What is Elon Musk going to do with Twitter? Experts cast doubt on billionaire CEO’s vision

Tesla CEO Elon Musk could be the next owner of Twitter. pledged about $44 billion to buy the social platform and make it private. Assuming that happens, next on his agenda will be planning how to deliver on his promises to develop new Twitter features, open up its algorithm to the public and defeat “spambots” on the service that mimic real users.

He also needs the company to start “authenticating all people,” as he described it in a statement cited in Monday’s press release announcing the acquisition. What exactly Musk meant by this phrase is still unclear.

As well as the question of whether his ideas are technologically possible and how we will know if these changes will benefit users or serve some other purpose.

Experts who have studied content moderation and researched Twitter for years have expressed doubt that Musk knows exactly what he is getting himself into. After all, there are plenty of young examples of “free speech”-focused platforms launched over the past few years as an antidote to Twitter, mostly by conservatives disgruntled with the company’s crackdown on hate, harassment and disinformation. Many have struggled to deal with toxic content, and at least one of them has been disabled by their own technology providers in protest.

“This move just goes to show how effective (moderation features) are at irritating those in power,” said Kirsten Martin, professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. “I’d be worried about how this would change the values ​​of Twitter.”

MORE: Elon Musk to buy Twitter for about $44 billion, company says

The fact that none of the other bidders appeared in public prior to Musk’s deal was a sign that other potential buyers may find Twitter too difficult to improve, Third Bridge analyst Scott Kessler said.

“This platform is pretty much the same as it has been for the last decade or so,” Kessler said. “You’ve had a lot of smart people trying to figure out what they should be doing and they’ve had problems. It will probably be difficult to make much progress.”

Musk received a storm of, if highly abstract, praise from an unexpected source — Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who praised Musk’s decision to bring Twitter back “off Wall Street” and tweeted that he trusted Musk’s mission to “expand the light.” consciousness” is a reference to Dorsey’s idea that “Twitter is the closest thing we have to a global consciousness.”

But others familiar with Twitter say they are still dismayed by Musk’s successful bid to buy the company.

“Twitter is going to let the male child actually take over their platform,” said Leslie Miley, a former Twitter employee who also worked at Google and Apple. Miley, who was Twitter’s only black engineer in a senior position when he left the company in 2015, echoed doubts about Musk’s understanding of the platform’s complexities.

“I’m not sure Elon knows what he’s getting,” Miley said. “He might just find that having Twitter is very different from wanting Twitter.”

The more hands-off approach to content moderation that Musk envisions is causing many users to fear that the platform will become more of a haven for disinformation, hate speech and bullying, which she has worked hard to mitigate in recent years. Wall Street analysts say if it goes too far, it could alienate advertisers as well.

Shares of Twitter Inc. rose more than 5% on Monday to $51.70 a share. On April 14, Musk announced an offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share. While the stock has risen sharply since Musk made his offer, it is well below the high of $77 a share reached in February 2021.

Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” but is also known for blocking or humiliating other Twitter users who ask him questions or disagree with him.

In recent weeks, he has proposed easing restrictions on Twitter content — like the rules that suspended former President Donald Trump’s account — while ridding the platform of fake “spambot” accounts and eliminating advertising as its main revenue model. Musk believes he can boost revenue with subscriptions, which give paying customers a better experience — perhaps even an ad-free version of Twitter.

Asked during a recent TED interview if there are any limits to his concept of “free speech,” Musk said Twitter will comply with national laws that restrict free speech worldwide. In addition, he said, he would be “very reluctant” to delete posts or permanently ban users who violate the company’s policies.

It won’t be perfect, Musk added, “but I think we want him to really have the feeling and the reality that speech is as free as possible.”

After the deal was announced, the NAACP released a statement urging Musk to prevent Trump, the 45th president, from returning to the platform.

“Don’t let 45 get back on the platform,” the civil rights organization said in a statement. “Don’t let Twitter become a petri dish for hate speech or lies that undermine our democracy.”

As both candidate and president, Trump has turned Twitter into a powerful mouthpiece for communicating directly with the public, often using inflammatory and divisive language on pressing issues. He was permanently banned from serving after the storming of the Capitol on January 6.

“If Musk either fires or fires the Twitter team that is committed to keeping it clean and less filled with hate, he will see an immediate drop in user activity,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies at the university. Virginia. “I think he’ll figure out pretty quickly that inviting fanatics back is bad for business.”

In Europe, officials reminded Musk of a new law, the Digital Services Act, that would force tech companies to tighten their grip on their online platforms.

“Be it cars or social media, any company operating in Europe must abide by our rules – regardless of their shareholding,” Thierry Breton, the European Union commissioner in charge of the bloc’s domestic market, tweeted. “Mr Musk knows this well. He is familiar with European vehicle regulations and is quickly adapting to the Digital Services Act.”

On Monday, some users said they planned to leave the platform if Musk took over. To which he responded on Twitter: “I hope even my worst critics stay on Twitter because that’s what freedom of speech means.”

While Twitter’s user base of over 200 million is still far smaller than competitors like Facebook and TikTok, the service is popular with celebrities, world leaders, journalists and intellectuals. Musk himself is a prolific tweeter, with a following that rivals several pop stars as the most followed accounts.

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Krischer reported from Detroit. O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. AP Business Writers correspondents Marcy Gordon of Washington DC, Barbara Ortutey of Oakland, California, Kelvin Chan of London, and Sam Petrekin of Brussels contributed to this report.

© 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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