Elon Musk is no doubt a man with many aspirations and innovations under his belt; from producing the first self-driving car, to expressing desires to colonise Mars, his multiple business ventures have accumulated to a net worth of approximately $200 billion.
It appears that Musk has become power-driven on infiltrating all markets; with Twitter recently becoming his shiny new toy. Many sceptics have argued that Musk is dipping his toes into more pools than he can count, with an added worry that his revolutionary and experimental concepts will tarnish a reputable and trusted social playground for millions of users… and they were indeed correct. Although we are unsure if Twitter can survive its rapidly sinking ship, we can still uncover one question: How did this multibillion-dollar purchase lead to a potential bankruptcy of one of the most popular, trusted social media sites in the span of a couple weeks?
Springing back to March this year, Musk sparked a debate regarding free speech on the social media platform and had also become Twitter’s largest shareholder. Soon after, Musk placed an offer of $44 billion to own the platform, in the hopes of attacking the main concerns regarding spam bots that diluted reliable information. After various backtracks, October 28th marked the day that Twitter was primarily under Musk’s control (Financial Times, 2022).
The Beginning of the End
Since taking over Twitter, Musk has fired roughly 3,700 people, abolished remote working environments, and currently has no communications department (AXIOS, 2022). Despite these troubles, Musk has been placing an increasing amount of pressure to obtain profit from sources other than advertising (BBC, 2022). In comes Twitter Blue, a monthly subscription service allowing any user to use the highly sought-after blue tick that is typically reserved for political parties, commercial companies, major brands, media outlets and public figures.
Dishing out blue ticks at 8 dollars a month sounds impressionable to millions of users who wish to step up on the Twitter social hierarchy, however Musk failed to realise that releasing this intensely guarded verification system to the masses was to turn against his favour. Previously, Musk had announced that parody accounts that do not explicitly state their false identity will be banned, but with the Twitter Blue subscription, this combination ensued chaos. As the original role of the infamous blue tick allowed users to source legitimate accounts whilst simultaneously filtering out parody accounts, it has since become a breeding ground for dangerous social discourse, with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly taking the biggest blow yet.
Several days after the introduction of Twitter Blue, a fake- but verified- account posing as Eli Lilly had announced that insulin would be become free. To most users, this tweet understandably was perceived as legitimate and went viral, catching the eye of investors, leading to the company losing over $15 billion in market value (Money Control, 2022). This example highlights the negative implications of distributing a regulated security feature, the reinforcement of free speech, and Musk’s concern regarding parody accounts. Although the verified Eli Lilly page has since announced that this tweet was false, it appears that the damage is done. Other parody accounts falsely portrayed as Nintendo and BP has also been banned, with many brands becoming concerned about their brand image being sabotaged by the increasingly unreliable verification tick.
As Twitter is a vital tool for customer engagement, there is a high risk that consumers will unknowingly provide personal data to such parody accounts, as there is a lack of distinction between legitimacy and imitation with the use of purchasable verification ticks.
Can hate speech still count as free speech?
Regarding Musk’s self-declaration as a free speech absolutist, there has been growing trepidation surrounding the Twitter reappearance of controversial tweeters Kanye West and Donald Trump, both banned for antisemitism and the incitement of violence respectively (BBC, 2021; CBS News, 2022). Musk announced that Twitter will form a council with widely diverse viewpoints; but exactly how diverse is this going to be? As Twitter is heading face-first into its downfall, the risks of acknowledging antisemitism and yet still allowing it onto the platform will encourage an increase in hate speech, posing a danger to many minority groups that are protected by the platforms Terms of Service.
Ironically, Musk had banned comedians such as Kathy Griffin and permanently suspended podcaster Ethan Klein for impersonating him, afterwards tweeting that ‘comedy is now legal on Twitter’. This openly highlights the hypocrisy in allowing free speech- but not at the cost of Musk himself. This conflicts with Musk’s previous statements regarding the poor morals behind permanent suspensions and that even Trump was also not deserving of this, despite using the platform to incite a riot at the Capitol in January 2021 that left 5 people dead (Time, 2022).
As Twitter aims to put out their self-inflicted fires, the only person who can carry the fire extinguisher is Musk himself. Although it’s difficult to predict the future of this well-loved platform, all we can do is wait for Musk to Make Twitter Great Again- or at least make parody accounts legal again.