As Musk takeover looms, Twitter searches for its soul


SAN FRANCISCO – A toxic cesspool. A lifeline. A finger on the pulse of the world. Twitter is all that and more to its more than 229 million users worldwide – politicians, journalists, activists, celebrities, weirdos and normals, cat and dog lovers and just about anyone else with a an Internet connection.

For Elon Musk, his ultimate troll and perhaps the most prolific user whose company takeover is increasingly fragile, Twitter is a “de facto public square” in desperate need of a makeover. libertarian.

No one knows if and how the takeover will happen. On Friday, Musk announced the deal was “pending”, while tweeting that he was still “committed to it”. Earlier in the week, Tesla’s billionaire CEO said he would reverse President Donald Trump’s ban on the platform if his purchase goes ahead. On the same day, he also said he supported a new European Union law to protect social media users from harmful content. Twitter’s current CEO, meanwhile, fired two senior executives on Thursday.

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That said, the last few weeks have been complicated for Twitter. One thing is certain: the turmoil will continue, inside and outside the company.

“Twitter at its highest has always been chaos. It’s always had intrigue and it’s always had drama,” says Leslie Miley, former head of engineering at Twitter. “This,” he says , “is in the DNA of Twitter.”


Since its 2007 debut as a rambling “microblogging service” at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Twitter has always punched above its weight.

At a time when rivals number their users in the billions, it stayed small, frustrating Wall Street and making it easier for Musk to get started with an offer his board couldn’t refuse.

But Twitter also wields unparalleled influence on news, politics, and society through its public nature, simple, largely text-based interface, and sense of chronological immediacy.

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“It’s a pithy potluck of self-expression that simmers with whimsy, narcissism, voyeurism, peddling, boredom, and occasionally useful information,” Michael Liedtke, technical writer at Associated Press, wrote in a 2009 article on the company. Twitter then had 27 employees and its most popular user was Barack Obama.

Today, the San Francisco icon employs 7,500 people. Obama is still his most popular account holder, followed by pop stars Justin Bieber and Katy Perry (Musk is No. 6). Twitter’s rise to the mainstream can be told through global events, such as wars, terrorist attacks, the Arab Spring, the #MeToo movement, and other pivotal moments in our collective history that have unfolded over time. real on the platform.

“Twitter often attracts thinkers. People who think things through tend to be attracted to a text-based platform. And it’s full of journalists. So Twitter both reflects and drives what people think,” says Cathy Reisenwitz, writer, editor and creator of OnlyFans, who has been on Twitter since 2010 and has more than 18,000 followers.

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She finds it ideal for discovering people and ideas and introducing others to her writings and thoughts. That’s why she stuck around all these years, despite the harassment and death threats she received on the platform.

Twitter users in academia, niche fields, those with quirky interests, subcultures large and small, grassroots activists, researchers and a host of others flock to the platform. Why? Because at best it promises an open and free exchange of facts and ideas, where knowledge is shared, debated and challenged.

And these subcultures – they are great. There’s Black Twitter, Feminist Twitter, Baseball Twitter, Japanese Cat Twitter, ER Nurse Twitter, and so on.

“It’s allowed interest groups, especially those organized around social identity, whether we’re talking about gender, sexuality or race, to have really important group dialogues,” says Brooke Erin Duffy , a professor at Cornell University who studies social sciences. media.

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On the other side of Twitter’s immediacy, the public and open nature and the 280 character limit (once 140 characters) is a perfect recipe for passions to run high, especially anger.

“Twitter’s anonymity sometimes allows people to take pictures, but it’s been one of the most effective ways to communicate with like-minded people so far,” says Steve Phillips, former chief executive of Twitter. New York Mets, who now host a show on MLB Network Radio.

But there is also the massive, dark part of Twitter. It’s the Twitter of Nazis, demented trolls, conspiracy theorists and nation states who fund massive networks to influence elections.

Jaime Longoria, head of research and training for the nonprofit Disinfo Defense League, said Musk’s purchase of Twitter jeopardizes a platform that many experts say has been more successful in containing harmful content than its competitors.

“We watch and wait,” Longoria says. “The Twitter we know may be over.”

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In a series of tweets in 2018, then-CEO Jack Dorsey said the company was committed to “collective health, openness and civility of public conversation, and to holding ourselves publicly responsible for progress”.

Twitter, led by its trust and safety team, has been working to improve things. It has enacted new policies, added labels to false information, scolded repeat violators of its rules against hate, incitement to violence and other harmful activities. In spurts, things began to improve, at least in the United States and Western Europe.

Outside of Western democracies, however, little has changed when it comes to cracking down on hate and disinformation.

“There is a lot of hate on Twitter, especially directed at minorities. And so there is always a constant battle for Twitter to crack down on hate speech, very often violent hate speech and fake news,” says Shoaib Daniyal, deputy editor of Indian news site Scroll.

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Musk’s free speech absolutism, says Daniyal, doesn’t make much sense in India because there weren’t many speech restrictions on the platform to begin with.

“It’s pretty hateful anyway,” he said. “And Twitter hasn’t done much about it. So let’s see where this leads. Which, given Musk’s mercurial nature, could be almost any direction.


Associated Press writer David Klepper contributed to this story from Providence, Rhode Island.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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