After the weeks of rumour and speculation, it finally happened. I did actually mange to get my previous post out first, but less than an hour later, it became official. Elon Musk has bought Twitter, and is taking it private.
Let’s unpick what he had to say in the press release announcing the deal.
Interpreting Elon Musk’s statement on his Twitter acquisition
Here we go, working through Musk's PR-approved statement clause by clause:
Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy,
This is true, but the devil is in the detail: how you define free speech makes all the difference. Almost no-one is a free speech absolutist. There’s a massive range of views on where you should draw the line that marks acceptable free speech. All too often, it’s “I defend free speech for people like me. Other people are hateful and should be silenced.”
Moreover, being kicked off your Twitter account in no way actually removes your right to free speech, any more than me not allowing you to make a political statement in my living room does. There are plenty of other places you can talk — but you might struggle to get the same reach. Free speech and free reach are related, but seperate, concepts.
(Also, kicking you off Twitter does not reduce your risk of standing, painfully, on Lego, which kicking you out of my living room does. You're welcome.)
and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated
I’d agree with this statement — if he’d said “a digital town square” rather than “the digital town square”. Twitter still attracts a much smaller slice of humanity than, say, Facebook.
What is true is that it attracts more politicians and journalists as regular users than most other platforms. So, in that sense, he’s correct.
I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features,
Well, yes, this is the most anodyne and obvious statement in the release.
What I think it hides is that Musk is almost certain to re-engineer Twitter’s business model. He may be a Category A shit-poster on Twitter, but he is a businessman, and I’m unconvinced by the hot takes that he has no business plan for the company.
He’ll use the free speech stuff as an attention magnet, while getting on with changing a lot of the economic plumbing of the company. Ben Thompson had some great suggestions as to where he might go…
making the algorithms open source to increase trust
Eh. The problem with making algorithms open source, is that you make it much, much easier for people to manipulate them, since they know exactly how they work. Which puts this clause in opposition to the next one…
defeating the spam bots
That’s an arms race. You will never will a true victory, only small temporary ones. See: spam email, spam comments, spam likes etc…
and authenticating all humans.
This is actually a good idea. I’ve long maintained that the issue with the Twitter verification system is that it’s not actually a verification system, it’s an importance system. You’re not verified, you’re marked as more significant than others. Like anything that conveys status, that makes verification desirable.
You change the status dynamic by making verification available to all. Instead of the important and the less important being the two strata, it become the known and those who have chosen to remain anonymous. There will still be good reasons for staying anonymous for many, but that choice will carry some consequence.
That consequence will fall unevenly: those who choose to stay anonymous will be the marginalised and threatened, who end up lumped in with the shit-posters, trolls and misinformation agents. Resolving that is not beyond the wit of man, but is it beyond the wit of a Musk-run Twitter?
Translating Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal’s statement
Two sentences is all Agrawal got:
Twitter has a purpose and relevance that impacts the entire world.
Deeply proud of our teams and inspired by the work that has never been more important.
“It was nice working with you all, and I’m open to job offers.”