Great app or “Wild West”? The future of Twitter under Elon Musk

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Friday 28 October 2022 11:00 BST

Elon Musk is finally buying Twitter, promising – or for some, threatening – sweeping changes for one of the world’s biggest social media platforms.

With a self-proclaimed mission to ensure that everyone’s timeline becomes the ultimate home for free speechand a vague long-term goal to turn it into “X, the app of everything”the billionaire takes a hands-on approach.

Sky News takes a look at what this could mean for the future of the platform and whether users should hope or worry about what’s to come.

The first step towards “applying everything”

Musk has repeatedly spoken of a “super app”, which he tentatively dubbed “X”.

Whether that becomes Twitter, or a larger platform his new purchase is a part of, is uncertain – but he drew comparisons with WeChat in Chinawhich combines familiar features like messaging, a marketplace, and Twitter-like public posts in one place.

“He has that kind of thinking,” Michael Vlismas, author of Musk’s biography Risking It All, told Sky News.

“While most people would get bogged down in the details and start their plan there, Elon Musk tends to go beyond all of that and start with the big idea and deal with the issues ahead.

“In my mind, that would be the first step in another two-, three-, or four-point plan of where that fits into the next thing he wants to do.”

For Musk’s critics, the vagueness of “applying everything” speaks to a man who has no real plan.

Jason Goldman, a member of Twitter’s founding team and former board member, believes the lack of a clear strategy is exactly why he tried to back out of the case.

“He hasn’t presented a serious plan of what he wants to do with the platform,” he told Sky News.

“He wants to beat the bots, it’s about free speech, it’s all very manual.”

A “Wild West” for freedom of expression

Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist”.

He considers Twitter’s content moderation to be too burdensome and criticized the decision to ban important but controversial people. like donald trump.

Experts have warned the world’s richest man’s cowardly stance on moderation could be a way for the “worst” trolls in the service to prosperturning Twitter into a “Wild West” where anything goes.

Mr Goldman, who served as the White House’s first Chief Digital Officer under former President Barack Obama, said: ‘Freedom of speech is a hugely important principle, anyone running an internet platform should start by embracing this. principle.

“The problem is that Elon doesn’t really care – he wants there to be more voices on the platform that are consistent with his particular political views.”

Musk – who has been criticized for recent tweets regarding Ukraine and Taiwan – claims that Twitter’s approach to free speech will be based on the laws of each country, which experts say will strengthen authoritarian regimes.

“In the UK, we have rights that protect our opinions,” said Amelia Sordell, founder of brand agency Klowt.

“What about countries whose laws prevent free speech? If Twitter abides by national law, those people will have less rights, not more.”

Potential comebacks for controversial vocals

Mr Trump broke Twitter rules when he was alleged to have used his account to incite riots in the US Capitol.

It was a high-profile intervention, paired with other platforms like Facebook, that came after years of criticism of social media companies for not doing enough to crack down on dangerous content.

Musk’s approach to free speech and reports of job cuts on Twitter raised concerns about moderation in the future.

“Elon clearly doesn’t enjoy this job,” Goldman warned.

“That means there will be a real glut of people in the business who know how these protections are applied and how they work, and that puts everyone at greater risk.

“And not just ‘mean tweets,’ but leaks of user privacy, exposure of dissidents in authoritarian countries, things with real consequences.”

Since Mr Trump’s ban, he has since launched his own platform, Truth Social, promising a safe space for users to “share your unique opinion”.

And Kanye West? He briefly returned to Twitter earlier this month to complain about being banned from Instagram for an allegedly anti-Semitic post.

“Welcome to Twitter, my friend,” Musk told West, before the rapper was quickly banned there.

West has since acquired Parlerwhich presents itself as “devoted to freedom of expression”.

Sound familiar?

New ways to pay

Twitter is hugely dependent on advertising – it has partly blamed an industry downturn for its poor financial results earlier this summer.

One solution, according to Musk, is to offer a premium experience that some users will pay – as a new verification marker.

Mr Goldman thinks there is room for more premium features for Twitter’s “power users”, but warns that Musk’s moderation stance risks alienating those most likely to pay.

“The problem is that those power users won’t want to be on a platform, nor will advertisers, where the discourse seems more hostile. […] and all these user safety issues become more important,” he says.

“The real problem with subscriptions is access,” adds Aaron Green, director of media and connections at R/GA London.

“Many users may not be able to afford a paid model, risking losing their current user base.”

Already, it is clear that by buying Twitter, Elon Musk is putting a lot on his plate.

If his ambitions for Twitter match those he has for his other companies (from humanoid robots at life in space), the potential for change – for better or for worse – is certainly considerable.

“SpaceX started with the big idea of ​​Mars and let’s colonize Mars – the impossible idea, but it produced this wave of support, interest and excitement around space again,” said Musk’s biographer. , Mr. Vlismas.

“Mars may never be the accomplishment, but it was the catalyst to form a very effective SpaceX.

“I think Twitter will be a very different space, but will it be a better place as a platform for humanity as Elon Musk wants? I think it’s the Mars social network right now.

“But on the way to maybe getting there, I definitely think he will come up with some new ideas.”

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