Future of Twitter With Elon Musk
What is the future of Twitter with Elon Musk in charge, and how may it affect aspects of social networks? Here’s what you should know about the situation.
A Brief History of Elon’s Offer
After some back-and-forth on pricing and strategy, Tesla and SpaceX owner Elon Musk offered to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share. That equates to a total price of about $44 billion dollars.
As announced in April 2022, this offer is not an immediate purchase of Twitter. Twitter’s offer means that the company’s board has agreed to recommend the offer to shareholders, who could theoretically reject the sale if they don’t want to put Twitter into Musk’s hands.
One notable difference from most company sales is that this deal isn’t Twitter merging with another company (not even a shell company made to hold the purchase). Instead, it’s a direct purchase financed partially by Tesla, whose own investors are significantly affected by Musk’s sale of stocks to help finance the Twitter purchase.Similarly, it’s possible that regulators could refuse to allow the purchase. A refusal could happen for any number of potential reasons, but the takeaway is that it’s not guaranteed that Elon Musk’s offer will go through, even if he has the money and Twitter’s board is recommending shareholders accept the deal.
What Changes Could Happen at Twitter Under Elon Musk?
Elon Musk describes himself as supporting free speech, which he has previously defined as allowing Twitter to be a type of “town square” where people can talk in an inclusive environment.
Functionally, this means he is less inclined towards permanently banning people or certain types of speech, preferring a time-limited lockout when necessary.
A policy like this one inherently bumps into one of the major challenges of running social networks, the presence of misinformation. An MIT study indicates that false news and lies tend to travel faster than the truth on social media, and fewer limits on speech means misinformation will spread more easily.
However, Elon Musk has also acknowledged two significant areas where content moderation is probably necessary.
The first, he says, is explicit calls to violence. How people define what’s explicit and what’s not is a debate all by itself, but outright telling people to attack or even kill someone else would probably fall under a banned category under his leadership.
Musk also acknowledges that Twitter will need to follow local laws in each country where it operates, which can further impact what content is permissible and what isn’t. In other words, even if he wants more free speech, regulations in countries like the United States could impact how that occurs.
Algorithms and Transparency
Another area Elon Musk wants to make changes is with Twitter’s algorithm, and specifically how much people can see and understand it. Suggested options include features such as uploading it to Github, where users could look at it and suggest changes.
Realistically, however, this is unlikely to work out as promised. As previously reported, Twitter does not have a single master algorithm that controls everything. Instead, it’s better understood as a large number of different algorithms that all work together to personalize content relevant to each user.
Twitter also relies heavily on machine learning to manage its website design, which isn’t easy to watch and observe from the outside. Machine learning relies on data in an operating environment, and changing the data changes the results.
History Of Fulfilling Promises
Another complication in trying to predict the future of Twitter under Elon Musk is his own track record. He has a mixture of both impressive successes mixed with numerous broken promises.
Relative successes include things like:
- SpaceX: SpaceX is a rare modern upgrade to spaceflight technology, offering some reusable systems and better cost-efficiency for missions. Although most people have no direct link to SpaceX, the marketing is effective.
- Starlink: Starlink is a satellite-based internet service. Most users receive download speeds between 100 Mb/s and 200 Mb/s. For context, 4K video streaming requires about 25 Mb/s.
- Tesla: Tesla is best-known for its cars, but also produces solar roof panels and some other technology. Rollouts haven’t always been perfect, with some promised and paid-for features never available, but Tesla’s overall branding and success has helped make Elon Musk one of the wealthiest men on the planet.
All of these are undeniable achievements, but his acknowledged failures make it difficult for some to believe he’ll change Twitter in exactly the ways he’s promising.
- Brain Links: In 2017, Elon Musk helped create Neuralink, designed to connect computers to the human brain. In 2019, he said the technology would be in human brains by the next year, but that has not yet materialized.
- Hyperloops: Hyperloop tunnels are essentially pods that move magnetic levitation in a low-air environment to reduce drag. Musk claimed to be building a 29-minute route between Washington D.C. and New York City, but the official website no longer advertises that project.
- Tesla Pricing: Elon Musk once said the Tesla Model 3 would be available for about $35,000. While this briefly occurred, they soon got rid of that pricing, in favor of a model for just under $47,000.
What Do We Expect?
There are many possible ways Twitter could go under Elon Musk, and it’s unlikely that any prediction people make will be completely accurate.
Based on current information, however, we’re expecting the following:
- Successful Acquisition: We think that Elon Musk will ultimately be able to acquire Twitter, although the specific terms of ownership may change based on regulatory or legislative demands.
- Less Moderation: Twitter will probably receive less moderation in the future, which means some groups currently quieter on the site will be louder and more noticeable. This will be most obvious with political groups, but some other interest groups may also become louder.
- Fewer Marginalized Groups: Specifically, people from groups that have historically been marginalized or attacked, such as trans people, may leave Twitter or become anonymous so as to protect their identities. This tends to go hand in hand with more aggressive groups becoming prominent on a platform.
- Limited Algorithm Access: We aren’t confident that Twitter’s algorithm will go public at all, and even if it does, it’s probably not going to offer genuine insight into how the social network actually works.
The biggest wrinkle in this is probably approval from Twitter’s shareholders. If they decide they don’t like his plans – and make no mistake, Elon Musk is often polarizing – the social network’s shareholders could reject the entire deal outright.