What if Elon Musk’s control of Twitter scared the media?

“Due to the uncertainty on Twitter and out of an abundance of caution, CBS News has suspended activity on the social media site while it continues to monitor the platform”, CBS News National Correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti said Saturday, Nov. 19, after reporting additional outages on Twitter. They are so large that they raise fears of a potential loss of the company’s 436 million users.

This statement was immediately shared by the heads of local stations affiliated with the American news channel, owned by the Paramount group (the result of the merger of CBC and Viacom) created in 1971 by the billionaire Sumner Redstone, a longtime Democratic Party financier, and now controlled by his daughter Shari Redstone.

Fear of technical or political disruption

Concerns are at their highest about the safe operation of the platform, and even its technical and economic survival, with the workforce reduced from 7,500 to 2,500 people since the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk at the end of October.

In the process, the eccentric billionaire reinstated former President Donald Trump’s account, which had been suspended since the January 6, 2021 attack against the US Capitol. Elon Musk removed himself from political responsibility for this decision by launching a poll on Twitter: 15 million subscribers participated and voted overwhelmingly in favor of the “reintegration” of Donald Trump.

Towards a snowball effect of other media?

Twitter’s departure from CBS News is a “interesting signal” continue “to see if it becomes a wider movement in the coming weeks”, says researcher Asma Mhalla, expert in the geopolitics of social networks. For now, it is“epiphenomena” according to him, even the American press is wondering about the treatment of news related to Donald Trump and the use of Twitter by journalists.

For his part, the specialist in digital cultures Tristan Mendès-France “doubt many media follow” temporarily. “Twitter’s exit barrier costs a lot, he explained in mid-November. A social network is measured by the critical mass of its users. And no one else has capitalized on this audience. » Few media have even invested in alternatives like Mastodon, a decentralized and independent social network without the speed and ergonomics of Twitter.

What Twitter brings to information

In the United States, Twitter is more important for the media than in France where the social network consumes only “3 to 5%” of their total traffic, according to digital transformation expert Cyrille Frank. The debate over Twitter’s contribution to journalism is more vigorous.

His loss “is scary for journalism”, believes Karen North, professor at USC Annenberg University, interviewed by Agence France-Presse. Twitter is “a network of news and information, the meeting place where journalists go to get up to date, find an idea for a topic, a source or a quote”. Due to staff and budget cuts suffered by the sector, “there are no longer enough resources to find resources in the field”, according to him.

Twitter toobe a valuable source of information, advice, mutual aid during hurricanes, forest fires, wars, terrorist attacks or epidemics.tweeted Caroline Orr, researcher at the University of Maryland. “It is not something that can be replaced by existing platforms. » The social network also gives everyone the opportunity to say what is happening on the ground or their experience, highlighting phenomena such as #MeToo that have been captured by the media.

Disinformation is but a field of observation

Used to spreading propaganda and misinformation, Twitter has developed moderation tools, albeit ones that could be improved. All these social phenomena can easily be observed in real time by journalists, but also by researchers, as the American academic Anjana Susarla explains in this article by The conversation.

“The Twitter archive provides instant and complete access to any public tweet that allows events to be recorded and makes it a de facto tool to verifywhat really happenedunderlined the researcher. Therefore, it is very important to understand how Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, or more generally the private control of social media platforms, affects the collective well-being. »

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