Some billionaires buy newspapers, magazines and sports teams. Elon Musk is trying to buy a social network that he himself admits might cause much of the world to hate him.
“Everyone will still blame me for everything,” Musk said during an on-stage interview at the TED conference earlier this month. “If I acquire Twitter and something goes wrong, it’s my fault 100%. I think there will be quite a few errors.”
Sounds promising. So why exactly does the world’s richest man — who is already running multiple companies with ambitious goals like taking humans to Mars — want to buy Twitter, a social media platform which, for all its benefits, is facing scrutiny for content issues like hate speech and misinformation, and also fighting to reignite user growth?
Musk has repeatedly stressed in recent days that his goal is to bolster free speech on the platform and work to “unlock” Twitter’s “extraordinary potential.” Others have suggested that Musk — who has 83 million followers on Twitter and has long used it to bolster his personal brand — may be more interested in boosting attention for himself.
To hear Musk tell it, the goal of his Twitter offer is nothing less than protecting civilization as we know it. “My strong intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization,” Musk said at the TED conference.
Among Musk’s plans for the platform are making its algorithm open source and making it more transparent to users when, for example, a tweet has been emphasized or demoted in their feed. He also said he would want to have more lenient content moderation policies. “I think we want to be very reluctant to delete things and just be very cautious with permanent bans; timeouts are better,” Musk said.
However, it’s not clear that his plans are all that much different from Twitter’s existing strategy. Although Twitter’s algorithm is not currently open source — a term that describes code that is publicly available for anyone to see — leaders at Twitter have expressed support for moving in that direction, and the company often makes clear when it is demoting certain tweets or types of content. Twitter has also erred on the side of labeling, rather than outright removing, much of the content often considered problematic, including some types of misinformation. And it offers several short suspensions to users who violate its rules before removing them.
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