Twitter is the Digital Town Square
Will Twitter become a less toxic and more accountable space under Elon Musk? The jury is out on this one, and while there will be some changes as he has indicated whether these will weigh on the side of accountability and responsibility is the 44 billion dollar question that there is no real answer to as yet.
Musk himself has made much of free speech in his first tweet after the giant acquisition. ““Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated. I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”
In interviews before the formal announcement Musk has spoken of an Edit button on twitter that will allow users to edit their tweets; has spoken of dropping ads and bots; has said at least twice that he would like to open the algorithm that in his view should be “open source” that will allow users to see whether their tweets have been demoted or promoted. He has still to give more details.
But while these are details that will make Twitter a better base technically, will any steps be introduced to reduce the current toxicity and polarisation that this platform seems to be encouraging more than others. He has said that Twitter will be bound by the laws of the countries it operates in. But what more? Musk has been quiet on all issues of controversy surrounding Twitter, and seems to have kept his head well out of political innings in these decades of success.
Musk, now 50, was a multimillionaire at 31. He is described as an “entrepreneur, investor, media proprietor and business magnate.” He is the founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer at SpaceX; early-stage investor, CEO, and Product Architect of Tesla, Inc.; founder of The Boring Company; founder of Paypal etc etc etc, registering huge success every step of the way. But in interviews he has always made it clear that no one should want to be like him, as they do not know what he has gone through.
Clearly a genius whose mind was always “exploding” with ideas, Musk said he always knew he was “strange” and different. He was able to turn his ideas through sheer persistence and resolve into billion dollar projects with the Twitter acquisition inviting a series of tweets from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Bezos, who has been pushed to be the world’s second richest man before Musk overtook him, spoke of China’s stakes in Musk’s Tesla asking whether “did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square.” But then he went on to say, “Musk is extremely good at navigating this kind of complexity."
This seems to be the case as now tweets are dragging Musk into existing political controversies such as whether now China will lift the ban on Twitter; and whether Twitter will lift the ban on former US President Donald Trump. Trump, with 88 million followers, has spoken highly of Musk over these past days although his followers insist he has no plans to return to Twitter even if the ban is lifted. US President Joe Biden, again according to source based reports in the US media, is watching Musk and Twitter closely.
Will Musk move to lift the Twitter ban on Trump? This in itself will create a furore as it will be taken as indicative of the social media platform’s political leanings, given the polarisation evident in the US. Trump supporters are tweeting frantically as are those opposed to him. Musk has said earlier, “We want to be very reluctant, very cautious about permanent bans, time outs are better than permanent bans.”
Musk’s China leanings are being explored in some detail as well but again there are no statements that can be attributed to him, one way or the other. Despite his meteoric rise in the business world he has steered pretty clear of controversy, with perhaps his recent affair with JohnnyDepp’s ex-wife Amber Heard being the closest he has come to this word. Here too, the affair was after the celebrity couple's divorce, and ended well before the trial.
Musk has been questioned about the use of hate speech on Twitter. His answers have not suggested a solution as yet, but he has flagged the issue by admitting that there is a concern, and that when there is a controversy of this kind he would prefer to err on the side of free speech if there is a gray area. But Twitter will be obligated to follow the law of the land.
Musk is a determined man and pursues all he believes in. As he said in one lecture, if you like the job you will give it the extra mile, or words to that effect. He clearly is driven, and passionate, pushing until he gets success. Earlier at the launch of a space project, he admitted that after three successive failures, his company was at a tether. But even so they prepared for the fourth space launch that would mean the end of the company had it failed. It did not.
He has been pursuing Twitter as well but was rejected before. He came back with an offer that the platform could not refuse, and as CEO Parag Agrawal admitted in a CNBC interview that he placed their "back against the wall," and "they had to come to the negotiation table."
Musk has received strong opposition during his career, and one that clearly penetrated his smile was by former astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan who came out in strong opposition to his commercial space projects.
“ I was very sad to see that because those guys are heroes of mine so it's really tough. I wish they would come and see it, change their mind,” Musk said at the time.
As for himself - “ Where are the aliens, maybe they are amongst us I don't know, some people think I am an alien.” And his top property ? an interviewer asked. “Limit the armies on Twitter, they make the product much worse.”