By Suhaib Shahab
Elon Musk! Mr. Richie Rich – The world’s richest man. When he walked into the Twitter after buying it for 44 billion dollars, the first thing he did is to revoke ban on Donald Trump’s Twitter account. Next, he fired its CEO and Data scientists and fired employees from software engineering department.
Musk says he will reform Twitter – one of the greatest modern-day media of the people, unlike TV channels and newspapers where you watch what rich elites and politicians want you to watch and read what they want you to read. Of course!
It’s not hundred per cent perfect and an ideal media platform; it has its own flaws like bogus handles and existing hate speech, etc. When Gautam Adani, the new India’s richest tycoon, bought NDTV, the only mainstream news broadcasting television channel of India not accused of being in the category of sold-out media, I thought Okay! So now which unbiased medias are we left with? Mohammad Zubair’s Alt News (a factchecking outlet)? But then what if they ran out of funds? Will the Adanis and Ambanis buy them too the way they bought New18, NDTV, etc.
Alright, let’s hope Twitter acts as the unbiased space for the people of this generation. But, Nah! The owner of Tesla Car company had his eyes on this platform since long. He had to walk out of the deal earlier due to some clause of the agreements but eventually the world’s richest man bought the new morning newspaper of the time. Yes! It’s going to replace newspapers and the T.V. channels of TRPs. Who read the old-fashioned newspapers these days? Definitely, not my generation! Those long articles with no viral video clips and with no first-hand information actually happening on the ground. It takes seconds for the incident happening in Iran to reach New York and to India on Twitter. Here you can choose to read your own journalism without paying bills, information popped on your mobile screen with your reads just fingertips away and stays in your pocket all the time.
Okay, it’s a great media then. Could it be sabotaged and people’s media be taken off from them? The latest events encircling Twitter implies, Yes, it is possible. Musk has been talking about Free Speech coming to Twitter right before he bought it. His idea of Free Speech could be understood by what Donald Trump did on Twitter. The former president of the U.S. was banned from this platform ex-owner’s policy for violating several norms. So that’s what he wants every Twitterati to do. That’s his idea of Free Speech. The space which was championing hate speech, online hate, lies, disinformation and abuse by the developing mechanisms like those of Zubair and others will now have propagandists free pass or larger power to do so.
Alas! As if all these weren’t enough, Mr Musk’s new Twitter Blue subscription which will give subscribers checkmark next to their username began on November 7 in US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The most important is “subscribers wouldn’t need their identities authenticated to get their checkmark”. So “actual verification” would totally disappear. Worse! people could pay for the checkmark to impersonate actual celebs, journalists and scientists, etc.
Starting to look a lot less like a rich boy joyride and more like an intentional destruction of a mass communication platform in service of an agenda. I think that’s the point: destruction of an effective pro-democracy platform that has been critical of fascists.
Mr. Musk and his advisers have discussed adding paid direct messages – which would let users send private messages to high-profile users. This could make celebrities run away from the platform. The issue with leaving Twitter is there is no other app yet where you can search “earthquake” to know instantly if it’s an earthquake and get war updates from Ukrainian civilians while some guy gets 80k retweets for posting “is dandruff vegan”. That’s three apps need to be one.
“It’s hard to understate how tech billionaires are actively intervening to make the world a worse place. Elon Musk is reshaping Twitter with the help of David Sacks, who is part of an effort by Peter Thiel to push US politics to the right,” said Paris Marx, a Canadian critic of tech future. The entitled elite of Twitter is not mad that they have to pay 8 dollars a month. They are mad that anyone can pay them. Musk, when he took over Twitter, tweeted “Bird is freed” but in reality “Bird became 8 dollars a month”.
Musk is in for a rocky ride, and the question for me is whether his ego is going to make him destroy Twitter. Right now, what’s pretty clear is that he doesn’t understand what makes Twitter work. There are three things he doesn’t seem to grasp. First, he seems to think he has bought a tech company (not enough coders and too many managers) when what he has really bought is a community of users. What makes Twitter work, what makes it potentially valuable, isn’t the tech (which isn’t that special) but the community that uses it – that, in particular, it has become the medium of choice of journalists and politicians. That’s the value, right there.
Every journalist worth their salt uses Twitter – and most use it a lot. Ditto pretty much every politician. They are the user base he should care about, not the right-wing-nut-job community. But he doesn’t even understand them. Right-wing-nut-jobs don’t just want a place where they can rant, abuse and say whatever words they want. If they did, they would be quite content with Gab, Parler, Truth Social, some bits of 4Chan, Reddit, etc.
See, they’ve got plenty of spaces. No, what they want is a place where they can rant at the liberals, at the people they hate. If those people aren’t there (and they aren’t on Gab, Parler, Truth Social, etc.), the ranting isn’t nearly fun. So, if Musk manages to drive the liberals away, that’s ruined. If the liberals are driven off, the right-wing will be jubilant for a while, but then bored. And then Twitter dies. So, Musk has to keep the liberals on board. Oh! and the advertisers too, because they will run like hell if Twitter is just a hate-speech hell-site. And that means moderation.
It means keeping the Nazis off the site. It means keeping control of abuse and hate speech. It means cutting down the misinformation. All things Musk doesn’t want to do. If he turns Twitter into a hell-site, he kills it. That’s the thing. Handing over Twitter to a massive-ego, massive-wealth, unpredictable billionaire is kind of a metaphor for the whole way we have dealt with the internet. It is a mess.