DISCLAIMER: I live in the United States, so I wrote this article from an American perspective. I really hope it is better in other countries.
I know, this is totally a clickbait title, but I am serious: Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter may signal a new low for the platform. I am not referring to the absolutely outrageous purchase price (think about how much good could 44 billion dollars do to humanity?), nor to the ridiculous charade, he played in the past few months. No, I am worried about something much more sinister.
Twitter was on the brink of collapse in 2017, destined to irrelevance, and was almost single-handedly rescued by Trump, who injected his poison into the platform and made it his main channel of communication. Most American (and possibly global) politicians who barely even knew what Twitter was, let alone how to manage a social media channel, were hiring social media managers and began distributing their vitriol there. From trivial content to poisonous darts, twitter not only survived but “thrived”, demonstrating how much more easily falsehoods spread within its subscribers and fueling conspiracy theories, misinformation, and becoming a crucial tool for organizing January 6, 2021, Insurrection in Washington D.C.
Just like other social media, Twitter tried to tame the vile speech and to close the floodgates of fake news, racism, and hate speech by banning the most egregious offenders, Donal Trump included, and by posting warnings to tweets that contained specific terms. It even introduced a “think before you tweet” bot, with modest results. However, it added employees to teams dedicated to safeguarding trust and fact-checking.
Well, no more.
Elon Musk officially took control of Twitter on October 27, 2022, publicly announcing his intention to transform it into a haven of free speech and banning all “censorship”. (I am not really sure how a private company’s choice not to display divisive and offensive content can be called censorship, but let’s move on). By October 28, 2022, racist and hateful tweets run rampant, together with a barrage of fake news and conspiracy theories. To add insult – literally – to injury, many previously banned accounts were able to come back. It is no surprise since Musk’s first act of business was to fire all executives, followed by a reduction of 50% of the employees, many of which discovered they were laid off by being locked out of their work accounts on Thursday night…just hours after an email went out telling workers to expect layoffs to begin Friday. Guess which departments were particularly affected? You got it: “teams focused on trust and safety issues.” Also”The mass layoffs Friday gutted teams devoted to combating election misinformation, adding context to misleading tweets and communicating with journalists, public officials and campaign staff.” (MSN news)This is only 10 days before a very consequential midterm election in the United States.
I can’t foresee the future, but it does not bode well. On the other hand, maybe it will become so toxic that only extremists will use it, and the public will abandon it, bringing it back to the brink of irrelevance, keeping good company to MySpace. I don’t think anyone would cry over its disappearance