In the wake of Elon Musk buying Twitter, I’ve received emails from people wondering why I haven’t deleted my account on that platform, as I did when I left Facebook in November (I explained my reasons here).
The first part of the answer is that the deal isn’t done yet, and won’t be until the fourth quarter of this year at the earliest. Though Musk has lined up financial backing for some of the $44 billion he’ll need to finalize the purchase, there are still some open questions about whether the numbers will crunch the way he wants them to.
The fact that nothing has changed yet hasn’t stopped a lot of people — mostly liberals — from jumping off Twitter in the last couple of days, while others — mostly conservatives — have jumped on. All of those folks fit into the “shoot first, aim later” category, coming to a conclusion before there’s any evidence to support their theories about what the platform may become. Some of them might simply hate Musk, for whatever reason, and want nothing to do with anything he touches.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’ll keep tweeting come hell or high water. There will be benchmarks that could force me to make the same decision about Twitter that I did about Facebook. Those would include the ban on Trump and his sociopathic acolytes being revoked, or the promulgation of more hate speech, or the spreading of dangerous anti-science conspiracy theories (e.g. about COVID-19), or an overabundance of right-wing extremism, homophobia, racism, misogyny, and fear mongering.
I don’t see any of that in my current Twitter feed, but if it begins to overwhelm the other content, I’ll be gone. That would be a shame because I use Twitter every day as a valuable resource — not just to promote the things I write and post on this site, but also for information gathering from the select group of people I’ve chosen to follow. Their contributions have led me to a lot of fascinating articles, reviews, and humor, sometimes as simple as funny tweets about the day’s events.
Musk keeps talking about being a free speech absolutist, which might mean that if and when he takes the company private, there will be no content moderation at all, restoring account access to the liars, haters, and disinformation trolls who have been blocked. It sounds like Musk believes the First Amendment applies to private businesses, which it certainly does not. No one is guaranteed access to any social media platform. Tweeting (or posting on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.) is a right that can and should be revoked when the rules are broken.
If Musk believes that anyone should be able to say anything at any time, how will he handle someone using Twitter to promote a child pornography website, or organizing domestic terrorism, or advocating for rape or murder? Does he draw the line at all things illegal? Would promoting a violent coup or lying about planning one count?
Considering the people who have been cheering Musk’s purchase of Twitter — Marjorie Taylor Greene, Steve Bannon, Alex Jones, QAnon members, and the like — the platform runs a major risk of becoming part of the same media sludge pile that includes Fox News Channel, Newsmax, InfoWars, and the vast majority of American talk radio. They all love to abuse the right of free speech regardless of the consequences.
If there’s no standard, no low barrier to entry, how soon would Twitter turn into such a cesspool of toxic content that it repels advertisers and becomes an unprofitable enterprise? Surely, Musk — whose Tesla and SpaceX have to be considered among this century’s greatest business successes — would recognize the possible financial downside and try to avoid it. But at what cost to him and our society?
The answer remains to be seen, but — and this is an odd thing to say considering the subject — let’s not jump to conclusions before we see exactly what his intentions are and how they impact the Twitterverse.