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Has Musk bought a lemon?

by on26 April 2022

Will he get away with buying Twitter

Poor little rich kid Elon [look at me] Musk is poised to become the next owner of Twitter, having pledged roughly $44 billion to buy the social platform and take it private.

While at least he is not shooting himself into space like most of the other rich kids with more money than sense, Musk's Twitter move might be the stupid purchase of the year mostly because Musk insists he can allow the social notworking site to promote "free speech."

The more hands-off approach to content moderation that Musk envisions has many users concerned that the platform will become more of a haven for disinformation, hate speech and bullying, something it has worked hard in recent years to mitigate.

Experts who have studied content moderation and researched Twitter for years doubt that Musk knows what he has signed up for as he is in for a pile of pain that he can't talk his way out of.

"Free speech" focused platforms have launched in the past few years were founded by right-wingers who feel that Jesus and the US constitution gave them the right to hate and harass anyone who was not white, straight, middle-aged and male. Such sites have struggled to deal with the volume of toxic content such nut jobs provide and have been cut off by their technology providers in protest.

Third Bridge analyst Scott Kessler said the fact that no other bidders emerged in public before Musk's deal was a sign that other would-be acquirers might find Twitter too challenging to improve.

"This platform is pretty much the same one we've had over the last decade or so," Kessler said. "You've had a lot of smart people trying to figure out what they should do, and they've had trouble. It's probably going to be tough to make a lot of headway."

Peter Vidlicka, co-founder of the free PR platform, Newspage said that Twitter has been on a downward trajectory for some time so Musk snapping it up could help it get its mojo back. In the short term, at least.

"Musk describes himself as a free speech absolutist, so we can expect fireworks in the months ahead in the current socio-cultural climate. To many, Musk's purchase of Twitter will be seen as less a hostile takeover than a cultural stand, a reinforcement of free speech and a much-needed authentication of everyday people and their everyday views. To others, there is a fine line between free speech and hate speech and many are concerned that Twitter under Musk could become an even wilder West than it already is."

Leslie Miley, the only Black engineer at Twitter in a leadership position when he left the company in 2015, echoed doubts about Musk's grasp of the platform's complexities: "Twitter will let a man-child essentially take over their platform. I am not sure if Elon knows what he is getting. He may just find that having Twitter is a lot different than wanting Twitter."

Musk has described himself as a "free-speech absolutist" but like most "free speech" advocates, he is known for blocking or disparaging users who question or disagree with him.

In recent weeks, he has proposed relaxing Twitter content restrictions — such as the rules that suspended former President Donald Trump's account — while ridding the platform of fake "spambot" accounts and shifting away from advertising as its primary revenue model. Musk believes he can increase revenue through subscriptions that give paying customers a better experience — possibly even an ad-free version of Twitter.


Last modified on 26 April 2022
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