This essay will focus on the notion that Twitter creates democratic spaces for dialogue. I will be presenting a neutral stance by providing examples of why Musk’s acquisition may help Twitter to become a more democratic platform and why his recent acquisition may actually contribute to autocracy. Then I will ultimately conclude by supporting or disagreeing with these statements after presenting the facts I have researched.
Elon Musk acquired Twitter Inc. on October 27, 2022 for $44 Billion USD (Conger & Hirsch, 2022) officially becoming owner and CEO of the social media company. The motive behind this move was to simply to create a platform that promotes free speech and to create an inclusive space for everybody.
Those familiar with Twitter and Elon Musk prior to the acquisition should be familiar with how active Musk was on the platform compared to other celebrities and influencers, specifically interacting with the public in both positive and negative ways (Figure 1, 2, 3).
Since Musk acquired Twitter, he has made it clear that he has a mission for Twitter to become “the most accurate source of information about the world” (Figure 4). In doing so, one of his main tools will be to revitalize Twitter’s “blue checkmark” verification to “democratize journalism & empower the voice of the people” (Figure 5). According to Edgerly & Vraga (2019), “innovations to [Twitter] verification appearance is needed. One option is to attempt to restore the value of a verification badge” (Edgerly & Vraga, 2019). This suggests that there is little evidence that current verified accounts are more trustworthy than non-verified ones but mentions that reiteration of the verification system is needed to provide better evidence, which is something Musk is attempting to work on.
Often, we find that news channels and journalists want to capitalize on mainstream media for personal gain without even fact checking their stories. On October 28, 2022 media outlets across the USA were fooled and quickly took to Twitter to post their stories where two random men stood outside the Twitter HQ posing as ex-employees immediately after Musk’s acquisition of the company (TMZ, 2022). One of the media outlets that got duped came from CNBC, who later posted to Twitter apologizing for the incident (Figure 6). “An important goal of factchecking journalism, correcting misinformation, is only attainable if audiences are exposed to, pay attention to, and ultimately engage with the fact-checking content – accepting its conclusion and participating in further communication (Kim et al, 2022). Media outlets only started to realize they got this story wrong after seeing the response and engagement from the public on Twitter. The public did not accept the conclusion gathered by CNBC and communicated that through replies on Twitter. Ironic as it is, Musk is targeting these exact incidences of misinformation that are churned by media outlets. Again, it is still unclear how he plans to do this but if he achieves his goal, then it will be beneficial to all Twitter users.
Musk now owns Twitter, creates content on Twitter and also consumes content on Twitter. It can’t get more autocratic than that, he owns the whole company and has the ability to display what content he believes should be highlighted. The biggest question now is, what is the fine line between free speech and hate speech? How will Musk act in an impartial way that truly creates a democratic platform for all users? “Freedom of speech is really not black and white. This is very messy territory. We’re dealing with humanity” (Davies, 2022). Even a Supreme Court in Norway found it difficult to decipher what constitutes as hate speech, “But what constitutes ‘hateful or discriminatory speech’ is rather broadly defined in this provision. The difficulty in defining such subjective concepts as ‘hate’, ‘persecution’, and ‘contempt’ is yet another issue” (Nguyên Duy, 2020). This will need more of an action-based response by Musk rather than a verbal one. If the Supreme Court had a tough time on deliberating on this, how in the world will Musk be able to tackle this? We will see how this gets addressed by looking at our Twitter feeds over the next few months.
Recently Musk announced a change to Twitter’s “blue checkmark” system to a subscription-based model called “Twitter Blue” at a price point of $8 USD per month (Ohnsman, 2022). He hopes that users will pay for the blue verified checkmark and be recognized as a trustworthy user. In true billionaire fashion, it seems like the CEO only cares about profiting off their users rather than trying to create a democratic platform organically. Jennifer Grygiel an associate professor and expert on social media stated that, “He knows the blue check has value, and he’s trying to exploit it quickly” (CBC News, 2022). It seems like Musk wants to see how this verification pay system will play out and make a quick buck off existing users, rather than tackling the real issue at hand, democratization of Twitter.
Finally, it is easy to say that Musk has a brutal track record when it comes to political views, lifestyle choices and his care-free attitude. All of this can easily be found on his Twitter account @elonmusk. Musk does not hold back and has many controversial tweets that I have outlined in the context section of this essay. In addition, according to a survey of 2014 people conducted by Preply.com, “2 in 3 of those we polled said they do not want Elon Musk to take over Twitter, though Republicans are more supportive than Democrats” (Zajechowski, 2022). Evidently, it is difficult to trust this kind of leader when it has been proven time and time, that he seems to take life as one big joke.
Now that we have looked at both sides of the argument, which one is correct? Well, I bet you knew this one was coming, but it depends. And it depends on how you look at it. For me, I think of it as, will Elon reach his goal of providing a platform that promotes free speech and power to the people? Well yes, eventually he’s going to get there. And he’s going to pay whatever cost just to make himself look good. But at what cost? How many people will leave the platform in doing so? How much hate speech will go under the radar? How bias will the platform be towards Musk’s liking? And what will Twitter become in the near future?
Another question to ask is, will the platform be authentically democratic? I doubt it. It’ll be skewed in a way that Elon wants the platform to look like and he’ll gather a bunch of lawyers in preparation if anyone tries to go against him.
In summary, I believe Elon needs to focus on what he’s good at, making cars and sending rocket ships up to space. There’s no doubt that he’s a brilliant person, but he needs to control his ego and step out of the spotlight by letting better leaders deal with democratizing Twitter.
Featured photo: Singh, M. (2022). TechCrunch From: https://techcrunch.com/2022/11/06/elon-musk-twitter-blue-verification-india-launch/
CBC News. (2022, November 6). Twitter users can soon buy a Blue Checkmark ‘just like the celebrities’ for $8 a month | CBC News. CBCnews. Retrieved November 6, 2022, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/twitter-subscription-verified-accounts-1.6642108
Conger, K., & Hirsch, L. (2022, October 28). Elon Musk completes $44 billion deal to own Twitter. The New York Times. Retrieved November 6, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/27/technology/elon-musk-twitter-deal-complete.html
Davies, P. (2022, October 28). Musk’s twitter: A platform for Free Speech or extremist hate? euronews. Retrieved November 6, 2022, from https://www.euronews.com/next/2022/10/28/will-elon-musk-s-twitter-become-a-beacon-of-free-speech-or-a-soap-box-for-hate-speech
Edgerly, S., & Vraga, E. K. (2019). The Blue Check of Credibility: Does Account Verification Matter When Evaluating News on Twitter? Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 22(4), 283–287. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2018.0475
Kim, H. S., Suh, Y. J., Kim, E., Chong, E., Hong, H., Song, B., Ko, Y., & Choi, J. S. (2022). Fact-Checking and Audience Engagement: A Study of Content Analysis and Audience Behavioral Data of Fact-Checking Coverage from News Media. Digital Journalism, 10(5), 781–800. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2021.2006073
Nguyên Duy, I. (2020). The Limits to Free Speech on Social Media: On Two Recent Decisions of the Supreme Court of Norway. Nordic Journal of Human Rights, 38(3), 237–245. https://doi.org/10.1080/18918131.2021.1872762
Ohnsman, A. (2022, November 4). Rupert Murdoch 2.0: How twitter gives Elon Musk the power to shape public opinion. Forbes. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2022/11/03/elon-musk-twitter-social-media-baron/?sh=a317f8b28739
TMZ (2022, October 29). Twitter layoffs hoax, duo posing as laid off employees trick reporters. TMZ. Retrieved November 6, 2022, from https://www.tmz.com/2022/10/28/twitter-layoffs-hoax-pranksters-trick-media-outlets-pose-fired-employees-elon-musk/
Zajechowski, M. (2022, September 12). Survey: Is free speech under attack? Preply. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://preply.com/en/blog/twitter-free-speech-survey/
Tweets that were referenced above.
Figure 1. Elon responds to a Twitter user with feature requests to be incorporated into his Tesla.
Figure 2. Elon responding to Bernie Sanders in a controversial tweet.
Figure 3. Elon tweeting out his political views to his followers in an attempt to influence voters.
Figure 4. Elon tweeting that Twitter needs to be an accurate source of information about the world.
Figure 5. Elon tweeting that the blue check mark will democratize journalism and empower voices of the people.
Figure 6. CNBC’s Deirfre Bosa apologizes for spreading misinformation on the Twitter employees who were fired on the job.