Elon Musk is finally buying Twitter. After months of will he/won’t he, buy Twitter saga, the deal seems to be finally going through. The world’s richest private citizen successfully negotiated a deal to take the company private for $44 billion.
After initially rejecting the offer Twitter’s board of directors finally accepted a deal that valued each share at $54.20 per share. A mark-up above $49.68 at the time of this writing.
With the deal nearing completion the big question around people’s minds is what changes he is going to bring to Twitter. Well, nobody really knows, for now, he is Elon Musk, after all, known to change his mind at a moment’s notice.
We can however speculate. He has hinted at the sorts of changes he wants to implement many times via his tweets and press releases.
Announcing the acquisition, he released a statement saying:
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” he said. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spambots, and authenticating all humans.”
Based on these statements, a few others and recent tweets here are some of the changes we expect to see on Twitter once the acquisition is completed.
Free speech has been a hot topic on Twitter for a while now. Both sides of the US political aisle (left and right) have complained about excessive content moderation on the platform. Conservatives especially have complained about the deletion of tweets considered to be ‘offensive’ and even ‘shadowbanning’ i.e. ‘block (a user) from a social media site or online forum without their knowledge, typically by making their posts and comments no longer visible to other users.’
Progressives on the other hand want more moderation of content deemed to be bigoted, racist or sexist. Even Elon Musk agrees with this view. He has promised to keep such content away from the platform. However, parsing out the grey areas is a little harder than it would seem especially if you want to remain true to the principles of free speech.
Moreover, opening up the platform to more ‘diverse’ content might hurt the company’s revenue stream as advertisers will want to shy away from ‘extremist’ content.
This is very much tied to his adherence to free speech. He conducted a poll on his followers asking if they thought that Twitter’s algorithm should be open source i.e. free to be manipulated openly by many different contributors and got a resounding yes.
If someone’s tweets are “emphasized or de-emphasized, that action should remain apparent,” he argued at the TED conference.
While this may sound technical, it is very much tied to the idea of removing any bias from the ‘de-facto public town square.’
“I’m worried about de facto bias in ‘the Twitter algorithm’ having a major effect on public discourse,” Musk said to one follower. “How do we know what’s really happening?”
Several experts however argue that the process of opening such information is a little more complicated than Musk is asserting. Talking to the Washington Post Robin Burke, a professor of information science at the University of Colorado at Boulder says “The algorithm is just the tip of the iceberg.…The rest of the iceberg is all of this data that Twitter has.” He argues that even if the code was released to the public much of it would be completely illegible to most viewers and would be especially useless without the inserted data. It is also worth noting that Twitter is essentially built of code and there is no telling what exposing that code to the public might do to its bottom line.
In another yet Musk-led poll on April 4 as to whether users wanted an edit button more than 4.4 million responded with a resounding yes. Calls for an edit button have long been overdue on Twitter as sites like Reddit and Facebook already have edit features that work fairly well for their users.
But, while an edit button may allow users to fix typos it would also open doors to trolls to post heinous statement so as to rile up the crowd for replies, retweets and likes only to backtrack later.
Twitter itself has announced it is working on an Edit button but has remained tight-lipped about it. Some users have suggested that the Edit button should only be available to the public a few minutes after publishing to which Musk as being ‘reasonable.’
Any user on Twitter would agree that spambots are annoying. Musk has referred to spambots as the “single most annoying problem” on Twitter. They are mostly automated accounts that often promote crypto-based scams or flood users’ feeds to lure unsuspecting victims.
While Twitter has tried to weed these fake accounts by using software during the registration process to detect patterns of automation bots continue to become more sophisticated allowing many to pass through Twitter’s censors undetected.
Musk believes the solution to the best solution to this would be to authenticate “all real humans” or to have accounts overtly linked to other personal identifiers like their phone numbers or email accounts. Some users however disagree with this tactic as they say it would go against their pseudonymity.
Musk new acquisition of Twitter is going to be exciting, to say the least. He faces a myriad of challenges in his effort to open up the platform to more ‘diverse’ views.