Ideas for a brighter future for all

Is Elon Musk going to blow up Twitter?

In the ongoing saga of Elon Musk’s on-again, off-again acquisition of Twitter, the master plan seems now to be emerging months later.  

When the acquisition was first mooted in April 2022, observers thought it strange that Musk should want to buy a social media platform. His offer of USD $44 billion was generous to say the least. Twitter’s board saw it as a hostile takeover and came back with a poison pill type-strategy designed to subvert the takeover. Eleven days later the board had a change of heart and voted unanimously to accept the buyout offer. The sale would put Musk in ultimate control over changes he wanted to make to Twitter. 

Now it emerges that an “everything app” with Twitter centre stage was probably the plan all along.  The yet-to-be-named app will be along the lines of WeChat, the phenomenally successful Chinese instant messaging, social media, and mobile payment app first released in 2011. WeChat become the world’s largest standalone mobile app in 2018, with over one billion monthly active users. 

The 'everything app'

It is not clear yet what features ‘the everything’ app will have, but it seems likely that Musk will look at the WeChat model and come up with his own, improved version with which to compete with the likes of Meta and Alphabet. 

A successful everything app will be worth considerably more than Twitter alone. If all goes to plan, it will give Musk a deep pool of equity that can be borrowed against to fund other projects such as his SpaceX Mars colonisation plan and sustainable energy technologies.  

Musk has stated several times that he wants to turn Twitter into a forum that people from both sides of the political spectrum can participate in. This is in keeping with the US Constitution’s First Amendment that guarantees freedom of speech. “Congress shall make no law… abridging freedom of speech.” 

How the thorny problem of moderating the excesses of extremist views from both side of the political spectrum is not clear. This means reversing the bans on some Twitter accounts. But where to draw the line between allowable opinion and extremist views? Not an easy problem to solve.  

What comes next?

Musk wants to create open-source algorithms that govern how the platform works. Open source means any interested party can take a look ‘under the hood’ at how it all works. Attempts at manipulation or influence can be identified and concerns raised. Some of Twitter’s current algorithms are already open source, but not all.  

One benefit will be that the platform will become a safer place for vulnerable users, including women, LGBTIQ individuals, people of colour and ethnic minorities. 

An updated Twitter is also likely to feature an ‘edit button’, considered by many as long overdue. A poll of Twitter users found 74% of  voters wanted an edit button allowing users to amend a post after posting.  

Twitter bots have been a contentious issue. In fact, it was the former management’s contention that only 5% of accounts were bots (not real people) that stalled the acquisition process. Musk maintained the figure was considerably higher and that the Twitter board misled him on this point. Musk will seek to eliminate all bots, not just the “bad” ones that is currently the policy. 

And finally, there is likely to be a two-tier membership. The free subscription will continue, but with a paid premium level that gives the subscriber as yet undisclosed additional benefits.  

Interesting times ahead for a re-vamped Twitter and a Swiss army knife everything app to rival the highly successful Chinese WeChat and take on the likes of Meta and Alphabet. 

Author

Dr David TuffleyDr. David Tuffley is a Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics and CyberSecurity at Griffith University’s School of Information & Communication Technology. He is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. David is a high-profile Griffith academic who appears regularly on local, national and international media “tech-splaining” the social impact of technology. David’s articles published in The Conversation and republished in newspapers like the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune. His work has been translated into German, Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese.

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