On Elon Musk buying Twitter

Posted on Apr 26, 2022

Because this is a nuanced topic and Twitter doesn't allow for a lot of that these days, I thought I'd write a couple of paragraphs on why I don't think an Elon Musk-led Twitter is necessarily a good thing.

Before I do that, it is important for me to say that I do admire Elon Musk. He isn't perfect, but I do believe he means well. When he says that he wants to maximize humanity's happiness, I believe those words. It is very hard to ignore the work that he is doing at Tesla in helping humanity transition to electric; Also hard to discount his work at SpaceX, which has reignited the dream of space. There is a lot to applaud about his work.

Another important note: I have some, but not complete perspective on all that goes into running a social network the size of Twitter. I have a lot of context on what happened at Twitter over the years, as I've been around since the very beginning, and also knew a decent chunk of the early team. But that doesn't mean I understand all the ethical requirements that go into running it, or the steps Twitter has had to take over the years. Epistemic status: reasonably confident, but.

Onward.

I don't know if Elon Musk is ready to run Twitter. It is completely fine (noble, even!) to say you want to defend free speech, but then you have to deal with all the instances where free speech flies in the face of own ethics, laws or politics. What is reasonable to you may not be reasonable around the world. What is a crime here, may not be a crime there. So you find yourself in the difficult position of trying to create an inclusive platform for a world that contains multitudes. What seemed very black and white in the beginning (free speech! Say anything!), is suddenly (perhaps sadly) pretty darn grey.

I don't know if a person that tweets stuff like this understands that type of nuance.

Heck — I don't even know if Elon understands how him tweeting that combined with his 83 million followers can be seen as normalizing trolling. And obviously I know that tweet is a joke. But again — all of this is nuanced. Some people will get that it is a joke, laugh or not, and move on; some will only see someone powerful trolling someone else, and replicate the behavior. Is that the "free speech" we apparently so desperately needed? I don't believe it is.

Now — is it all ruined? Is Twitter doomed with an Elon Musk acquisition? I don't think so. In fact, there are things he has said that I completely agree with: the algorithm should be made public (or removed! Make the chronological timeline the default again); Twitter should crack down on bots; the verification process truly is bad and should extend to every human being.

Can Elon make progress on some (or all) of these things? Certainly. Elon Musk can mobilize people in ways many other leaders can not. But running the world's consciousness (Jack Dorsey's words, not mine) is not quite like building great cars or reusable rockets. Cars don't quite have ethics, feel bad when they are bullied, tell lies or incite war. How people communicate in social media has real impact, with real consequences too. Hopefully Elon lets the Twitter team handle that part of the company — as they're the ones with the experience.

As with so many other Elon Musk things, we're going for a ride.