Musk and Twitter – the partnering of giants
Just when you thought the giant couldn’t grow any bigger, he does.
Elon Musk is buying Twitter and if we were ever in any doubt over his quest for influence in the world, then his pending ownership of the social platform pretty much cements it.
So why did Musk pay $44 billion for a social media site, which many think is past its best and reported an operating loss of $128 million in the last quarter? Well, despite its critics, the site is still a favourite among us with 229 million daily users, and it’s always been the go-to platform for Musk, who has used the site to share some dubious content including comparing Bill Gates to a pregnant man, joking about the shooting of John Lennon and having fisticuffs with Vladimir Putin.
Of course, he’s not the first big business name to dip his toe into the media world. Back in 2013, former Amazon chief, Jeff Bezos, bought the Washington Post. Figures show that in a three-year period, the title doubled its web traffic and became profitable. However, it’s unlikely that Musk’s ownership of Twitter will have the same financial impact, as the site has never promised to be a money-maker.
But this doesn’t put off the world’s richest man who, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index, is reportedly worth in the region of $260 billion.
In a recent TV interview, Musk said: “This is not a way to sort of make money. My strong intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important.”
And for those of us who might be nervous that one man will have such power over free-speech, as he himself pointed out, he’s not the first. We already have Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg, who owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, and while that might not make us feel warm and fuzzy at night, it doesn’t stop us using these sites daily, avidly and, sometimes, compulsively.
Whether we like him or not, we cannot deny that Musk is a disruptor. The creation of Tesla, the world’s first electric car, was game-changing for the automotive industry, while he shifted the way we pay online with the financial tool come to be known as Paypal, and is pursuing a dream multiplanetary existence for the human species with his exploration into space.
He changes things, and in the main, we approve because these changes make our lives easier, cleaner and safer. So, this begs the question, how will he change Twitter?
Musk has already given us some clues. He said: “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has endless potential and I look forward to working with the company and community of users to unlock it.”
What that will mean exactly for users, only time will tell. One possibility – and it might seem small but it’s a big one – is the introduction of an edit button, which has been a frustration for so many users from day one. It’s reported that if the ‘edit’ comes into place, it will only be available for a short while after the original tweet is posted. This is some consolation for those of us who panic at the mere thought of a grammatical error being linked to our name. But, on a more serious note, it brings in to question a concern around the editing of tweets that could allow users to change what they said to avoid getting called out – and even sued – because of inflammatory remarks.
Musk, himself a self-described “free speech absolutist”, has long been critical of Twitter’s policies on content moderation. Human rights groups have voiced concern about the potential rise in bullying and misinformation in response to Musk’s pledge to relax the social platform’s content restrictions. The European Commission has also warned Musk that he must protect users.
Unsurprisingly, one of the big questions being asked since it was reported that Musk is buying Twitter is whether he will pull the Trump card and allow the former US president to re-join the site. One school of thought is that Trump is an attraction – someone many love to hate – and his presence on the platform is a huge draw for an inquisitive audience. However, Trump himself has said he’s not interested in coming back.
Whatever Musk’s decisions, we can expect it to follow his disruptive pattern. Who knew 280 characters could continue to cause so much fuss?
This article was written by our chief executive, Angharad Neagle, and featured in the Western Mail on 3 May 2022