Elon Musk — billionaire, entrepreneur, prominent shitposter — is joining the board of Twitter. It’s not the world’s biggest social network, with a fraction of the number of monthly users as Facebook. It’s arguably not even the worst social network. That’s a superlative I’d reserve for Facebook, too, without hesitation.
And, yes, there’s almost certainly a correlation between the sheer number of people connected and the amount of noise and general malaise on a platform. But that’s another post for another time.
Why did Musk spend nearly $3 billion to buy a 9.2% stake in Twitter? Because he could. And one could argue that it’s him putting his money where his mouth has been. It’s one thing to criticize Twitter from the outside, complaining about censorship which Twitter, as a private company, is free to do however it wants, more or less. Or complaining about regulation. But it’s another thing to do so from the inside. To have a seat at the proverbial table and to help guide those rules and regulations and overall tone and tenor of a platform.
Of course, there is no single tone and tenor of Twitter, just like there is no single tone and tenor of Facebook, or any other social platform. What I see and absorb — and endure — is different than what you get. That’s good, and it’s bad. Maybe you see more Nazis on Twitter than I do. Or fewer. Maybe your feed is full of politicians with bad takes. Maybe yours has more unicorns and rainbows and folks generally being nice to each other. But while Twitter certainly isn’t real life, it is Real Internet, where Rule 34 exists, and things inevitably will take a turn for the dark.
All that almost certainly makes Twitter really hard to steer, insofar as its internal governing principals are concerned. It can, as a company, be for free speech while also having to limit the free speech allowed on its platform. It can choose to permanently ban those who cross the imaginary line, as in the case of a former president. It also can choose to allow those who say the most abhorrent things to remain on the platform because what they say doesn’t cleanly broach that boundary.
It also puts Twitter in a hell of a position. It’s one thing for the Securities and Exchange Commission to pretend to enforce rules that might limit what Musk does on Twitter. It’s quite another for Twitter itself to put limits on a board member — particularly one who is one of the richest people in the world, and is largely without shame.
There almost certainly is not a new sheriff in town. Don’t look for Musk to ride in on a Model X and clean up this virtual town square. Twitter, like Musk himself, likely is ungovernable. (And that’s assuming it’s a good idea to try to govern either in the first place.)
What, exactly, Musk has planned for his time on the Twitter board remains to be seen. It could just be Elon being Elon — make some noise, get some headlines, and then move on to the next thing. It could mean the cesspool that is Twitter gets even worse, with fewer constraints on what someone can say before Twitter tells you to take a hike. Or it could mean something else entirely. Maybe the mind that has managed, out of sheer force of will, to make electric vehicles finally happen and reusable rockets a regular occurrence, can make more out of the fascinating platform that is Twitter.
Or maybe it’ll just be a different shade of putrid.
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