Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Elon Musk paying a considerable amount of money – a casual $44 billion – to buy 100% of Twitter and take the company private.
While every news outlet has a red-hot take on what this means for democracy, free speech, crypto and Tesla shares, the real question is; What will Elon actually do with the platform?
To answer that question and understand what might go down at Twitter HQ over the next few weeks, we need to understand what the biggest problems with Twitter are.
Famously, Facebook (sorry… Meta*) CEO Mark Zuckerberg once said:
“Twitter is such a mess – it’s like they drove a clown car into a gold mine and fell in.”Mark Zuckerberg
It was an open secret among Silicon Valley’s tech bros that Twitter’s management somehow kept just enough money flowing in despite almost 0 major improvements being made over its 15 year life-span.
It’s not just The Zuck and his tech bros who think that Twitter has some major issues. According to public opinion, the biggest problems with Twitter are: misinformation, harassment and abuse, censorship, followed by spam and illegal content. Regardless of whether you love him, hate him – Musk has a substantial track record of doing things that other people just can’t.
So, what are the main ways that Elon Musk can transform Silicon Valley’s “clown car” into a Tesla?
1) Getting Rid Of Spam
The first thing on Musk’s list, and something he’s mentioned in the past, is getting rid of spam. Practically everyone that has ever used Twitter agrees that spam and the bots that spread it are public enemy number one.
However, getting rid of spam might require using human authentication, meaning that users will have to upload some form of identification to continue using the platform. Ironically, this is almost completely at odds with Musk’s other main priority of “more free speech,” because the right to anonymity and online privacy goes hand in hand with keeping speech properly free.
2) More Free Speech
After proclaiming himself a “free speech absolutist,” it will be interesting to see how Musk balances requiring human authentication without taking away from the privacy that makes the Twitter platform unique from its competitors.
Twitter has a long history of catering to “left-leaning” voices and censoring right-wing ones – something that Republicans have made a lot of fuss about. Most famously, Twitter removed former-President Donald Trump from the platform at the beginning of 2021 – so it will be really interesting to see how Musk goes about balancing the need to protect the public from dangerous actors whilst also keeping things legitimately free…
According to Musk’s own words, he won’t be making any moves to censor anyone, because keeping his worst critics on the platform is what makes speech free.
3) Creating Real Transparency
Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen, who made it public that Zuckerberg knowingly profited from extreme content and causing wide-spread harm, says that Elon Musk has a real opportunity to do something that other social media platforms just won’t do.
In an interview with Fox Business, Haugen said that the “number one” thing Musk can do to improve Twitter is to “institute real transparency.” Unlike Meta, which keeps its algorithm behind closed doors, Musk has hinted that he wants to make the Twitter algorithm open source, which would help people understand how the platform shares and spreads information.
According to Haugen, this sort of transparency is “how Elon can prove that he’s acting in a way that’s aligned with the public good and it’s how he builds trust in his ability to run the system.”
4) Removing Ads & Adding New Features
If we can believe Musk’s own words, the next big step in fixing Twitter is removing corporate influence from the platform. In a now-deleted Tweet Musk floated the idea of removing all ads from Twitter, writing, “The power of corporations to dictate policy is greatly enhanced if Twitter depends on advertising money to survive.”
At the time of writing, the only thing that keeps Twitter afloat is its advertising revenue. In Q4 2021, Twitter reported that advertising revenue made up $1.41 billion of the company’s total $1.57 billion in revenue for that quarter. In November last year , the company rolled out its first premium subscription package, Twitter Blue, which costs $3 USD a month for access to “premium features.”
Musk has previously expressed his support for an overall subscription model, but wants it to be cheaper than it is now and also wants there be actual features. Twitter Blue has already copped a lot of criticism for failing to offer users anything of substance, so Musk will have to really step up his game and offer something truly unique if he wants to keep people on the platform…