As Musk buyout looms, Twitter searches for its soul

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A poisonous cesspool. A lifeline. A finger on the world’s pulse. Twitter is all this stuff and extra to its over 217 million customers all over the world — politicians, journalists, activists, celebrities, weirdos and normies, cat and canine lovers and nearly anybody else with an web connection.

For Elon Musk, its final troll and maybe most prolific consumer whose buyout of the corporate is on increasingly shaky ground, Twitter is a “de facto city sq.” in dire want of a libertarian makeover.

Whether or not and the way the takeover will occur, at this stage within the sport, is anybody’s guess. On Friday, Musk introduced that the deal is “on maintain,” then tweeted that he was nonetheless “dedicated” to it. On Tuesday, the billionaire Tesla CEO mentioned he’d reverse the platform’s ban of former President Donald Trump if his buy goes by means of but in addition voiced assist for a brand new European Union regulation geared toward defending social media customers from dangerous content material.

It’s been a messy few weeks and just one factor appears certain: the turmoil will proceed for Twitter, inside and outdoors of the corporate.

“Twitter at its highest ranges has all the time been chaos. It has all the time had intrigue and it has all the time had drama,” says Leslie Miley, a former Twitter engineering supervisor. “This,“ he says, ”is in Twitter’s DNA.”


From its 2007 debut as a scrappy “microblogging service” on the South by Southwest Competition in Austin, Texas, Twitter has all the time punched above its weight.

At a time when its rivals depend their customers by the billions, it has stayed small, irritating Wall Road and making it simpler for Musk to swoop in with a suggestion its board couldn’t refuse.

However Twitter additionally wields unequalled affect on information, politics and society due to its public nature, its easy, largely text-based interface and its sense of chronological immediacy.

“It’s a potluck of pithy self-expression simmering with whimsy, narcissism, voyeurism, hucksterism, tedium and generally helpful data,” Related Press know-how author Michael Liedtke wrote in a 2009 story concerning the firm a couple of months after it rejected a $500 million buyout from Fb. Twitter had 27 staff on the time, and its hottest consumer was Barack Obama.

In the present day, the San Francisco icon employs 7,500 individuals all over the world. Obama continues to be its hottest account holder, adopted by pop stars Justin Bieber and Katy Perry (Musk is No. 6). Twitter’s rise to the mainstream could be chronicled by means of world occasions, as wars, terror assaults, the Arab Spring, the #metoo motion and different pivotal moments in our collective historical past performed out in actual time on the platform.

“Twitter usually attracts thinkers. People who find themselves fascinated by issues are usually drawn to a text-based platform. And it’s stuffed with journalists. So Twitter is each a mirrored image of and a driver of what persons are fascinated by,” says author, editor and OnlyFans creator Cathy Reisenwitz, who’s been on Twitter since 2010 and has over 18,000 followers.

Nowadays, Reisenwitz tweets about politics, intercourse work, housing and land use points amongst many different issues. She finds it nice for locating individuals and concepts and having others uncover her writing and ideas. That’s why she’s stayed all these years, regardless of harassment and even dying threats she’s acquired on the platform.

Twitter customers in academia, in area of interest fields, these with quirky pursuits, subcultures small and large, grassroots activists, researchers and a number of others flock to the platform. Why? As a result of at its finest, it guarantees an open, free alternate of information and concepts, the place information is shared, debated and questioned. Journalists, Reisenwitz recalled, have been among the many first to essentially tackle Twitter en masse and make it what it’s as we speak.

“If I’m on Twitter, (nearly) any journalist, irrespective of how massive their platform was, in case you mentioned one thing attention-grabbing would reply to you and you may have a dialog about what they’d written and fairly actual time,” Reisenwitz says. “And I simply thought, that is superb. Simply no matter subject you’re in, you possibly can speak to the consultants and ask them questions.”

And people subcultures — they’re formidable. There’s Black Twitter, feminist Twitter, baseball Twitter, Japanese cat Twitter, ER nurse Twitter and so forth.

“It’s enabled curiosity teams, particularly these which might be organized round social identification, whether or not we’re speaking about gender or sexuality or race, to have actually necessary in-group dialogues,” says Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor at Cornell College who research social media.

In a 2018 study on social media subcultures — Black Twitter, Asian American Twitter and feminist Twitter — the Knight Basis discovered that they not solely helped problem top-down, generally problematic views of the communities but in addition affect wider media protection on necessary points.

“So there’s this actually attention-grabbing move of data that’s not simply top-down, mainstream media speaking to subcultures, however permitting numerous teams, on this case Black Twitter, to have actually necessary, impactful conversations that the media took up and obtained disseminated to the broader public,” Duffy says.

Software program engineer Cher Scarlett says that whereas Twitter is way from good — and, undeniably, house to harassment, hate speech and misinformation — it’s nonetheless a step above many platforms. That’s as a result of Twitter has at the least tried to address poisonous content material, she says, with enhancements like Twitter Security Mode, a product now being examined that might make it simpler for customers to cease harassment. Scarlett has confronted repeated on-line abuse for her advocacy for ladies within the tech subject.

“I’ve been on Twitter because it began. A giant a part of my community is Twitter,” Scarlett says. “There may be nothing else actually prefer it.”


On the flip aspect of Twitter’s immediacy, public, open nature and 280-character (as soon as 140-character) restrict is an ideal recipe for passions to run excessive — particularly anger.

“When coping with followers, feelings can get boiling, particularly if you’re sharing something unfavourable about their groups,“ says Steve Phillips, a former basic supervisor of the New York Mets who now hosts a present on MLB Community Radio. “The anonymity of Twitter empowers individuals to take photographs generally, however it’s until one of the crucial efficient methods to speak with individuals with comparable pursuits.”

Nevertheless it’s not all baseball Twitter on the market. There’s additionally the huge, scary, darkish a part of Twitter. That is the Twitter of Nazis, of demented trolls, of conspiracy theorists and of nation states funding huge networks to affect elections.

Jaime Longoria, supervisor of analysis and coaching for the Disinfo Protection League, a nonprofit which works with group organizations to combat misinformation, says Musk’s buy of Twitter jeopardizes a platform that many consultants imagine has finished a greater job of reining in harmful content than its opponents.

He worries Musk will chill out moderation guidelines that supplied some safety towards white supremacy, hate speech, threats of violence and harassment. He says he hopes he’s flawed. “We’re watching and ready,” Longoria says. “The Twitter we all know could also be over. I feel Twitter as we have now identified it can stop to exist.”

In a sequence of tweets in 2018, then-CEO Jack Dorsey mentioned the corporate was dedicated to “collective well being, openness, and civility of public dialog, and to carry ourselves publicly accountable in the direction of progress.”

“We have now witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation by means of bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and more and more divisive echo chambers. We aren’t pleased with how individuals have taken benefit of our service, or our incapacity to handle it quick sufficient,” he wrote.

Twitter, led by its belief and security workforce, has labored to enhance issues. It enacted new insurance policies, added labels to false information, kicked off repeated violators of its guidelines towards hate, inciting violence and different dangerous actions.

Because the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, social media firms have gone by means of a reckoning over how Russia used their platforms to affect U.S. politics. In suits and begins, issues have began to enhance, at the least in the US and Western Europe.

At its finest, Twitter connects individuals the world over to take part within the open alternate of concepts. Musk instructed The Related Press not too long ago that he needs Twitter to be “inclusive” and “the place ideally most of America is on it and speaking.” However this doesn’t keep in mind the truth that most of Twitter’s consumer base is outdoors of the US — and that Twitter appears to be like very completely different in the remainder of the world, the place American party-line divisions and free speech arguments make little sense.

Exterior Western democracies, as an example, customers say not a lot has modified relating to clamping down on hate and misinformation.

“There’s loads of hate on Twitter, particularly directed at minorities. And so there’s all the time a relentless battle to get Twitter to clamp down on hate speech, fairly often violent hate speech and pretend information. And yeah, I feel Twitter actually does not likely do sufficient for that,” says Shoaib Daniyal, affiliate editor with the Indian information web site Scroll.

“Twitter is nearly like a central node, which feeds political exercise out into TV channels and to journalists and WhatsApp teams.”

Musk’s free speech absolutism, Daniyal says, doesn’t make a lot sense in India as a result of there haven’t been many curbs on speech on the platform to start with.

“It’s pretty crammed with hate anyway,” he says. “And Twitter hasn’t finished quite a bit about it. So let’s see the place it goes.” Which, given Musk’s mercurial nature, could possibly be nearly any route in any respect.


Related Press Author David Klepper contributed to this story from Windfall, Rhode Island.


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