Destination Digital’s Debbie Porter has appeared on BBC Radio Derby a number of times, talking about social media and digital marketing. And so, what else would she be asked about this week other than the hottest news in the world of social media – the sale of Twitter to billionaire Elon Musk?
On the subject of why Elon Musk has bought Twitter for an eye-watering $43billion – when Facebook snapped up Instagram in 2012 for a mere $1billion, Debbie had this to say, “He has one eye on the future always, being the man behind what would eventually become PayPal, famously the man who has led SpaceX since 2002 and with it the concept of private space travel, and of course Tesla which is a brand setting its heart on disruption within the auto sector.
He is a big fan of cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence, and also peddles a strange line in baby names. And he is a big fan of Twitter with an audience of over 83million. He is an innovator by nature and this is his next pet project.”
$43 billion is an unimaginable amount of money. It’s also the most that has ever been paid for a social media software company. Although Musk has stated that he is not necessarily taking over Twitter to make money – and that with his wealth he doesn’t need to – he will have one eye on ways of using this platform that will either benefit Twitter’s fortunes, or will complement another venture that he has in his portfolio. With a man of his wealth and backing, he has time on his hands.
What he has planned for the platform remains to be seen, but he is part-visionary, part-eccentric and a pretty volatile guy when it comes to pacing himself. Musk is a self-described ‘free speech absolutist’ which has got a lot of people excited about a potential return to the platform by Trump supporters.
Tweeting has got Elon Musk into hot water when one tweet wiped $14billion off the Tesla share price and he was sued for calling the British Thai cave rescue diver ‘that pedo guy’. So when Musk talks about allowing free speech, it’s a subject that has the far-right holding out hope for a return to what they believe this means. Misinformation and hate speech on social media is a subject Debbie has spoken on before, and Musk is no innocent party when it comes to this.
Debbie said, “Musk was criticised for spreading Covid19 related misinformation and so it could be said that handing control of Twitter to Elon Musk is like letting a toddler play with a gun that’s had the safety catch taken off.”
That said, there are already changes afoot with the new downvoting feature on comments rolled out by Twitter very recently. The current system of reporting comments, posts and accounts is flawed and so this paves the way for creating a hive mind when it comes to moderating the platform. It would go some way toward making up for some of the issues created by the current system of moderation by gathering many, many more negative signals against what ‘the hive’ believes to be taking conversation off-track.
Elon Musk has also promised to authenticate all real humans. A big problem with the platform has been the untraceablity of people, where they can just pop up again under a different handle, so verification of accounts attached to humans would help remove repeat offenders. So it might not be as bad as some people might be anticipating.
The EU and US have been calling for stricter controls on social media and although Elon Musk doesn’t want that, this is where he might come unstuck with any left-field plans he might have. Regulators around the world are lining up to crack down on social media companies. There are fines being handed out in multiples countries for platforms that allow hate crime material out that is abusive or incites violence.
Debbie commented, “He is not a fan of the detail. He is not a fan of being muzzled or of toeing the line and so there is some foundation to people’s fears. Where he could come unstuck is the extra bargaining power these countries will now have over Twitter if they use his Tesla interests as a form of ransom.”
To quote Thierry Breton on the matter of loosening censorship controls on Twitter he said, “…any company operating in Europe needs to comply with our rules… [Musk] is familiar with European rules on automotive, and will quickly adapt to the Digital Services Act.” So if the commissioner for the internal market at the EU executive is confident in the powers they can exercise to combat unbridled speech on Twitter, we are pretty confident too.
Debbie had this to say, “Recent rollouts such as the ability to add NFTs to your profile pic seemed very much to me like the influence of Elon Musk already. To add an NFT you have to have minted it on the Ethereum blockchain. This means hooking up your cryptocurrency account to the platform, which itself paves the way for Twitter to start trading in crypto currencies, outside of the confines of regulated currencies.
“This could be very exciting or an appalling thought depending on your view of crypto. There’s no doubt that Musk is a crypto fan though. There is also the ability to accept Tips on Twitter in cryptocurrency. Could this be the start of an online democracy that operates across borders? Who knows?
“Musk is an impulsive man, a sometimes effective visionary, and with the might of his wealth could make things happen at exactly the pace he wants it to happen. The future weeks and months from this point onwards are not going to be a dull ride.”
For the full interview, available until 24 May 2022, click here and fast forward to 03:06:44 to listen in: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0bzgcrq
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