SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A toxic cesspool. a lifeline. Fingers hold the pulse of the world. For its more than 229 million users worldwide, Twitter is all of these and more—politicians, journalists, activists, celebrities, eccentrics and norms, cat and dog lovers, and just about anyone else with an internet connection.
For Elon Musk, its ultimate troll and perhaps its most prolific user, Twitter is a “de facto town square” in desperate need of a liberal makeover.
Whether and how the acquisition will happen is anyone’s guess. On Friday, Musk announced that the deal was “on hold,” while tweeting that he remained “committed” to the deal. Earlier this week, the billionaire Tesla CEO said he would rescind the platform’s ban on President Donald Trump if his purchase was successful. On the same day, he also said he supported a new EU law aimed at protecting social media users from harmful content. Meanwhile, Twitter’s current CEO fired two senior executives on Thursday.
All in all, it’s been a chaotic few weeks for Twitter. One thing’s for sure: Turmoil inside and outside the company will continue.
“Twitter at the highest level has always been chaotic. It’s always had intrigue, there’s always been drama,” said former Twitter engineering manager Leslie Miley. “This,” he said, “is in Twitter’s DNA.”
‘What are people thinking’
Since its inception as a scrappy “microblogging service” at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, in 2007, Twitter has been doing well.
It has remained small at a time when its rivals have users in the billions, frustrating Wall Street and making it easier for Musk to swoop in with an offer the board can’t refuse.
But because of its public nature, simple and largely text-based interface, and chronological immediacy, Twitter has also had an unparalleled impact on news, politics and society.
“It’s a feast of incisive self-expression, with whimsy, narcissism,” Associated Press technology writer Michael Liedtke wrote about the company in 2009 , voyeurs, liars, bland and sometimes useful information.” Twitter had 27 employees at the time, and its most popular user was Barack Obama.
Today, this San Francisco landmark has 7,500 employees. Obama remains its most popular account holder, followed by pop stars Justin Bieber and Katy Perry (Musk is sixth). Twitter’s mainstreaming can be documented through world events, as wars, terrorist attacks, the Arab Spring, the #MeToo movement and other pivotal moments in our collective history all play out on the platform in real time.
“Twitter often attracts thinkers. People who think about things tend to be attracted to text-based platforms. It’s packed with journalists. So Twitter both reflects what people think and pushes them,” Writer, Editor and OnlyFans Creator Cathy Reisenwitz says she’s been working on Twitter since 2010 and has more than 18,000 followers.
She finds this very useful for discovering people and ideas and for others to discover her writing and ideas. That’s why she’s stuck around over the years despite the harassment and death threats she’s received on the platform.
Academia, niche Twitter users, users with eccentric interests, subcultures large and small, grassroots activists, researchers, and many others flock to the platform. Why? Because at its best, it promises an open and free exchange of facts and ideas, sharing, debating and questioning knowledge.
And those subcultures — they’re scary. There are black tweets, feminist tweets, baseball tweets, Japanese cat tweets, ER nurse tweets, and more.
“It enables interest groups, especially those organized around social identity, whether we’re talking about gender, sexual orientation or race,” said Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor of society at Cornell University. Very important in-group dialogue.” Media.
On the flip side of Twitter’s immediacy, publicity, openness, and 280-character (once 140-character) limit is the perfect recipe for sparking passion—especially anger.
“Twitter’s anonymity allows people to take pictures at times, but it’s one of the most effective ways to connect with like-minded people,” said Steve Phillips, a former general manager of the New York Mets who is now at MLB. Affiliate Internet Radio.
But there are also huge, dark parts of Twitter. This is the Twitter feed of Nazis, crazy trolls, conspiracy theorists, and nation-states funding massive networks to influence elections.
Jaime Longoria, research and training manager at the nonprofit Disinfo Defense League, said Musk’s acquisition of Twitter jeopardized a platform that many experts believe is doing a better job of reining in harmful content than its competitors.
“We’re watching and waiting,” Longoria said. “Twitter as we know it may be over.”
In a series of tweets in 2018, then-CEO Jack Dorsey said the company was committed to “the collective health, openness and civility of the public conversation, and to hold us openly accountable for progress.”
Twitter, led by its Trust and Safety team, has been working hard to improve. It instituted new policies to label false information, repeatedly violating its rules against hate, incitement to violence and other harmful activities. On and off, things have started to improve, at least in the US and Western Europe.
Outside of Western democracies, however, not much has changed when it comes to fighting hate and misinformation.
“There’s a lot of hate on Twitter, especially against minorities. So there’s always a constant battle for Twitter to fight hate speech, often violent hate speech and fake news,” said the associate editor of Scroll, an Indian news site Shoaib Danyal said.
Danial said Musk’s absolutism of free speech didn’t make much sense in India because speech on the platform wasn’t very restricted in the first place.
“Anyway, it’s full of hate,” he said. “And Twitter doesn’t do a lot of that. So let’s see where it goes.” Given Musk’s capricious nature, that could go in almost any direction.
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