Tesla CEO Elon Musk will be Twitter’s next owner, having pledged around $44 billion to buy the social platform and take it private. Assuming that happens, the next step in its agenda will be to plan how to deliver on its promises to develop new Twitter features, open its algorithm to public inspection, and defeat “spambots” on the service that mimic real users.
He will also have to get the company to start “authenticating all humans,” as he described in a statement quoted in Monday’s press release announcing the acquisition. What exactly Musk meant by that phrase remains unclear.
The same goes for whether his ideas are technologically possible and how we will know if these changes will benefit users or serve other purposes.
Experts who have studied content moderation and researched Twitter for years have expressed doubts that Musk knows exactly what he’s getting into. After all, there are many nascent examples of “free speech”-focused platforms launched in recent years as antidotes to Twitter, largely by conservatives unhappy with the company’s crackdown on hate, harassment and misinformation. Many have struggled to deal with the toxic content, and at least one has been cut by its own tech vendors in protest.
“This decision shows how effective (moderation functions) have been in annoying those in power,” said Kirsten Martin, professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. “I would be worried about how this would change Twitter’s values.”
The fact that no other bidders emerged in public before Musk’s deal was a sign that other potential acquirers might find Twitter too difficult to improve, said Third Bridge analyst Scott Kessler.
“This platform is pretty much the same as what we’ve had for the last decade,” Kessler said. “You’ve had a lot of smart people trying to figure out what they should be doing, and they’ve had issues. It’s probably going to be difficult to make much progress.
Musk received effusive, if very abstract, praise from an unexpected quarterback – Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who praised Musk’s decision to take over Twitter from Wall Street “and tweeted that he trusted Musk’s mission to “expand the light of consciousness” — a reference to Dorsey’s notion that “Twitter is the closest we have to global consciousness.”
But other people familiar with Twitter say they are still appalled by Musk’s successful bid for the company.
“Twitter is going to let a man-child take over their platform,” said Leslie Miley, a former Twitter employee who also worked for Google and Apple. Miley, who was Twitter’s only black engineer in a senior role when he left the company in 2015, echoed doubts about Musk’s understanding of the platform’s complexities.
“I don’t know if Elon knows what he’s getting,” Miley said. “He may just find that having Twitter is very different from wanting Twitter.”
The more passive approach to content moderation Musk envisions has many users worried that the platform could become more of a haven for misinformation, hate speech and bullying, which it has been working hard on these days. recent years to mitigate. Wall Street analysts said going too far could alienate advertisers as well.
Shares of Twitter Inc. rose more than 5% on Monday to $51.70 per share. On April 14, Musk announced an offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share. While the stock has been up sharply since Musk made his offer, it is well below the high of $77 per share it hit in February 2021.
Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist,” but he’s also been known to block or denigrate other Twitter users who question or disagree with him.
In recent weeks, he has proposed easing content restrictions on Twitter — such as rules that suspended former President Donald Trump’s account — while ridding the platform of fake “spambot” accounts and s moving away from advertising as a primary revenue model. Musk thinks he can boost his revenue through subscriptions that give paying customers a better experience — maybe even an ad-free version of Twitter.
When asked in a recent TED interview if there were any limits to his notion of “free speech,” Musk said Twitter would abide by national laws that restrict free speech in the world. world. Beyond that, he said, he would be “very reluctant” to remove posts or permanently ban users who violate company rules.
It won’t be perfect, Musk added, “but I think we want him to really have the perception and the reality that speech is as free as reasonably possible.”
After the deal was announced, the NAACP released a statement urging Musk not to allow Trump, the 45th president, to return to the platform.
“Don’t let 45 people 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 subvert our democracy.”
As a candidate and president, Trump has made Twitter a powerful megaphone for speaking directly to the public, often using inflammatory and divisive language on burning issues. He was permanently banned from the service following the storming of the Capitol on January 6.
“If Musk fires or fires the team at Twitter that is committed to keeping it clean and making it less hateful, he will see an immediate drop in user activity,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies. at University. of Virginia. “I think he’ll soon find out that inviting fanatics back is bad for business.”
Some users said on Monday that they plan to leave the platform if Musk takes it over. To which he replied on Twitter: “I hope even my worst critics stay on Twitter because that’s what free speech means.”
While Twitter’s user base of over 200 million remains far below rivals such as 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 in the ranks of the most popular accounts.
Krisher reported from Detroit. O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. AP Business writers Marcy Gordon in Washington, Barbara Ortutay in Oakland, Calif., and Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.