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On Twitter

  • 20 May 2022
This week Tesla CEO Elon Musk halted his purchase of Twitter, with the billionaire saying on Tuesday that the deal ‘cannot move forward’ until the company proves that bots (fake/spam Twitter accounts) make up less that 5 per cent of its users. 

Bots aside, the news of Musk’s $44 billion dollar purchase of the platform was met with paroxysms of excitement or hysteria depending on where one sits on the political spectrum. Everyone had something to say about it (including Eureka Street).

Considering the corrosive state of public discourse over the last few years, which has at least in part been influenced by the algorithms driving social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, I’ll be upfront in saying I’m not especially convinced of Twitter’s status as a social good. So, this development is at least deserving of some curiosity.

Reactions are divided about the purchase as they are about Twitter itself. Progressives seem concerned that an opinionated billionaire owning and controlling Twitter can only be a backwards step for progressive values which need protecting and amplifying on the platform (The New York Times ran an op-ed titled ‘Twitter Under Elon Musk Will Be a Scary Place.’) Conservatives who have long protested Twitter’s supposed progressive bias believe Musk will establish a more balanced content moderation policy.

Elon Musk claims to be a ‘free speech absolutist’ who believes Twitter’s policy on banning accounts has been inconsistent in its execution. The platform has imposed life-long bans on users who voice what Twitter deems controversial ideological statements, while others are permitted to continue on the platform despite abusive behaviour to other users. Where many see Twitter’s moderation policy as Byzantine and heavy-handed, Musk promises to make content moderation more transparent, opening up the algorithms for public scrutiny.


'Is it even possible to build a healthy social media space that encourages respectful interaction and engagement without being plagued by the toxic behaviour that has become all too common on platforms like Twitter?'  

Yet online free speech absolutism, where content is free from any moderation, is not necessarily something to be celebrated. The perversity – and frequent illegality – of the bile posted on 4Chan and 8Chan attest to this.

Musk understandably wants to return the troubled platform to its glory days. Twitter can be a nasty place, but it was not always so. Writing in The Atlantic, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out that in 2009, when Twitter introduced the ‘Retweet’ button, the behaviour of