Will Elon Musk kill Twitter by creating chaos?

“The Bird Was Set Free”, tweeted Elon Musk when its acquisition of Twitter for 44 billion dollars was recorded on October 27. The ambition of the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, who presents himself as a defender of freedom of expression: to run his platform as a forum for free expression where all are welcome. According to him, it is so “It is important for the future of civilization to have an online public square where different types of opinion can debate in a healthy way, without resorting to violence”.

There is a lot of concern, especially in the United States, about what Elon Musk’s arrival at the head of Twitter means. “It’s gonna be a mess”doesn’t hesitate to prove tech columnist Chris Stokel-Walker Wired. “He can kill Twitter, sink it”predicts Charlie Warzel, author of the newsletter Brain of the Galaxyin The Atlantic. Why these fears? In April, when Elon Musk announced that he had visions of the platform, he said he wanted to “to make Twitter better than ever by improving the product with new features, making algorithms open source to increase trust, defeat spambots, and authenticate everyone”. Laudable goals, but can be interpreted in many ways.

Towards anarchic moderation and the return of trolls?

What worries social media experts the most is Elon Musk’s stance on moderation. Currently, Twitter, like other major platforms, is trying to remove hateful, violent content, and combat online harassment. But Tesla’s boss contradicts him “any censorship beyond the law”and said he wanted to correct the “strong left bias” from Twitter. In an event organized by Financial Times in May 2022, he also said that he wanted to reconsider the final deportation of Donald Trump after the attack on the Capitol (January 6, 2021), by his supporters. He describes this decision as “morally wrong and downright stupid”. Although affirmed in a relative who “Twitter is clearly not going to turn into a right-wing madhouse”he wants to be his platform “as widely included as possible.”

“This translates into an ‘anything goes’ philosophy.worry the experts in online moderation Wirednoting that in April 2022, when Twitter first accepted Elon Musk’s takeover offer, there was “ascension of new far right accounts (bots)”. For Christopher Bouzy of Bot Sentinel, a bot detection system, the danger is through the desire to reduce moderation, not inaugurated by Elon Musk “a new era of trolling” on Twitter, including “devastating consequences for women and marginalized communities who already face abuse and targeted harassment on the platform”. Charlie Wazel watches over his Musk side “likes to troll and throw ridiculous ideas at the public”. The proof: shortly after taking control of Twitter, he sent out a conspiracy theory about attacking Paul Pelosi, which followed a tweet from Hilary Clinton.

“It’s also a safe bet that some controversial political figures may see their bans on Twitter. Political observers are watching not only for Trump’s return, but also for the return of provocative figures like Roger Stone and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose personal accounts have been suspended for spreading false information. And Elon Musk appears poised to usher in an era of loosening content restrictions, a sentiment that -concerns many users and tech watchdogs.”political scientist Rebecca Kern also said in Politico.

Arrangement of personnel that may cause disturbance

Anyway, the American billionaire wants to be safe, and says he wants to fight automated accounts with advanced AI tools. Maybe that’s why he’s preparing a big social plan, and why engineers from Tesla are currently meeting with engineers from Twitter about the platform’s code. Recently, Elon Musk told investors that he plans to cut Twitter’s workforce of 7,500 by 75%. So far, few have been laid off, but for Charlie Wazel, “If he really cuts a large part of Twitter’s staff, it will cause an organizational nightmare”. According to former Twitter employees, even with the arrival of new faces, “a lot of knowledge will be lost” – especially to the engineers responsible for site reliability, and to the teams responsible for security and content moderation.

“Even if Musk’s cuts don’t affect those departments, his ownership could trigger a wave of resignations from employees in key infrastructure roles. The scenarios are easy to imagine. where big mistakes happen because of the disruptions that Twitter is about to experience.”said Jason Goldman, a former board member and former vice president of product at Twitter.

In The Atlantiche and several Twitter alumni describe nightmare scenarios that could sabotage Twitter’s operations and the experience of its 200 million daily users:

  • 1. Hackers and/or rogue foreign governments have focused their hacking efforts on Twitter. “Due to mass layoffs and a chaotic organization, Twitter was unable to adequately respond to attacks, resulting in catastrophic breaches, loss of personal information, or prolonged outages.”.
  • 2. Twitter’s defunct cybersecurity and reliability team can no longer deal with subpoenas from governments or complex requests from law enforcement. He can, for example, “accidentally assisting outside efforts to identify unknown dissidents and activists in foreign countries”.
  • 3. Both teams can not stop “coordinated effort” cheaters “orchestrate low-level scams”. Similarly, if this group is breathing, they will be “unable to fight or track content” related to child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, pornography, as well as copyright violations.
  • 4. An inexperienced engineer introduces “buggy code” and part of the site’s functionality is broken; but competent people in this field “no one is there to help restore it”.
  • 5. Musk stands by his statements and is actually rolling back Twitter’s content moderation rules. This reduces the tools to monitor and report abuse on the platform. According to Kate Klonick, a research professor in online moderation at St. John’s University in New York, it can cause “degraded user experience, reduced engagement of moderation teams, reduced ad revenue for the company, and ultimately radicalization of online communities”.

“These scenarios are hypothetical, but they illustrate the truth about platforms: They don’t run by themselves. They are made up of people, many of whom have complex tasks to manage specific parts of the social network , most of which are invisible to the average user”, concludes Charlie Wazel. The most sophisticated AI tools will not be enough if qualified human resources on the contrary are lacking, and if the rules in place prevent them from acting effectively. “To have a really strong security and abuse team, it takes a huge number of real people to respond and filter things that need to be filtered out”, argues Southey Blanton, former MySpace system technician. According to the latter, “cutting his team” caused, at the time, an increase in bots and spam. “All over the world, a social network is attacked and overwhelmed 24/7/365. I’m completely convinced that if Elon Musk does what he says he’s going to do, it’s going to be a complete mess”He added.

A paid Twitter that can scare tweeters

Other projects announced by Elon Musk are worrying, because they can change the face of the platform, and thus cause a potential departure from users who no longer find themselves in this new ecosystem. First, the Tesla and SpaceX founder said he would make major changes to Twitter’s business model, which relies heavily on advertising. He wants to reduce the share of advertising in the company’s revenue from 90% to 50%. Much of this change should come from a system of “premium” subscriptions.

Jean Burgess, professor of digital media at Queensland University of Technology, Australia, and co-author of a book on Twitter, thinks that Elon Musk “expand the Twitter experience” together Twitter Bluea paid monthly subscription currently only available in the USA, Canada and Australia, which “provides exclusive access to premium features, to personalize the user experience”. For $3 a month, Twitter Blue gives users access to features such as the ability to edit and delete tweets. For Jean Burgess, if it can stimulate the activity of the platform, the risk is that it will harm the side “digital public forum” from Twitter to “limiting full participation” to premium users only.

In addition, Elon Musk wants all users to be “verified”, and therefore have a small blue tick next to their name; which can intimidate anyone who cannot reveal their identity online, for security reasons. The goal is to charge $8 per month for verified accounts…

Finally, it looks like Elon Musk has plans to make Twitter a “general app”built on WeChat, a Chinese “super-app” that allows users to chat and make video calls, as well as make payments and play video games. “Like Twitter, with PayPal, with a whole bunch of stuff, all in one, with a great interface. It’s a really great app, and we don’t have anything like it at home”, he recently said admiringly on the All-In podcast. Imitating WeChat will be ambitious, and will come with premium offers, but will existing users of the platform follow?

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