What Elon Musk plans to do with Twitter after buying it


Elon Musk buys Twitter. After months of publicly toying with the idea, the world’s richest man has managed to broker a deal to buy the social media platform for $44 billion.

On Monday, Musk issued a statement with a short list of goals for the platform, many of which were recently showcased to his 83 million Twitter followers. “Free speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital public square where issues vital to the future of humanity are debated,” he tweeted. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating spambots, and authenticating all humans.”

But are Musk’s goals actually achievable? Can he really turn Twitter into a less moderated forum where free speech flourishes, and at the same time make it a service that generates more revenue from subscribers than advertisers? Sure, he’s the richest private citizen in the world, but he’ll need Twitter to generate revenue, if only to repay the banks that loaned him $25 billion for the purchase. Here’s a look at Musk’s proposed changes, where Twitter currently stands, and what history and experts tell us about whether they could be successfully implemented.

READ MORE: Elon Musk strikes $44 billion deal to buy Twitter

“Absolutist of freedom of expression”

Musk called himself a “free speech absolutist” in a tweet from March. Last January, three days after President Trump received a permanent suspension from Twitter for his “risk of inciting violence” following the January 6 insurgency, Musk tweeted: “A lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech.”

Musk’s uncompromising rhetoric on free speech runs counter to Twitter’s recent move in this area. In 2018, the site came under fire after an MIT study showed that misinformation spreads faster on Twitter than real news. Since then, the company has stepped up its efforts to combat hate speech and increase user safety, including the ability for its users to report false information. Tik Tok’s controversial Libs Twitter account has been suspended twice for “hateful conduct” – and last week the company announced it would ban ads that challenge widely accepted climate change research.

But misinformation, propaganda and extremist views are still rife on the site, especially around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Musk has said hate speech will be banned, he has yet to analyze the gray areas, and it seems possible that more lenient policies for content moderation could lead to more toxic behavior that Twitter is trying to address. eradicate for years. .

And fewer safeguards around speech could be bad for Twitter’s bottom line: Advertisers could be less likely to pay money for posts that might border on racism, bigotry, or sexism.

Removal of advertisements

In a now-deleted Tweet, Musk argued for the removal of all advertising from Twitter, writing, “The power of corporations to dictate policy is greatly enhanced if Twitter depends on ad dollars to survive.

Twitter depends almost entirely on ads to stay financially afloat. In the fourth quarter of 2021, the company reported advertising revenue of $1.41 billion out of $1.57 billion in total revenue during that quarter. In November, the company launched its first consumer subscription plan, Twitter Blue, which costs $3 per month for access to “premium features.” But chief executive Parag Agrawal said in February that Blue was “not essential” to meeting its revenue projections, according to Wall Street. Log.

Musk has expressed support for a subscription model, but wants it to be cheaper than it is now. Speaking at a TED talk this month, he said his interest in Twitter “isn’t a way to make money.” But he will need the platform to continue to generate revenue, as he has paid more than half of that in funding from Morgan Stanley and other institutions. In order to pay off its debt, it will likely need to not only preserve Twitter’s ad revenue, but grow it as well.

Spambots and human authentication

Musk called spambots “most annoying problemon Twitter. Bots, which often promote crypto scams these days, flood users’ feeds in an attempt to lure unsuspecting victims.

Twitter already has a rigorous process for weeding out fake accounts: the company uses software during the registration process to detect automation patterns. But botmakers are becoming increasingly slippery and sophisticated, allowing many to slip through Twitter’s censors undetected. Meanwhile, it’s much harder to detect manual forgeries, in which real people create fake accounts to spread misinformation or scam people. A 21-year-old, for example, repeatedly impersonated members of the Trump family on Twitter for a year, even fooling the president.

READ MORE: Elon Musk—Person of the Year 2021

For now, Musk seems to believe that the best solution to the bot problem is to authenticate “all real humans”, or to have accounts openly linked to other personal identifiers, whether a phone number, email address or photo. But this idea has drawn the ire of many Twitter users who like the application precisely for its pseudonym. “I would rather have spambots than have to ‘authenticate’ my human identity. I have come this far without ever associating the name of my government with my extracurricular activities,” wrote a user in reply to Musk.

“How can we ensure that people in at-risk regions who must be under pseudonyms enjoy the freedom to speak the truth while authenticating that they are real humans without blowing their cover? » engineer Jane Manchun Wong wrote. Others worried that a detailed list of users, even if kept internally by Twitter, could be vulnerable to seizure or hacking by governments or malicious actors.

Michael Saylor, CEO of business intelligence firm MicroStrategy, responded to Musk with his own suggestion last week: that users should be required to post “one-time security deposit” that they lose if they are reported and convicted of malicious acts. This solution, however, could lead to mob bullying, in which a group with a vendetta could mass flag a real individual to have them de-verify and withdraw their deposit.

Open source algorithms

What people see on social media is usually the work of complicated algorithms, the components of which are often well-kept Big Tech secrets. Musk wants Twitter to make its algorithms open source, meaning it publicly shares the decision-making behind the tweets that are shown to users. If someone’s tweets are “emphasized or de-emphasized, that action should remain apparent,” he explained at the TED Talk. Many generally agree with him, especially following the 2021 Facebook posts, which showed how flawed algorithms can have dire consequences.

But several experts have argued that the process of releasing this information is far more complicated than Musk claims. “The algorithm is just the tip of the iceberg. … The rest of the iceberg is all this data that Twitter has,” said Robin Burke, professor of information science at the University of Colorado in Boulder, at the Washington Post. To post this month. Even if the sprawling computer code were made public, Burke claims, much of it would be completely unreadable to most viewers and would be especially useless without the inserted data, which contains a lot of private and personal information.

An edit button

When Musk surveyed his followers on April 4th as to whether they wanted Twitter to implement an edit button, they answered resoundingly: 73% of 4.4 million votes were “yes”. Calls for an Edit button have long been omnipresent on Twitter, while Reddit and Facebook have editing features that work quite well for their users.

But while an edit button would allow users to fix typos, it would also open the door for bad actors to edit the public chat record. Trolls might post a widely accepted statement to rack up likes and retweets, just to change it to something heinous afterwards. Hackers could break into government or corporate accounts and alter information. Ben Sangster, a former Twitter software engineer, wrote that while part of an internal effort to create an Edit button in 2015, his team “concluded the potential for abuse was too high to move forward”.

There’s also a small technical glitch: Twitter allows third-party apps and developers, including widely used ones like TweetDeck, to download tweets in real time. Once a tweet is downloaded by a platform like TweetDeck, there is no way for Twitter to recall or edit it, wrote Lewis Mitchell, professor of data science at the University of Adelaide. , in a recent article.

Twitter itself has announcement it works on an Edit button, but has kept pretty tight-lipped about all the details. A user who responded to Musk’s poll suggested that the Edit button only be available a few minutes after someone posts and that the original Tweet remains publicly available. Musk called the proposal “reasonable.”

While Musk faces many challenges, he has already overcome daunting obstacles, whether at SpaceX or Tesla. And he recognized on Twitter that he is ready to hear his critics, no matter how vocal: “I hope even my worst critics stay on Twitter, because that’s what free speech means.

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