Twitter will be dangerous in the hands of Elon Musk

Jordan Reid is the founding editor of Ramshackle Glam.
Liberal Opinion

Jordan Reid

Author; Founding Editor, Ramshackle Glam
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After Elon Musk acquired Twitter for $44 billion and fired its top executives, the rogue multi-billionaire wasted no time in placating advertisers worried about the site becoming a hate-filled source of misinformation, all in the name of free speech.

After an hour-long Zoom call with six civil rights groups, Musk tweeted that he won’t decide until after the midterm elections whether banned users, a group that includes former President Donald Trump, will be allowed to return to the site. Musk also announced plans to charge its power users $8 a month to receive a coveted blue check mark to verify their account. But Straight Arrow News contributor Jordan Reid wonders if any of Musk’s efforts can prevent Twitter from becoming a bastion of far-right rhetoric.

As the New York Times wrote in a recent opinion piece: “It is not unreasonable to expect that a Musk-owned and controlled Twitter will, in the name of free speech, allow disinformation and misinformation to be tweeted ad infinitum so long as it discredits his political opponents and celebrates and enriches himself and his allies.”

Musk believes in free speech. Wholly unregulated speech. And that’s a hard argument to counter because who doesn’t believe in free and open self-expression? Except technology has advanced far more rapidly than our ability to address the very real dangers that come along with this instantaneous and widespread dissemination of false information. 

When we provided a platform from which anyone and everyone could proselytize, I’m not sure we realized the Pandora’s Box we were opening up. But we sure do see it now. 

I personally hate Twitter. To me, it feels like standing in the center of a massive room and screaming at thousands of other people who are also screaming back at you.  In other words, largely unproductive, and more than a little stressful. It’s confusing to me why Musk felt the need to own it in the first place, but that’s possibly because I don’t seem to have a sense of narcissism that’s quite as highly developed as Musk’s. 

But even if you’re anti-tweet, it is a fact that Twitter possesses outsized influence over American politics and public life. It’s a fact that, for users, is highly addictive, like many social media sites operating under an intermittent reinforcement schedule that’s not dissimilar from Skinner’s box. The company’s own research has demonstrated that its algorithm amplifies right-wing accounts and news outlets with greater frequency than left-wing ones. And placing Musk – with his fondness for trolling and disruption and documented disdain for “wokeness” – will likely only exacerbate that finding. 

That said, Musk has very often proven himself to be pure, walking chaos. He likes to break down existing realities with the hope of crafting new ones. Here’s hoping his takeover shatters Twitter like a twig, repelling existing users and leaving the site a shadow version of its former self.

The world – or at least my news feed – will be more peaceful for it. 

Everyone’s freaking out about Elon Musk buying Twitter.  And yes, the rich usurping modes of public expression – a “digital town square,” as Musk himself has called it – is problematic. 

But Musk presents an interesting – and completely unique – problem of his very own design. Musk positions himself as a rogue billionaire – a kind of Batman, willing and able to deploy his high-tech toys in pursuit of, if not justice, at least Mars. The rules don’t apply to him, and if he’s going to save us, they can’t! And somehow – well, we know how, because it’s profitable for those looking the other way to let Elon go be Elon – this has, so far, worked.

Basically, Musk sets himself apart from earlier incarnations of this “billionaire without limits” trope because unlike his predecessors, he doesn’t even pretend to play by the rules. In fact, he thinks the arbiters of said rules – the government institutions that at least strive for a free and fair market – are not heroes of capitalism, but rather enemies of progress.

Musk also demonstrates zero fear of involving himself in the political melee. He has stated that he intends to allow Trump back on Twitter – and whether you agree with that choice or not, it’s for sure a political statement with significant political consequences. 

As the New York Times wrote in a recent opinion piece: “It is not unreasonable to expect that a Musk-owned and controlled Twitter will, in the name of free speech, allow disinformation and misinformation to be tweeted ad infinitum so long as it discredits his political opponents and celebrates and enriches himself and his allies.”

Musk believes in free speech. Wholly unregulated speech. And that’s a hard argument to counter because who doesn’t believe in free and open self-expression? Except technology has advanced far more rapidly than our ability to address the very real dangers that come along with this instantaneous and widespread dissemination of false information. 

When we provided a platform from which anyone and everyone could proselytize, I’m not sure we realized the Pandora’s Box we were opening up. But we sure do see it now. 

I personally hate Twitter. To me, it feels like standing in the center of a massive room and screaming at thousands of other people who are also screaming back at you.  In other words, largely unproductive, and more than a little stressful. It’s confusing to me why Musk felt the need to own it in the first place, but that’s possibly because I don’t seem to have a sense of narcissism that’s quite as highly developed as Musk’s. 

But even if you’re anti-Tweet, it is a fact that Twitter possesses outsized influence over American politics and public life. It’s a fact that, for users, is highly addictive, like many social media sites operating under an intermittent reinforcement schedule that’s not dissimilar from Skinner’s box. The company’s own research has demonstrated that its algorithm amplifies right-wing accounts and news outlets with greater frequency than left-wing ones. And placing Musk – with his fondness for trolling and disruption and documented disdain for “wokeness” – will likely only exacerbate that finding. 

That said, Musk has very often proven himself to be pure, walking chaos. He likes to break down existing realities with the hope of crafting new ones. Here’s hoping his takeover shatters Twitter like a twig, repelling existing users and leaving the site a shadow version of its former self.

The world – or at least my news feed – will be more peaceful for it. 

 


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