Tobold's Blog
Sunday, May 01, 2022
The Twitterocalypse

Not having talked to the man himself, to the best of my knowledge and based on public information, Elon Musk is a man with colorful views which are all over the place politically. For example he supports universal basic income, which is an extreme left position, but he also opposes cancel culture, which is a more right wing position. However, if you look at what other people say currently about Elon Musk, he is Hitler incarnate and will single-handedly destroy the internet. Because he has bought Twitter, and expressed the opinion that banning certain right-wing politicians and news outlets from Twitter is wrong. There is a not insignificant probability that Donald Trump will get his Twitter account back.

What is interesting about this is that it shatters a previous polite illusion that Twitter is a politically neutral platform, which only bans hate speech. The same people who claimed that since Twitter banned Trump are now expressing their fear that Twitter will ban *their* opinions and candidates. Which means that suddenly left and right are united in the opinion that whoever has control over Twitter, could wield immense political power by banning certain outlets or even more insidiously tweak algorithms that push certain political opinions more than others.

While it will still take some time before Elon Musk is actually in control, some things can already be observed now, just in the few days since the takeover was agreed upon: Right-wing personalities on Twitter have a huge influx of tens to hundreds of thousands of followers. Left-wing personalities are losing followers. That is indicative of two things: People flock towards echo chambers, and away from platforms where they are likely to even come in contact with opposing views; and in the public perception a purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk means a move towards the right.

On January 6, 2021, a mob of 2,000–2,500 supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump attacked the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. They sought to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election by disrupting the joint session of Congress assembled to count electoral votes that would formalize President-elect Joe Biden's victory. Source Wikipedia. A lot of people think that Donald Trump is at least partially to blame for that attack, and I would agree with that. But what was the worst negative consequence of political importance to Donald Trump in the 16 months since? He lost his Twitter account. That, and the panic about the possibility of him getting that Twitter account back, tells you something. It means that the CEO of Twitter in some instances wields more political power than congress or the president. And that because Twitter is (or should I say "was") a publicly traded company, that political power is for sale.

While the problem is pretty clear, the solution is far from clear. In a perfect world, lawmakers would agree to some reasonable limitations to the political power of companies. In the real world, lawmakers ban math books that they consider too woke. Whoever is in power at whatever level of politics only tries to limit the political power of companies that disagree with him. If a month ago there would have been any attempt of Republicans to limit the power of Twitter, Democrats would have tried to block these attempts. Today it might just be the other way around. The two sides fundamentally agree that certain companies have too much power, but will never agree on measures against that, because each side wants measures that only harms their political opponents.

I don't think Elon Musk is the worst possible owner of Twitter, and he might well make that platform more centrist than it is now. But you never know with that guy. At some point later in his life he might announce his candidacy to become president of the United States. Does anybody think that owning Twitter wouldn't be an unfair advantage for such a candidate? And isn't it weird that there is no regulation about this sort of unfair advantage?

Elon Musk can't run for US President: he wasn't born in the US.

Other than that minor nitpick, yes, quite. I don't see a good solution either. Our usual solution to this kind of problem is a free market. But in domains with massive network effects, like social media, that just doesn't really work.
The same people who claimed that since Twitter banned Trump are now expressing their fear that Twitter will ban *their* opinions and candidates.

I don't think that's quite the case, is it? People who were happy that Twitter banned Trump aren't generally afraid that Musk's Twitter will ban AOC, or Bernie, or Melenchon, or even Noam Chomsky. They're only afraid it'll unban Trump, assorted vaccine conspiracists (a minority of whom are or pretend to be on the hard left), and other purveyors of misinfo and abusive trolling.

But the most interesting part might yet be Musk's 'real human authentication' reform which he's probably serious about, because he is interested in endorsing cryptocurrencies and hates crypto spam bots posing as himself and others. On the one hand, that could weed out trolls, too. On the other hand, it'll make doxxing trivial, and probably, ironically, chill a lot of speech. And heaven knows if EU regulators will wear any of it.
The cat is among the pigeons, or rather the bluebirds...

Perhaps one fear is that common standards of polite debate will be imposed on everyone equally.
Meh I think all this drama over Musk buying Twitter is overblown. Let's be real Twitter, and all social media in general, is a cesspit of toxicity, echo chambers, conspiracy theories, and parasocial relationships. That hasn't changed with Trump being banned from the platform.

At the end of the day Musk isn't spending 46 billion on Twitter to then destroy the company. He can say whatever he wants and even unban people like Trump but he will not turn Twitter into a completely moderation free space like say 4chan because Twitter needs advertisers to stay in business. So while he knows how to play both lefties and right wingers he will do what's best for his bottom line at the end of all this. I imagine we'll see slight rule changes to moderation and maybe some folks get unbanned and that's about it.
"On the other hand, it'll make doxxing trivial, and probably, ironically, chill a lot of speech."

I don't think so. Facebook has shown that some people will still say insane things even if their real names are attached to them.
All I will say about Elon buying Twitter is this: he's not buying it for us. Or to annoy us. Or to nobly open up Twitter for "free speech". Or anything about us in general.

He's buying it because Twitter is just a tool in his competition with the worlds' richest people. Whatever happens to us matters absolutely zero to him. He's not betting that the EU will not ban Twitter, because he doesn't care. We are simply collateral damage.

Elon should be careful what he wishes for, because he might get it.
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