What Does Elon Musk Plan to do with Twitter?

On Monday, April 25th, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and Space X, bought Twitter. It was a week of deliberations that ended in Musk purchasing the social media conglomerate used as a megaphone by politicians, celebrities, and influencers.

The deal valued Twitter at roughly $44 billion, although Musk purchased the company at a 38% premium. According to Dealogic, the deal was the largest contract signed to take a company private in over two decades.

Musk is famous for his capricious behavior. His recent purchase has raised questions and concerns on how he might impact online speech on a global scale. In a statement announcing the deal, Musk said, “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” By taking the company private, he will be able to make these changes away from the prying eyes of regulators.

Let’s take a look at some of the changes Musk is planning on implementing:

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Allow users to edit their Tweets

Twitter is the one social platform that does not permit users to edit their posts after publishing them. It’s also one major change that users have been requesting for years – and soon to change.

Musk polled users on Twitter and showed his support for adding an edit button for published Tweets. His decision sparked outrage from journalists, academics, and those popular on the platform.

Former CEO, Jack Dorsey, recognized that this change could be used to weaponize or cover up harmful messages on the platform.

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Stop “bot armies”

Another change in Musk’s playbook is to stop the bots – accounts programmed to automatically respond and function similarly to a real person. In a Tweet, Musk says, “we will defeat the spam bots or die trying!”

There’s confusion around this topic, however, as Twitter already has a robust policy to regulate spam. In this policy, Twitter bans any communication performed by fake accounts or bots – something that Musk will take even more seriously.

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End advertising

Twitter makes 90% of its revenue from advertising. However, the company has previously struggled to hold advertisers in the long term, typically due to the political nature of the platform.

Under Musk’s private control, the company has the potential to implement a subscription-based service model – something that’s already in the works. Last year, Twitter rolled out “Twitter Blue,” a $2.99 subscription that gave users added functionality.

Musk shared that he believes those paying for a subscription shouldn’t be the target of consumer ads.

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Make the algorithm public

women engineering in tech

Musk’s final public change is to crack open the software that keeps Twitter afloat. Using GitHub, Musk plans on making the Twitter algorithm public for programmers to test and iterate on.

There are multiple arguments for and against this, although the largest group says that releasing software of this scale has the potential to expand transparency to the public.

On the other side of things, many disagree with this decision. Critics believe that by making this information public, hackers and those with malicious intent may be able to exploit the platform.

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Increase the “freedom of speech”

In a now-deleted Tweet, Musk described himself as a “free-speech absolutist.” He has continuously reprimanded what he believes is excessive moderation on Twitter and other social platforms.

Musk believes that offensive comments should not be removed from social media. At a TED conference, he said, “if it’s a gray area, let the Tweet exist.” Currently, Twitter bans harassment, abusive language, and misinformation – although this is bound to change under Musk’s authority.

The fear is that loosening the reigns on speech will allow targeted harassment to remain online. In the same light, it will empower companies and politicians to spread their truth, no matter its validity.

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Can Free Speech Absolutism Exist on Twitter?

In recent years, Twitter has become a target of criticism for spreading misinformation across the internet. It was through Twitter that former president, Donald J. Trump, inspired far-right militants to storm the capitol on the January 6th riots. The Department of Homeland Security cited that the violent transgression was “fueled by false narratives” that spawned from Twitter.

It was these same Tweets that got Trump banned from the platform. Over the past year, the company has frequently had to implement on-the-fly regulations to delegate unexpected actions.

Musk himself has struggled with freedom of speech after a Twitter user tracked his location via private jet. His correspondence following the incident has gotten in trouble with regulators – something that he hopes to abolish.

If “freedom of speech” is fully allowed on Twitter, where will the line be drawn for hate speech or harassment? With the tendency to marginalize those in the middle, Twitter amplifies extremist voices, which often correlate with violence and oppression.

It’s known as the “Heckler’s Veto” to be over-tuned by the protestors' shouts – however, in an online facade, only the loudest voices are heard. When Musk theoretically removes these regulations, an influx of voices that span different extremist ideals will flood out.

The truth is that “absolutism free speech” will never exist. Any forum or public space places boundaries on the appropriate communication – through written rules or self-prescribed ones. An environment with absolute free speech will be dominated by the loudest voice and nothing else.

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Final Thoughts

No matter how you look at it, there is change on the horizon for Twitter. Musk has the power to influence social media as a whole. It’s larger than that, however. As the richest man globally, Musk can shift how speech functions online – what’s allowed and what’s not will lay in his hands.