Pearl River Day after day, Elon Must has jabbed and feinted at Twitter. He was a big stockholder suddenly. He was going on the board. Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee, he was going to buy the whole shebang for $44 billion. Now the news is full of questions about what he’s going to do with Twitter once he has control. Suddenly, he’s silent.
I’ve got two opinions on this. On his silence, thank goodness, I’m sick of his shtick. On his Twitter, takeover, who cares? Not me. In fact, given his peripatetic attention span, maybe he’ll do us all a favor and kill it. From the little he has said, it’s a cinch he can’t fix it. Maybe that’s more than two opinions, but whatever, the social good and communications value of Twitter is so marginal that Musk’s takeover could be the mercy killing it has deserved for years.
Full disclosure, when it comes to Twitter, I have been on the bleeding edge, but not in joining, but in quitting. Yeah, I’ve got a handle, and we auto-post to it organizationally, but I haven’t posted in years and years, not really. I don’t see it as social media at all. Where’s the social? It’s a bunch of folks hurling sentences out into the world. I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t have the bandwidth. I also didn’t think it was just me. Yes, I know there is DM, direct messaging, but you actually would have to log in to Twitter, but why would I need to do that? There are so many other ways to get in touch with me. Those are DMs that are falling in the roar of the Twitter-verse that no one hears.
The rationale for Twitter is that journalists and politicians use Twitter and depend on it. Ok, good for them! For journalists, it’s their job to listen to the echo chamber, and it’s important for them to believe that someone is listening to them. It’s a mystery to me why what someone might post would be news? For politicians, Trump has proven that Twitter is an irresponsible weapon and his wannabes have taken it even farther across any reasonable line, and that brings me to why I believe that Musk will kill Twitter.
Musk’s plan, if we might call it that, is that Twitter will loosen its guidelines on comments and let it all hang out in the name of free speech and expression. Wow! Here comes even more conspiracies, more misogyny, more racism, more trolls, and general mayhem. Musk doesn’t seem to have been taught the classic lesson about free speech that, yes, we have free speech, but that doesn’t give you the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater.
There has to be a better way to serve the purposes of effective communication within our society. Musk has the money, so he wants to own a platform for his own privileged speech. By definition, that can’t be good for the rest of us. At least when another mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, he promised not to interfere with the content of the actual paper. Musk seems to have bought Twitter because he wants to interfere with the content on the platform. Twitter has around 200 million users globally, and Musk has about 87 million followers, even though experts estimate that half of those are probably fake or bots. He thinks it is all about him, when it’s actually all about nothing.
None of this can end well, so it’s just as well that it simply ends. Who will notice? Whatever replaces it will be better. I doubt that Musk losing some billions on this escapade would teach him any lessons, but it might teach the rest of us something, and that would be valuable in and of itself.