As Musk’s acquisition approaches, Twitter is searching for his soul

As Musk’s acquisition approaches, Twitter is searching for his soul

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A toxic septic tank. A lifeline. A finger in the pulse of the world. Twitter is all that and more for its over 217 million users worldwide – politicians, journalists, activists, celebrities, curious and ordinary, cat and dog lovers and just about anyone else with an internet connection.

For Elon Muskthe ultimate troll and perhaps the most productive user whose acquisition of the company is in increasingly unstable groundTwitter is a “de facto city square” that is in dire need of a liberal reform.

Whether and how the acquisition will take place, at this stage of the game, is everyone’s guess. On Friday, Musk announced that the deal was “pending” and then wrote on Twitter that he was still “committed” to it. On Tuesday, Tesla billionaire CEO said he would reverse ban on former President Donald Trump’s platform if purchased, but also expressed support for a new European Union law aimed at protecting social media users from harmful content.

A few messy weeks have passed and only one thing seems certain: the turmoil will continue for Twitter, inside and outside the company.

“Twitter has always been a mess at its highest levels. “He always had intrigue and he always had drama,” said Leslie Miley, a former Twitter engineering director. “This,” he says, “is in the DNA of Twitter.”


Since its debut as a useless “microblogging service” at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, Twitter has always been overweight.

At a time when rivals are counting their billions of users, it remained small, frustrating Wall Street and making it easy for Musk to enter with an offer its board could not refuse.

But Twitter also has an unrivaled influence on news, politics and society thanks to its public nature, simple text-based interface and sense of chronological immediacy.

“It’s an incredible self-expression that simmers with whimsy, narcissism, voyeurism, rage, courage and sometimes useful information,” Associated Press technology writer Michael Liedtke wrote in a 2009 story. about the company a few months after rejecting a $ 500 million acquisition by Facebook. Twitter had 27 employees at the time and its most popular user was Barack Obama.

Today, the image of San Francisco employs 7,500 people worldwide. Obama is still his most popular account holder, followed by pop stars Justin Bieber and Katy Perry (Musk is No. 6). Twitter’s rise to mainstream can be documented through global events, as wars, terrorist attacks, the Arab Spring, the #metoo movement and other pivotal moments in our collective history are played in real time on the platform.

“Twitter often attracts thinkers. People who think things tend to be attracted to a text-based platform. And it is full of journalists. So Twitter is both a reflection and a guide to what people think, “said Cathy Reisenwitz, author, author and creator of OnlyFans, which has been on Twitter since 2010 and has more than 18,000 followers.

These days, Reisenwitz is tweeting about politics, sex work, housing and land use among many others. She finds it wonderful to discover people and ideas and to get others to discover her writing and thoughts. That’s why he stayed all these yearsdespite the harassment and even death threats he has received on the platform.

Twitter users in academia, in specialized fields, people with quirky interests, small and large subcultures, grassroots activists, researchers and many others flock to the platform. Why; Because at best, it promises an open, free exchange of facts and ideas, where knowledge is shared, discussed and challenged. Journalists, Reisenwitz recalled, were among the first to actually start working on Twitter en masse and doing what they are today.

“If I’m on Twitter, (almost) any journalist, no matter how big his platform was, if you said something interesting he would respond and you could discuss what they wrote in real time,” says Reisenwitz. “It simply came to our notice then. “Exactly in whatever field you are in, you can talk to the experts and ask them questions.”

And these subcultures – they are terrible. There is Black Twitter, feminist Twitter, baseball Twitter, Japanese cat Twitter, ER nurse Twitter and so on.

“It allows interest groups, especially those organized around social identity, whether we’re talking about gender or sexuality or race, to have very important intra-group dialogues,” says Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor at Cornell University who studies the social media.

In a 2018 study on social media subcultures – Black Twitter, Asian American Twitter, and Feminist Twitter – The Knight Foundation found that not only did they help to challenge top-down, sometimes problematic, communities’ views, but they also influenced the broader media coverage of important issues.

“So there is this really interesting flow of information that is not just top-down, the mainstream media that communicates with subcultures, but allows different groups, in this case Black Twitter, to have really important, important conversations that “The media took over and spread to the general public,” Duffy said.

Software engineer Cher Scarlett says that while Twitter is far from perfect – and arguably the home of harassment, hate speech and misinformation – it is still one step ahead of many platforms. This is because Twitter has at least tried to deal with it toxic content, he says, with improvements like Twitter Safety Mode, a product now being tested that would make it easier for users to stop harassment. Scarlett has faced repeated cyberbullying to defend her in favor of women in technology.

“I’ve been on Twitter since it started. “A big part of my network is Twitter,” says Scarlett. “There is nothing really like this.”


On the other side of Twitter’s immediacy, the public, open character and 280 character limit (sometimes 140 characters) is a perfect recipe to ignite passions – especially anger.

“When it comes to fans, emotions can boil over, especially if you share anything negative about their teams,” said Steve Phillips, a former New York Mets general manager who now hosts a show on MLB Network Radio. “Twitter anonymity allows people to take pictures sometimes, but it is by far one of the most effective ways to communicate with people with similar interests.”

But not all baseball Twitter is out there. There is also the huge, scary, dark part of Twitter. This is the Twitter of the Nazis, the illegal trolls, the conspiracy theorists and nation-states funding mass networks to influence elections.

Jaime Longoria, director of research and education for the Disinfo Defense League, a non-profit organization working with community organizations to combat misinformation, says Musk’s Twitter acquisition jeopardizes a platform that many believe he has done. better work to reduce harmful content from its competitors.

He worries that Musk will relax the rules of moderation that offered some protection against white supremacy, hate speech, threats of violence and harassment. He says he hopes to be wrong. “We are watching and waiting,” says Longoria. “The Twitter we know may be over. I think Twitter as we knew it will cease to exist. “

In a series of tweets in 2018, then CEO Jack Dorsey said the company was committed to “collective health, transparency and courtesy of public debate and to holding ourselves accountable for progress.”

“We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, robotic manipulation and human coordination, misinformation campaigns and increasingly divisive echo chambers. “We are not proud of how people have taken advantage of our service or our inability to deal with it quickly enough,” he wrote.

Twitter, led by the trust and security team, has been working to make things better. Established new policies, added labels to false informationfired recurring offenders its rules against hatred, incitement to violence and other harmful activities.

Since the 2016 US presidential election, social media companies have figured out how Russia used their platforms to influence US policy. In races and starts, things are starting to improve, at least in the United States and Western Europe.

At best, Twitter connects people around the world to engage in open brainstorming. Musk recently told the Associated Press that he wants Twitter to be “comprehensive” and “ideally where most of America is and is talking.” But that does not take into account the fact that most of Twitter’s user base is outside the United States – and that Twitter looks very different in the rest of the world, where American partisanship and freedom of speech arguments make no sense.

Outside of Western democracies, for example, users say not much has changed in terms of repression of hatred and misinformation.

“There is a lot of hatred on Twitter, especially for minorities. And so, there is always a constant battle to persuade Twitter to curb hate speech, all too often violent hate speech and fake news. And yes, I think Twitter is not really doing enough about it, “said Shoaib Daniyal, co-author of the Indian news site Scroll.

“Twitter is almost like a central hub that feeds political activity on TV channels and to journalists and WhatsApp groups.”

The totalitarianism of Musk’s freedom of speech, Daniyal says, does not make much sense in India because there have not been many restrictions on speech on the platform from the beginning.

“It’s quite full of hatred anyway,” he says. “And Twitter has not done much about it. So let’s see where it goes. ” Which, given Musk’s mercury nature, could be almost any direction.


Associated Press writer David Clapper contributed to this story from Rhode Island Providence.

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