As the Twitter board accepts Elon Musk’s bid to take over the company, it would give the world’s richest man control over the social media network, where he is also among its most influential users.
Intending to take Twitter as a private company as part of the deal, Musk reached an agreement to buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion – thereby promising a more lenient touch to policing content on the platform, where he promotes his interests, attacks critics and opines on social and economic issues to more than 83 million followers.
The Tesla CEO, who is also the world’s wealthiest person, said that he wanted to buy and privatise Twitter because he thinks it’s not living up to its potential as a platform for free speech.
Musk said in a joint statement with Twitter that he wanted to make the service “better than ever” with new features, such as getting rid of automated “spam bots” and making its algorithms open to the public to increase trust. “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,” he said. People around the world wondering how Twitter will shape up under Musk.
Loosening content moderation
Musk has repeatedly referred to Twitter as “the de factor public town square” of the modern era — the digital equivalent of a public forum. To that end, he’s been critical of Twitter’s decision to permanently ban former President Donald Trump from the site, following the insurrection at the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021. “A lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech,” Musk tweeted in response to the Christian conservative satire publication The Babylon Bee, after it shared a satirical news article on January 11, 2021 titled, “Evil Fascist Dictator Censored and Voted out of Office.”
He could even re-instate Trump’s Twitter account, though it’s unclear if the former president would use the account again. Based on Musk’s tweets, it sounds like he’ll push for looser moderation on Twitter at the very least. He demonstrated the sentiment at least once in recent weeks: At his satellite internet start-up, Star link, he refused requests “by some governments (not Ukraine)” to block news broadcasts from Russia. “We will not do so unless at gunpoint,” he said. “Sorry to be a free speech absolutist.”
Another point Musk has raised in the past involves Twitter’s role in shaping society.
He polled his followers last month on whether they think Twitter’s algorithm should be “open source” — a term for software that’s distributed freely and able to be manipulated openly by many different contributors.
It may sound technical, but the idea is tied to his feelings on free speech. “I’m worried about de facto bias in ‘the Twitter algorithm’ having a major effect on public discourse,” Musk said to one follower. “How do we know what’s really happening?”
Removing spam bots
Some of Musk’s anticipated proposals speak more to his personal use of Twitter than anything else. For example, he’s previously stated he wants to get rid of “crypto spam bots” — spam accounts promoting what appear to be crypto-based scams, which often use Musk’s Twitter likeness.
Musk has called the spam problem on Twitter the “single most annoying problem” with using the service. He’s even publicly pleaded with Twitter to do something about the issue. “How long must this go on?” he asked in February.
In an April 14 interview at TED 2022, Musk cited this issue as the first thing he would change as Twitter’s new owner. “A top priority I would have is eliminating the spam and scam bots, and the bot armies that are on Twitter,” he said. “They make the product much worse.”
Adding an edit button
Musk is in favour of the edit button that Twitter users have been requesting for years. He’s supported the long-running hope that Twitter will someday add an edit function to its service so that users are able to fix, at very least, basic spelling errors or mistaken links immediately after posting. His 80 million-plus followers overwhelmingly supported adding the function in a poll he ran last month. Notably, Twitter said recently that it’s been working on the functionality for some time.