On April 25, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, announced that he would buy the popular social media platform Twitter for $44 billion. This marks an unprecedented transaction where one influential entrepreneur is determined to completely reform an entity that many know and use on a daily basis. For someone whose work focuses more on manufacturing and consumerism, taking over a controversial and immense hub of online discourse might be unprecedented. Although it is difficult to predict the direction Twitter will go under Musk in the coming years, his leadership could bring significant changes that reshape the way Twitter is used as a social networking platform.
Elon Musk, a longtime entrepreneur, is known for his ambition and daring ideas. After dropping out of graduate school at Stanford, he created two start-ups during the “dot com booms” in the 1990s, including what would later become Paypal. He is the CEO of Tesla, the high-flying company in manufacturing electric vehicles worldwide. Musk is also the founder of several well-known companies, including SpaceX, The Boring Company, Neuralink, and OpenAI. Given his unique vision and ability to think outside the box, Musk has proven to be unpredictable despite all his accomplishments so far. Soon, he will take over one of the largest social media platforms in the world.
Twitter has long been known for providing social network services and a platform for individuals to interact and express their opinions. Founded in 2006, Twitter has been a launching pad for news and influence, as celebrities and world leaders often “tweet” their ideas.
The most appealing aspect of Twitter is its scan-friendly feature where users can easily see tweets and replies with a quick glance, particularly practical in an age where people’s attention span is increasingly short. Every day, all kinds of people post on Twitter, spreading information and ideas similar to mini-blogs. Although quick to read and at times entertaining, Twitter has some notable deficiencies. These include the inability to edit tweets after being posted, the immense amount of spam-bots, and the programmed algorithm to keep users engaged online and become addicted.
Twitter became a double-edged sword: providing informative and engaging content, but also contributing to a growing phenomenon in which certain individuals could sway opinions and feed misleading or false information for their own interests. It is clear that Twitter has been in need of change for years, but now that Musk has become involved, the platform could take an interesting and unexpected turn.
What are Musk’s motives for buying Twitter? As a tech-savvy innovator, he proposed a series of solutions to improve the platform under his leadership. Notably, Musk had deemed himself a “free speech absolutist,” and he is opposed to Twitter’s current practice of taking down and banning accounts for sensitive remarks. Rather, he urges Twitter to adhere to the laws of the countries it provides services in and to give sufficient explanation if action is taken against a specific account.
He also promises to add the highly in-demand editing feature for tweets. According to a recent poll Musk surveyed with over 4 million users participating, 70 percent voted yes for adding the edit button. Furthermore, Musk has prioritized making algorithms open-sourced and stopping the influx of spambots by human authentication. If these solutions are implemented, Twitter would be drastically different and would possibly even improve the user experience. However, it would be difficult to enforce all of these changes while concerns over privacy and misinformation still persist. Despite Musk’s intention to reform Twitter and address many user complaints, there are mixed reactions to this transaction.
Musk’s ideas for improving Twitter are intriguing and would resolve some of the existing issues users face on a daily basis, but there are possible risks and public dissent involved. Several experts expressed concern that if Twitter was to soften its stance on hate speech and misinformation, it could lead to widespread propaganda, misleading information, and extremist views.
In addition, Musk promised to lead the charge for the removal of all advertisements on Twitter, arguing that it gives corporations significant leverage and influence over the company and restricts their own ideas. Although ideal, the reality is that Twitter has long been funded by advertisements, with around 90 percent of its $5 billion in annual revenue derived from sponsors and promotions. Without designating a proper replacement to continue generating revenue for Twitter, it could quickly lose financial stability with such a significant amount of its profits erased.
Business firm CEOs and engineers have also expressed concern over human authentication to mitigate spamming. This would require users to input their personal information and expose their identity, and removing anonymity could put minority communities at risk if they don’t want to be in the public view. For more oppressive countries, this change could in fact become weaponized against individuals who speak out against their government or social injustices.
On a smaller scale, buying Twitter also brings unease to Musk’s own companies, such as Tesla. Financial experts and investors believe that Musk’s interest in Twitter implies that he would spend less time on his other businesses, resulting in uncertainty over leadership and the devaluation of current projects such as driverless car development. Overall, the general public is divided over Musk’s purchase of Twitter, unsure of how practical his proposed changes will be, how affected users will be in terms of overall experience and privacy, and if his other business endeavors diminish in importance and affect stockholders.
Personally, I am receptive to some of Musk’s proposed changes, particularly human authentication and open-sourced algorithms. These ideas would ensure that fake accounts are eliminated and it would allow for increased transparency and accountability with only verified accounts.
However, I have doubts about limiting misinformation and abuse of social media, especially given that Musk is a proponent of absolute free speech. Even as an influential entrepreneur, Musk has a history of making bold and head-scratching tweets. For example, Musk had multiple tweets that disturbed the stock market and affected Tesla’s valuation. He also called his own tweets “nonsense” and “crazy,” which damaged his credibility. This has cast doubt on Twitter’s responsibility as an ethical role model after Musk becomes the owner.
The public usually not only expects large companies to spur economic growth but also to create positive impacts on society. Based on Musk’s ideology, it might be challenging for Twitter to implement policies that promote healthy communication for an uplifting society. However, given Tesla’s success, Musk has proved to be practical and adaptive. I am cautiously optimistic that Musk can quickly find a balance between his personal ideology and the positive role that Twitter ought to play.