Fears have grown that the world’s richest man will remove Twitter’s controls on hate speech. Can he really afford it? ask Alex Hern and Dan Milmo.
Elon Musk doesn’t buy Twitter to make more money: he does it to help humanity.
In a recent message to advertisers, the world’s richest man said it was important for the future of civilization to have a “common digital public square.” But improving the species is going to cost money, given that Musk paid $44 billion (NZ$75 billion) for a social media platform to achieve this goal.
The new venture will carry $13 billion (NZ$22 billion) in debt that helped fund the acquisition, and interest payments will have to be paid – a tricky task given that Twitter generates more controversy than silver.
In its most recent results, Twitter reported negative free cash flow (spending more money to run the business than it receives) of more than $120 million ($206 million New Zealand).
“He’ll either have to cut his spending drastically or increase his income drastically, or both,” said Drew Pascarella, associate professor of finance at Cornell University.
Can Musk grow his revenue and increase the number of users – there are more than 238 million – without alienating advertisers or pushing back new signups that will help make the platform a true town square? representative?
Advertisers won’t want to put money behind a split, ultra-divisive platform, and potential Twitter newbies won’t want to join either.
Since first investing in the company, Musk has sketched out a vague vision for Twitter’s future: Block spambots, protect free speech, and create an “everything app.”
The first objective has become central to the legal wrangling surrounding the takeover. When the deal was first announced, Musk cited “defeating spambots” as one of its main goals.
But the presence of fake accounts, widely promoting various flavors of cryptocurrency scams, quickly became an excuse to ditch the trade altogether, as Musk argued he had been misled as to their prevalence.
He couldn’t provide any evidence to support this, however, and since he had signed an agreement to waive his right to investigate the health of the company, the excuse was going nowhere.
The protection of freedom of expression has been a central concern ever since.
“Free speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital public square where issues vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in April.
Thursday, in this attempt to reassure advertisers, he returned to some of the implications of this decision.
“That said, Twitter obviously cannot become a free hell for all, where anything can be said without consequences,” he said in a note posted on the site.
Instead, he suggested that Twitter’s content moderation should be opt-in.
“Our platform should be warm and welcoming to everyone, where you can choose the experience you want based on your preferences, just as you can choose, for example, to see movies or play video games ranging from all the ages at maturity.”
This vision would lift rules against hate speech and give users the ability to hide reported accounts from their timeline.
Musk clarified that late last week, saying the company would form a “content moderation board” with “very diverse viewpoints.” Until this council is formed, there would be no account reinstatement for controversial banned figures such as Donald Trump or Katie Hopkins.
He then muddyed the waters by later stating that “anyone suspended for minor and questionable reasons will be released from Twitter jail.”
He also suggested that Twitter could be split into different strands where users would give their posts content ratings and organize online arguments in a specially created space on the platform.
Twitter’s central role in the media landscape could also be under threat, but only if Musk’s changes render it so toxic it’s unusable, according to a media expert.
“Journalists have also invested a lot of time in curating their feeds to bring them a range of high-quality news about politics, but also about any journalistic niche, passion or pace you can think of,” Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism senior research associate Nic Newman said.
“It’s hard to see any other network doing it as effectively or as effectively right now.”
Twitter will form a content moderation board with a wide range of views. No major content or account reinstatement decisions will be made before this board meets.
But, he added, if the platform lost those attributes or became too divisive, it would become less appealing to the media, giving the platform a lot of influence relative to its small size. And of course, “it’s unlikely to be good business for Twitter either,” Newman said.
Turning Twitter into a “multipurpose app” is the least fleshed out part of Musk’s vision, but one of his oldest goals.
Referencing services like WeChat in China, an “all app” is what it sounds like – a single app that covers social media, private messaging, shopping, business messaging, in-person payments and more .
Prior to focusing on the metaverse, vision was central to much of Facebook’s expansion.
Musk has regularly referenced his first venture, online bank X.com, and suggested he wanted to revive that brand to create his own take on an all-Western app.
“The purchase of Twitter is an accelerator to create X, the universal application.
“Twitter is probably speeding up X by three to five years, but I could be wrong,” he said in early October.
— News from the Guardian