medium and Twitter is becoming a private company. You could call it obscene, to say the least, that someone is putting so much money on the table for his new hobby. That strikes a chord with many people. But more important is the question of what will change about Twitter now that the quirky company has a new owner. Will Musk solve Twitter’s problems or just make them bigger as the new owner?

Although Twitter is far less successful commercially than competitors like Facebook and TikTok, at the same time the medium has a lot more influence than those competitors when it comes to important issues like news and politics. For journalists and politicians alike, Twitter is virtually indispensable.

Twitter has always had a difficult relationship with its own responsibility, just like other social media. During a crisis, Twitter is often the fastest and most reliable source of information available. But Twitter has also long been a hotbed of conspiracy theorists, online hate, threats and influence from troll armies from dubious countries. That was ignored for too long. Perhaps most notable is the convenient use of Twitter by former President Trump who could endlessly pump lies into the world. Without Twitter possibly would not even have become president in 2017.

Things have changed in recent years, though. Twitter finally started enforcing its own terms. Even Trump’s account was blocked when he contributed to the storming of the Capitol via Twitter, apparently that was the limit. Twitter is now actively combating fake accounts and during the Covid pandemic dangerous disinformation was labeled. Critics say Twitter is thus sawing at the legs of freedom of expression.

That, of course, is nonsense. First, Twitter has terms of use for a reason; second, freedom of speech is not absolute. On the contrary, Twitter was late in intervening. Almost everyone understands that criminal matters must be dealt with. Nobody is waiting for child pornography, threats and violent content. The same should go without saying for racism and hate speech, even when it concerns politicians with millions of followers.

Not everyone thinks the same about the latter. In extreme right-wing and libertarian circles, Musk’s takeover is, for the time being, welcomed with open arms. The expectation (or hope) is that with Musk as the owner, Twitter will actually let go of the reins again. The possible comeback of @realdonaldtrump is also being celebrated extensively. However, he has let it be known that he will not be returning, probably because he is still struggling with his own flopped platform Truth Social.

Elon Musk, as a self-proclaimed freedom fighter, has at least announced a lot of changes. Not surprising when you consider that he invests some 20% of his wealth in the poorly performing Twitter. He would like to make the algorithms public, fight bots and verify users. Especially the latter is a remarkable plan that could actually hurt extreme right-wing accounts with many followers. It would make fake accounts impossible.

Would that mean that he also wants to ban anonymous accounts? Anonymous accounts are a thorn in the side of many users. Because they make Twitter vulnerable to threats and disinformation. But on the other hand, without anonymity, useful accounts in dangerous countries and, for example, whistleblowers would no longer feel safe on Twitter. There may be a technical solution to this.

Does Elon Musk really have the character to take responsibility for an important medium like Twitter? He may claim to stand for freedom of speech, but his own track record is not so good. Whistleblowers at Tesla were threatened and intimidated following reports of racism and poor working conditions. Apparently, not every opinion is equally free. How can Musk ensure the safety of Twitter employees and critical users? Musk has regularly used Twitter to influence the price of crypto and stocks, not exactly responsible behavior. Is it desirable for the richest man in the world to behave as a troll on the website he himself owns?

And what if Musk’s ambitions go beyond economic? If Twitter is soon to be a private company, how can he guarantee that he is not susceptible to geopolitical influence? Or perhaps he has political ambitions of his own and has taken a good look at the handbook of Berlusconi and other mediacrats? What is certain is that Twitter is more vulnerable with only one owner. In any case, this takeover is reason for governments to do more work on stricter regulation of social media and big tech.

Of course, it could be that the richest man in the world bought the most influential platform in the world because he saw an outside chance. Maybe he actually knows how to improve Twitter and make it profitable and will bring it back to the stock market in a few years. But it could also be that the eccentric and unpredictable billionaire bought Twitter to turn his wealth into power, because wealth is just boring too.

In any case, so much bought influence is not harmless and reason enough to keep a critical eye on the development of Twitter and its new owner. Both on the website with the blue bird and beyond. In any case, there is no reason to be happy that the richest man in the world has bought the most influential social medium in the world.

Wouter Louwerens

(You can follow me on Twitter by the way. Personally, I would find it very unfortunate if Twitter goes down the drain. It is also a very beautiful and social medium. The one you love to hate, so to speak).

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