26 April 2022

What will Elon Musk do with Twitter? From Donald Trump’s potential return to blue ticks for everyone

Here's how Twitter could look under the richest man in the world...

In today’s news, confounding billionaire Elon Musk has just sealed a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter. The Tesla boss, who is the richest person in the world and an active user of the site, now has the keys to the social media platform that is used by over 200 million people every single day. The controversial news has unsurprisingly led to a lot of questions regarding the future of Twitter under Musk — who has described himself as a “free speech absolutist”. It’s something that Twitter’s CEO, Parag Agrawal, has echoed, “Once the deal closes, we don’t know which direction the platform will go,” he asserted.

Human rights groups and influential political figures including Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren have been outspoken about the move being dangerous for democracy, and have warned of an uptick in trolling. Other users are asking whether suspended accounts, such as former US President Donald Trump’s could be reinstated. Musk himself has given some indications of what Twitter could look like under his rule — we break them down below.

Could Donald Trump return to Twitter?

Musk has not publicly commented on reinstating Trump’s account after he was permanently suspended following his rhetoric around the US Capitol riot on January 6th, 2021. It is a possibility, however, and one that his supporters and hardline Republicans have been celebrating online. For his part, the former President doesn’t seem keen on returning to the networking site. In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Trump said that Musk was “a good man”, but that he will be focusing on his own social platform, Truth Social. “I am not going on Twitter, I am going to stay on Truth,” he told the publication. Of course, if Trump does get his account back, it would also pave the way for other suspended users to rejoin the platform. 

A potential loosening of content moderation 

The majority of the concern around Musk’s acquisition revolves around his commitment to being a “free speech absolutist”, and his historic criticism of what he deems to be excessive moderation online. Right now, Twitter has measures in place to prohibit harassment, abuse, racism and incitement of physical harm, as well as misinformation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. The future of these balustrades may be uncertain under the Tesla CEO, who during his announcement yesterday made his stance on free speech clear: “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.” At the recent TED 2022 conference on April 14th, he condemned banning users from the platform altogether, and suggested a “time out” system instead. “If it’s a grey area, let the tweet exist,” he said.

A war on Spambots 

Twitter is well known for having many fake accounts or bots, including a number of cryptocurrency scams, which Musk has spoken out against. Before he managed to finalise his Twitter sale, he tweeted on April 21st, saying, “If our Twitter bid succeeds, we will defeat the spam bots or die trying!” The SpaceX engineer has not yet outlined he will tackle the issue, however. He added that he would also like to “authenticate all real humans” — which could potentially result in every verified, human Twitter user receiving a blue tick or something comparable.  

Twitter could get an “edit” button

Earlier this month, Musk issued a poll to his 84.9 million Twitter followers about whether they would be in favour of an “edit” button on the platform, which would allow them to alter their already published tweets. It was a hit with 73.6 per cent of respondents voting for the feature. He doubled down on his wish during his appearance at the TED conference later in the month.

Could Twitter open-source its algorithm? 

Musk values transparency over everything when it comes to Twitter and has spoken several times about how the platform should open-source its algorithm. This means that he wants to expose the code that determines how Twitter promotes and hides certain tweets from its users’ feeds. This change would also make public how the site moderates and polices content in real-time. It’s a major, complex move, and Musk has not yet outlined how he would achieve it.

A great Twitter exodus? 

A number of influential figures have already left Twitter over Musk’s acquisition, despite him stating that he wants even his strongest critics to remain “because that is what free speech means”. Leading the front was actress and activist Jameela Jamil, who announced that she was making her last tweet on the platform yesterday. She said that she expected Twitter to now “become an even more lawless, hateful, xenophobic, bigoted, misogynistic space.” Other public figures to have left the platform include Shaun King and Mick Foley.

  • Writer Nessa Humayun
  • Banner Image Credit Elon Musk / Twitter

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