Is he buying it. Is he not?
Elon Musk’s Twitter deal is far from certain, currently held up by a request from Elon to find out how many Twitter users are not really twitter users at all, but bots.
But let’s assume the sale goes through. What will it mean for us? And what effect will it have on brands.
No more Twitter ads?
Elon isn’t a fan of advertising. None of his companies use advertising to reach their customers. Indeed in 2019 he tweeted “I hate advertising”. This doesn’t exactly square with Twitter’s current business model. Over 90% of their revenue comes from advertising.
Bringing in a subscription plan for users might drive profits. But it’ll be challenging. Like Facebook/Meta, many people assume Twitter should be free — the trade-off of course being your data and the ability for brands to reach you.
But the future of advertising on any social platform is uncertain. With privacy changes made by Apple and Google putting huge amounts of pressure on Meta — forcing it to seek out future profits from metaverse related infrastructure projects, and not such a heavy reliance on ads.
Elon may hate advertising, but he’s a marketing genius. His sometimes controversial tweets move monumental volumes of public consciousness on twitter. And these days his name, and the names of his companies rarely escape the weekly news cycle.
He understands completely how to use Twitter to connect with people – tapping into meme culture and putting the corporate brand image back in the box where it belongs.
A Twitter owned by Elon may or may not have less adverts — but it’s sure to be a required space for brands to get down to earth and connect with their audience on a grassroots level.
A subscription model comes with a golden bounty.
It may be the solution to Twitter’s bots and scammers and if so, will no doubt increase trust in the platform. An increase of trust could lead to more users, and more brand participation.
Elon notes he’s a fan of open-source development. He wants to put all the code that runs Twitter’s algorithms online for programmers to see and be able to make suggestions to. The era of black box operations with hidden algorithms and suspicious donors won’t last much longer if this happens — at least for Twitter.
He’s also a champion of giving users choice. Rather than being an overlord who decided what the newsfeed should look like, he pressured Twitter into adding timeline options for both chronological and recommended tweets.
This level of choice could come in handy in similar ways to the Brave browser, allowing users to choose what data points they share with brands and even being paid in the platform’s own currency.
Free speech toxicity.
The major worry is that Twitter becomes even more toxic than it is today. Elon has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” — even saying that he would reinstate Trump’s Twitter account (though he admits Trump will likely stick to his own Truth Social network).
This issue is a real conflict point in our modern society. Free speech is a treasured western value many of us take for granted. But is it incompatible with our crack down on hate speech?
Twitter’s solution to this so far, has been to use algorithms and moderators to censor speech they deem hateful or misleading.
But the world is rarely so black and white. Not every issue can be put into “this is a bad tweet” box. Furthermore, it’s impossible for moderators to maintain impartiality all the time, especially on politics.
Having an open forum of debate, a town’s square, where contrasting opinions can come together and clash is incredibly useful, but admittedly also a breeding ground for hate speech, where the anonymity of keyboard warriors provides a shield to their false or hateful ideas.
Can a paid model with verification stop twitter trolls? Perhaps. In the real world, face to face, accountability is what protects us from hate speech. The understanding that airing bigoted ideas invites a certain level of criticism, challenge, and in the best-case scenario, course correction.
I think this John Stuart Mill Quote sums up the need for Elon’s open, free speech Town’s Square:
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is… if the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
It’s worth noting that should Twitter become a cesspit for conspiracy theories, bigotry and racism, advertisers have said they’ll pull money out of it. They may even do so pre-emptively — bringing in a move to subscription faster than anyone expects.
Should we be worried?
A space company that’s making space more affordable.
A car company that’s leading the electric vehicle revolution.
A satellite company that’s providing millions of people with ultra-fast internet in the most remote parts of the globe.
A tunnelling company that’s ending traffic in our busiest cities.
A bio-engineering neuro-company that’s giving paralysed people hope.
Whatever Elon does to Twitter — personally, I think we have a lot to be excited about.
Written by Alex Hamilton.
Originally published on The Drum. Zoheb’s been in the Drum talking ...