For years, Twitter has been the mouthpiece of choice for prominent politicians, journalists, cultural figures and everyday people alike. On the flip side of this, it has also been a hot spot for people to publish their brain drippings to the public. This was always going to be the consequence of an open forum, so this is not the problem. The problem lies in Elon Musk’s authority of Twitter, which has exploited all the ugly traits of communal discourse. What was once a haven for everyday people questioning power is now a hellscape overrun by those claiming power with fire in their eyes and sometimes (quite literally) murder on their minds.
Musk has perverted Twitter as both a platform and a workplace. He fired numerous Twitter employees, many of which were content moderators, and to those remaining, he issued an ultimatum: pledge to the new “hardcore” ethos or quit. And with no regard for authority and accuracy, the site has become a wasteland for users. Things such as identity verification of public servants and medical expertise on COVID-19 are now considered irrelevant. Musk claims that removing authentication barriers allows everyone to have a voice but it also opens the doors to hate speech and other harmful forms of online conversation. With such alarmingly lenient measures in place, many people who benefit from using Twitter decided to push back and quit the site altogether. For instance, there has been a considerably-sized exodus of celebrities deleting their Twitter accounts, disgusted by the actions of the company’s new CEO.
An even more damning example of this can be seen in the high-profile companies that have paused or significantly reduced their ad campaigns on Twitter. This is a devastating blow because of how much Twitter sustains itself through advertising revenue. Recognizing this, Musk tried to distance the company from relying on ads by introducing subscription services for users. This was unsuccessful because Musk failed to realize social media does not thrive by the same models as Netflix or HelloFresh. In order to endure, Twitter must cooperate with companies on advertising and several have pulled rank, including Apple.
The Apple company recently threatened to pull Twitter from their app stores. If they were to carry this out, it may have a surprising aftereffect. Think about the impact Twitter has through smartphones in general. We all know that social media can be used through computers just as well as phones. The difference is the mobility factor. Phones are small and fit inside our pockets, so they can be taken and used anywhere much more easily than our laptops. Then there’s the fact that it specifically impacts people who use iPhones. Without even needing to be specific, consider how many iPhone users are in the United States. How many times have you heard this ringtone while you were out in public somewhere? Apple’s influence on phone users is inarguably tremendous and depending on how it was executed, a large decision like this could resonate significantly across the nation. It would also mean disaster, but given the current situation, there would be disaster regardless of whether Apple delivers on the threat or not.
The Take suggests that there are several possibilities if Musk’s reign continues in its current form. One is that Twitter could collapse completely, especially if the remaining employees abandon ship. Another is that Musk could compromise with his adversaries and agree to practice objective content moderation, which doesn’t seem likely when considering the attitude that drove him to purchase Twitter to begin with. Finally, one possibility is that Musk could renounce the CEO role, which he has quietly hinted at (This itself might not guarantee a better alternative, however. Just compare it to Jeff Bezos’s resignation as Amazon CEO and notice how the company still thrives on corrupt practices for its massive success).
No matter what happens next, this shake-up at Twitter reminds us of the volatility of these platforms at the micro and macro levels. When used responsibly, this technology has the power to save lives. When used irresponsibly, it can ruin them. It is up to us, now more than ever, to recognize there are people working the levers of social media platforms, people whose decisions carry real consequences for all of us. It is up to us to whether we pay any attention to the man behind the curtain and send him back to Oz. Or in this case, Texas.