As Musk buyout looms, Twitter searches for its soul

For Elon Musk, its final troll and maybe most prolific person whose buyout of the corporate is on more and more shaky floor, Twitter is a “de facto city sq.” in dire want of a libertarian makeover.

Whether or not and the way the takeover will occur, at this stage within the sport, is anybody’s guess. On Friday, Musk introduced that the deal is “on maintain,” then tweeted that he was nonetheless “dedicated” to it. On Tuesday, the billionaire Tesla CEO mentioned he’d reverse the platform’s ban of former President Donald Trump if his buy goes via but in addition voiced help for a brand new European Union legislation geared toward defending social media customers from dangerous content material. Twitter’s present CEO, in the meantime, fired two high managers on Thursday.

It has been a messy few weeks and just one factor appears positive: the turmoil will proceed for Twitter, inside and out of doors of the corporate.

“Twitter at its highest ranges has all the time been chaos. It has all the time had intrigue and it has all the time had drama,” says Leslie Miley, a former Twitter engineering supervisor. “This,” he says, “is in Twitter’s DNA.”


From its 2007 debut as a scrappy “microblogging service” on the South by Southwest Pageant in Austin, Texas, Twitter has all the time punched above its weight.

At a time when its rivals rely their customers by the billions, it has stayed small, irritating Wall Avenue and making it simpler for Musk to swoop in with a proposal its board couldn’t refuse.

However Twitter additionally wields unmatched affect on information, politics and society because of its public nature, its easy, largely text-based interface and its sense of chronological immediacy.

“It’s a potluck of pithy self-expression simmering with whimsy, narcissism, voyeurism, hucksterism, tedium and typically helpful info,” Related Press know-how author Michael Liedtke wrote in a 2009 story concerning the firm a number of months after it rejected a $500 million buyout from Fb. Twitter had 27 workers on the time, and its hottest person was Barack Obama.

At present, the San Francisco icon employs 7,500 individuals world wide. Obama remains to be its hottest account holder, adopted by pop stars Justin Bieber and Katy Perry (Musk is No. 6). Twitter’s rise to the mainstream might be chronicled via world occasions, as wars, terror assaults, the Arab Spring, the #metoo motion and different pivotal moments in our collective historical past performed out in actual time on the platform.

“Twitter typically attracts thinkers. People who find themselves fascinated by issues are usually interested in a text-based platform. And it’s stuffed with journalists. So Twitter is each a mirrored image of and a driver of what persons are fascinated by,” says author, editor and OnlyFans creator Cathy Reisenwitz, who’s been on Twitter since 2010 and has over 18,000 followers.

Today, Reisenwitz tweets about politics, intercourse work, housing and land use points amongst many different issues. She finds it nice for locating individuals and concepts and having others uncover her writing and ideas. That is why she’s stayed all these years, regardless of harassment and even dying threats she’s acquired on the platform.

Twitter customers in academia, in area of interest fields, these with quirky pursuits, subcultures small and massive, grassroots activists, researchers and a number of others flock to the platform. Why? As a result of at its finest, it guarantees an open, free change of information and concepts, the place information is shared, debated and questioned. Journalists, Reisenwitz recalled, had been among the many first to actually tackle Twitter en masse and make it what it’s as we speak.

“If I’m on Twitter, (virtually) any journalist, regardless of how large their platform was, in case you mentioned one thing fascinating would reply to you and you might have a dialog about what they’d written and fairly actual time,” Reisenwitz says. “And I simply thought, that is wonderful. Simply no matter area you’re in, you possibly can speak to the consultants and ask them questions.”

And people subcultures — they’re formidable. There’s Black Twitter, feminist Twitter, baseball Twitter, Japanese cat Twitter, ER nurse Twitter and so forth.

“It’s enabled curiosity teams, particularly these which are organized round social id, whether or not we’re speaking about gender or sexuality or race, to have actually essential in-group dialogues,” says Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor at Cornell College who research social media.

In a 2018 examine on social media subcultures — Black Twitter, Asian American Twitter and feminist Twitter — the Knight Basis discovered that they not solely helped problem top-down, typically problematic views of the communities but in addition affect wider media protection on essential points.

“So there’s this actually fascinating movement of knowledge that’s not simply top-down, mainstream media speaking to subcultures, however permitting varied teams, on this case Black Twitter, to have actually essential, impactful conversations that the media took up and obtained disseminated to the broader public,” Duffy says.

Software program engineer Cher Scarlett says that whereas Twitter is way from good — and, undeniably, dwelling to harassment, hate speech and misinformation — it’s nonetheless a step above many platforms. That’s as a result of Twitter has not less than tried to handle poisonous content material, she says, with enhancements like Twitter Security Mode, a product now being examined that might make it simpler for customers to cease harassment. Scarlett has confronted repeated on-line abuse for her advocacy for ladies within the tech area.

“I’ve been on Twitter because it began. An enormous a part of my community is Twitter,” Scarlett says. “There may be nothing else actually prefer it.”


On the flip facet of Twitter’s immediacy, public, open nature and 280-character (as soon as 140-character) restrict is an ideal recipe for passions to run excessive — particularly anger.

“When coping with followers, feelings can get boiling, particularly in case you are sharing something damaging about their groups,” says Steve Phillips, a former common supervisor of the New York Mets who now hosts a present on MLB Community Radio. “The anonymity of Twitter empowers individuals to take pictures typically, however it’s until one of the crucial efficient methods to speak with individuals with related pursuits.”

Nevertheless it’s not all baseball Twitter on the market. There’s additionally the large, scary, darkish a part of Twitter. That is the Twitter of Nazis, of demented trolls, of conspiracy theorists and of nation states funding huge networks to affect elections.

Jaime Longoria, supervisor of analysis and coaching for the Disinfo Protection League, a nonprofit which works with neighborhood organizations to battle misinformation, says Musk’s buy of Twitter jeopardizes a platform that many consultants consider has performed a greater job of reining in dangerous content material than its opponents.

He worries Musk will chill out moderation guidelines that provided some safety towards white supremacy, hate speech, threats of violence and harassment. He says he hopes he’s incorrect. “We’re watching and ready,” Longoria says. “The Twitter we all know could also be over. I believe Twitter as now we have identified it can stop to exist.”

In a collection of tweets in 2018, then-CEO Jack Dorsey mentioned the corporate was dedicated to “collective well being, openness, and civility of public dialog, and to carry ourselves publicly accountable in direction of progress.”

“Now we have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation via bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and more and more divisive echo chambers. We aren’t happy with how individuals have taken benefit of our service, or our incapability to handle it quick sufficient,” he wrote.

Twitter, led by its belief and security staff, has labored to enhance issues. It enacted new insurance policies, added labels to false info, kicked off repeated violators of its guidelines towards hate, inciting violence and different dangerous actions.

For the reason that 2016 U.S. presidential elections, social media firms have gone via a reckoning over how Russia used their platforms to affect U.S. politics. In suits and begins, issues have began to enhance, not less than in the US and Western Europe.

At its finest, Twitter connects individuals internationally to take part within the open change of concepts. Musk instructed The Related Press not too long ago that he desires Twitter to be “inclusive” and “the place ideally most of America is on it and speaking.” However this doesn’t take into consideration the truth that most of Twitter’s person base is outdoors of the US — and that Twitter appears to be like very completely different in the remainder of the world, the place American party-line divisions and free speech arguments make little sense.

Outdoors Western democracies, as an illustration, customers say not a lot has modified in relation to clamping down on hate and misinformation.

“There’s plenty of hate on Twitter, particularly directed at minorities. And so there’s all the time a continuing battle to get Twitter to clamp down on hate speech, fairly often violent hate speech and faux information. And yeah, I believe Twitter actually does probably not do sufficient for that,” says Shoaib Daniyal, affiliate editor with the Indian information web site Scroll.

“Twitter is nearly like a central node, which feeds political exercise out into TV channels and to journalists and WhatsApp teams.”

Musk’s free speech absolutism, Daniyal says, does not make a lot sense in India as a result of there haven’t been many curbs on speech on the platform to start with.

“It is pretty stuffed with hate anyway,” he says. “And Twitter hasn’t performed rather a lot about it. So let’s examine the place it goes.” Which, given Musk’s mercurial nature, might be virtually any route in any respect.


Related Press Author David Klepper contributed to this story from Windfall, Rhode Island.


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