Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, is going to become the next owner of Twitter, having pledged $44 billion to purchase the social media platform.
Musk, a self-described “free-speech absolutist”, has promised new features such as “authenticating all humans,” as he described it in a statement quoted in a press release announcing the acquisition on Monday.
The exact nature of the changes to Twitter is unknown, but the following events are expected to occur once Musk takes over the microblogging platform.
Content moderation and free speech
Musk has frequently stated that Twitter’s content moderators intervene far too frequently on the platform.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where vital issues affecting humanity’s future are debated,” he wrote on Twitter.
The billionaire has called for Twitter’s content restrictions to be relaxed and has described a platform free of content moderation. One of the main reasons for his decision to buy the company, according to critics, is to circumvent its content moderation policies.
“Musk is not buying Twitter for financial reasons, although he believes he can make some money on it,” Angelo Carusone, head of the non-governmental organization Media Matters for America, told Al Jazeera. He’s buying it because it’s ideologically sound.”
“And that, in the end, is what scares me,” Carusone said. “If he [Musk] undoes a lot of the work that has been done to combat hate speech and misinformation, that’s going to be a bad day for Twitter,” said Zeve Sanderson of the NYU Center for Social Media and Politics, to Al Jazeera.
Twitter previously stated that it is developing an edit button that will allow users to change tweets after they have been posted. The company’s vice president of consumer product, Jay Sullivan, stated that it had been “the most requested Twitter feature for many years.”
Users would be able to use the edit function to correct typos or errors in a tweet without losing the replies, retweets, or likes it had already received. However, how to implement it while preventing abuse, such as changing statements after others have retweeted or endorsed them, remains a question.
An obvious solution would be to track changes through a log of edits, similar to Facebook and Slack, where people can view the history of changes on a post. This feature, on the other hand, has frequently been abused by scammers, leading to years-long “edit wars.”
Twitter’s algorithm should be open-source
The algorithm, or the piece of code that determines the priority with which tweets are served to users, will be made “open source,” or available for the public to view and improve on.
Musk claims that this will help prevent “behind-the-scenes manipulation” such as fueling massive foreign propaganda, which Facebook has been accused of doing during former US President Donald Trump’s campaign.
However, some analysts have expressed concern that Musk’s proposal grossly oversimplifies the process of making data public and raises serious privacy concerns.
According to Ramesh Srinivasan, a media studies professor at the University of California, algorithms encourage engagement by steering emotional reactions, which is why hateful content is the most viral.
As a result, “[Musk] must deal with the underlying engine that is the instrument of free speech, to ensure that free speech is balanced and not biased towards hate speech,” according to Srinivasan.
Will Trump make a comeback?
Following the riots at the Capitol Building in Washington on January 6, 2018, Donald Trump’s account was permanently suspended. Even if his Twitter ban is lifted, Mr Trump says he will not return to the platform, instead preferring to use his own platform, Truth Social.
“I’m not going to Twitter; I’m going to stay on Truth,” Mr Trump said on Fox News.
He went on to say that he believed Mr Musk, whom he described as a “good man,” would “improve” the platform. Ming-Chi Kuo, a technology analyst at investment firm TF International Securities, told the BBC that Mr Trump may decide to return to the platform if he runs for President of the United States in 2024.
“If Twitter is willing to restore his account, Twitter is still a better choice for him to have a voice,” Mr Kuo said. “Building a platform with more influence than Twitter before the next presidential election is not easy.”
Mr Musk’s $44 billion (£34.5 billion) offer was accepted unanimously by Twitter’s 11-member board.
Jack Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter and continues to serve on its board, said he is pleased that the platform “will continue to serve the public conversation,” despite his belief that “no one should own or run Twitter.” “It wants to be a protocol, not a company,” Mr Dorsey said in a tweet on Tuesday.
“However, Elon is the singular solution I trust for the problem of it being a company,” Mr Dorsey added. “I believe in his mission to spread the light of consciousness.” According to the Reuters news agency, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal also addressed employees at a meeting, where he stated that the company’s future was uncertain.
“We don’t know which direction the platform will go once the deal is closed,” Mr Agrawal is quoted as saying.
On Monday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that US President Joe Biden “has long been concerned about the power of large social media platforms,” referring to whoever owns or operates Twitter.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, called the agreement “dangerous for our democracy,” and advocated for a wealth tax and “strong rules to hold Big Tech accountable.”
Meanwhile, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn praised the agreement, calling it “an encouraging day for free speech.”
Taking on cryptocurrency swindlers
Musk stated that one of his top priorities would be to eliminate “the spam and scam bots and the bot armies that are on Twitter.”
The proposed solution is to authenticate “all real humans” or to have accounts openly linked to other personal identifiers, such as a phone number, email address, or photo. Billy Markus, co-founder of Dogecoin, has complained to Twitter’s support team about the platform being flooded with giveaway crypto scams, in which fake Twitter handles impersonate famous crypto market personalities or influential celebrities.
The price of Dogecoin shares skyrocketed following news of Twitter’s buyout deal with Musk, who has been a vocal supporter of the cryptocurrency and has dubbed himself the “Dogefather.”