Twitter’s new owner, tech-billionaire and almost-human Elon Musk, has fired the entire board of the company. He is now the sole member, crowning himself CEO, or ‘Chief Twit’.
The world’s sometimes-richest person has wasted no time in shaking up the social platform — used daily by nearly 400 million people — since he completed his takeover last Friday. All nine members of the board have been sacked, with a new ‘content moderation’ council set to step up.
Also on the chopping block are 50% of the company’s staff and free blue check marks to validate authentic accounts. Musk now wants to charge US$8 per month for the privilege of verifying who’s tweeting while simultaneously cutting working-from-home practices at the company.
It’s like Game of Thrones if the Red Wedding was between House ‘Woke’ and House ‘Perpetuating Bigoted Conspiracy Theories’. House Woke is the family that gets killed off, by the way, and if you didn’t like that metaphor, don’t worry, they get worse.
“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilisation to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence,” Musk wrote in his explanation to advertisers on the platform.
“There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right-wing and far left-wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society,” he continued.
However, far from uniting the world onto one equal platform, Musk seems to have set up Twitter as a battleground for political control in the increasingly ‘roided-up culture wars. The Washington Post has reported that since Musk took over the circus, usage of the ‘n-word’ on the site has increased 500%. Accounts previously suspended for hate speech could be resurrected. It’s like in Ghostbusters when all the traps open and the ghouls are let loose.
Many simply aren’t interested in the free-speech logical extremism experiment Musk is conducting with a platform once implicated in democratic revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. Hoards of users were reported to have left the site in the days since Musk took over, with big accounts seeing their followings drop by the tens of thousands.
A data firm has now confirmed that some 1.3 million accounts were either deactivated or suspended between October 27 and November 1, more than twice as many as usual.
“We have observed an uptick in people deactivating their accounts and also Twitter suspending accounts,” said Christopher Bouzy, founder of the firm Bot Sentinel.
This could be explained by the fact that the sentiment on the site has become more divided since Musk’s purchase of the platform. While many have announced their departure from Twitter, others are saying that they intend to stay and “fight” for their political beliefs on-site.
Welp. It’s been fun Twitter. I’m out. See you on other platforms, peeps. Sorry, this one’s just not for me. ❤️🙏🏼
— Sara Bareilles (@SaraBareilles) October 30, 2022
Hey all –
I’m out of here. No judgement.
Let’s keep the faith.
Let’s protect our democracy.
Let’s try to be kinder.
Let’s try to save the planet.
Let’s try to be more generous.
Let’s look to find peace in the world.
— Ken Olin (@kenolin1) October 28, 2022
Not hanging around for whatever Elon has planned. Bye.
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) October 29, 2022
Large exodus happening on this platform. Not sure if I stay or not. Leaning toward staying, but if today is a sign of things to come, not sure what the point is. Freedom of speech is great. Hate speech intended to incite harm, (with no consequences) ain’t what I signed up for.
— Josh Gad (@joshgad) October 29, 2022
We need to stop ceding ground.
— Mary L Trump (@MaryLTrump) October 28, 2022
I’m not going anywhere. And my follower count actually rose! We need each other’s voices and strength, and I’ve never shied from a fight. When Twitler and the other deplorable are let back on here, I’ll be more than a thorn in their side.
Follow me for more great tips.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) October 29, 2022
The polarisation of the platform, as well as its framing as a site set up for heated clashes, has only seemed to increase as Musk seeks to ‘level the playing field’. In May, Musk tweeted that Twitter “obviously has a strong left wing bias” and, over this past weekend, tweeted that he would personally be looking into the ‘shadow banning’ of one particular right-wing account, a former favourite of Donald Trump.
Three top corporate executives at Twitter have already been let go, with Musk reportedly asking for lists to be drawn up of employees who can be cut. Many of these cuts are thought to be targeted at content moderators, who Musk seems to believe are too harsh and too strict on the platform.
The Skipfire Intensifies
As the axe starts swinging, the disturbing influence of far-right conspiracy theories already appeared to be flourishing. The US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, had her home broken into over the weekend. Her husband was left in critical condition after a man with strong ties to the QAnon movement attacked him with a hammer.
Right-wing groups appeared to move quickly to subvert the narrative that their movement had motivated violence, with the subject ‘Pelosi gay lover’ trending on the platform. This idea emerged from inaccurate news sources that claimed the man who attacked Paul Pelosi was not a QAnon supporter but was, in fact, his lover with whom he had had a falling out.
This would be run-of-the-mill internet insanity if it wasn’t for the fact that Twitter’s new owner, Musk himself, tweeted in support of the theory in a response to Hillary Clinton.
New Twitter chief Elon Musk tweets a totally unsubstantiated claim from a notoriously unreliable website that's been making the rounds in fringe far-right circles about the "real truth" regarding Paul Pelosi and his attacker. pic.twitter.com/ssHuggvSdX
— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) October 30, 2022
The site that he linked to has been described as “unreliable” based on its “routine publication of false and misleading information,” and Musk later deleted the tweet, but not before it could gain 86,000 likes. He has since offered no apology or explanation on the subject but has instead doubled down, tweeting in response to a New York Times article on the subject that he “did *not* tweet out a link to The New York Times!”
If this is the way the platform is going, users have a right to be concerned. Conservative commentators are, however, loving it, with Fox News mouthpiece Tucker Carlson arguing that Musk would “restore free speech to America.” Even Trump has praised Musk for his actions, saying that “I am very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands, and will no longer be run by Radical Left Lunatics and Maniacs that truly hate our country,” on his own platform, Truth Social.
However, the issue of political neutrality is not one that is easily solved by cutting moderators and letting conspiracies run rampant. As The Intercept has pointed out, Twitter’s moderation policy has very little to do with the political will of its user base and everything to do with the optics of its advertising clients
“Advertisers don’t want anything controversial that gets people out of the buying mood, or worse, mad at the brands themselves,” Jon Schwarz writes.
“If advertisers get nervous about Musk’s management and flee the platform, it could see losses every year in the multiple billions of dollars”.
Although Musk has said previously that he’s not interested in the economics of running the site, and has bought it purely to protect democracy and freedom of speech, whatever the cost, it’s clearly not a business strategy that will reverse the fortunes of the ailing company.
Like it or not, content moderation will have to be implemented on the site if it is to be attractive to advertisers who make up 90% of its revenue. Elon “free speech absolutist” Musk has recently said that a new “content moderation council” will be established on the platform that would bring together “diverse views” on the subject.
“No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before the council convenes,” he tweeted.
As far-right political pundits return to the platform and conspiracy theories abound, many are already proclaiming the death of the platform entirely. It remains to be seen just how rapidly that decline could come, but if the past few days are anything to go by, it could be over much sooner than anticipated.