Twitter boasts 396 million users, which translates to 8.85% of all social media users. The platform is most popular among 25 to 34 year olds and averages 206 million daily users. Non U.S. consumers constitute 75% of Twitter users.
Elon Musk is a prolific Twitter user with 86.6 million followers.
Many on the left of the political spectrum have raised the alarm that by purchasing the platform and taking it private, Musk will be able to control, suppress, and censor as he wishes.
Many on the right ballyhoo the change as a huge win for freedom of speech. Indeed, conservative pundits are already reporting huge increases in the number of their followers on Twitter just on the news of Musk’s takeover. The deal will not close for up to 6 months.
“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,” said Mr. Musk. “ I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential-I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.” -April 25, before the sale was announced.
Taking all that into consideration, what are those opposed to the deal afraid of? If Musk follows through on his expressed free speech beliefs, won’t that be a good thing? More information is better than less. Public knowledge of how the algorithms work, and eliminating the fake action of bots will only build trust in the platform. We are all capable of sifting through information to make our own decisions.
Of course there will need to be some ground rules for users. But the guidelines should be for how users communicate, not for what they communicate.
Of course any fun and active communication platform will be inundated with ideas and opinions. Some will be factual and well thought out. Plenty will be ill-advised and senseless. Call it misinformation, disinformation, or something else, those tweets will always be a big part of the content. And they should be. The what should not be quashed.
It is the how that must be monitored. To be viable there must be some restrictions on how users express themselves. Unfortunately, crass language and name calling are prevalent on social media. Soft core porn, and worse, also appear on some platforms. Perhaps those type platforms will continue to exist for some.
But for widely public channels like Twitter, some standards of behavior and guidelines must be openly promulgated to allow for reasoned discourse. That does not mean that ideas and opinions, no matter how far fetched, should be suppressed. But outlandish cat calling should be reined in so users are not shouted down, but are perhaps disabused of their opinions by rational and logical argument. Debate and persuasion should be encouraged, but the heat of untempered attacks must be subdued.
If these rules are fairly conceived and enforced based on how communication is done, more and more users will rein themselves in. Twitter will not become the wild west as some claim, but will become a well respected social media platform and the “digital town square” that Musk envisions.
If he follows through with the transparency he professes to bring to Twitter, Musk will set a higher bar for public discussion on line, and his endevour will become a success both socially and financially.
If we are lucky, the accountability and results he achieves with straightforward policies that are unlocked to the public will migrate to other social media platforms, too.