Posted on: April 26, 2022 Posted by: Nick Stulga Comments: 0

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

Even before the coronavirus lockdown could begin, Elon Musk was frantically tapping away at his keyboard on his Twitter account. In one of his most controversial moments on the platform he wrote, “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” And even then, more than 1.5 million people responded by liking the Tweet. Twitter did nothing about it. The tweet is still available to this day.

Nick Stulga

News Editor

All of this controversy was well before Musk had the opportunity to buy the company outright on Monday. It’s quite surprising that Twitter would allow such a statement upon its platform, as the platform has been vocal in combating “misinformation” and trying to foster healthy online conversations. Is Musk the right person to command the Twitter ship? And now that he is closing in on full control of the company, what could the implications of such a move be?

This mashing of what constitutes free speech is a terrible precedent for one of the most controversial social media platforms to set, especially at a time like now, when people can’t even decide whether an election was fairly won or agree on a single political topic. Not even agreeing, but just accepting other perspectives, seems to be an art lost on most Americans. Political discourse is more fragile than ever, and this move will most likely shift things in a worse direction and cause more division.

Graphic by Sarah Schudt
Musk’s Twitter acquisition is the 3rd largest tech acquisition of all time.

I’m not sure we’ll know for sure until the deal is fully closed and Musk has control of the company for a bit, but there’s still room to say that Musk’s leadership could prove to be unsettling, controversial, and possibly inconsistent, as he’s known to be very impatient and overworked. While still at Tesla, Musk was known to sleep on the factory floor because he didn’t “have time to go home and shower.”

Therefore, things aren’t going to be as black-and-white as one might think regarding this deal. Musk has already driven down a rocky road within his electric car business as it is, with Tesla employees supposedly being cussed out and harassed, including Doug Field, Tesla’s head of engineering at the time, whose responsibilities were greatly diminished.

Musk’s erratic and somewhat demanding personality calls into question his motives for going after Twitter–and whether he’s the best person to control it.

“This is relatively a new medium still,” MV history professor Merri Fefles said. “Going back to Elon Musk, Twitter hasn’t made a profit in the last 8 years. Is this just an ego-driven project for him? I think he has to pacify that ego of his.” 

So who’s to say he won’t use his megalomaniac ego and impatience to do the same with Twitter, not only firing and harassing the company’s employees, but even completely overhauling the current algorithms in favor of his own ideas, which in the Twitter world, is equivalent to a pitchfork mob of angry online trolls and harassers? Seems like things might get messy with him helming the ship of virtual expression.

Musk is not really the person we want in charge of free speech, either, especially given the state of civil discourse in this country.

“I get that there are tough questions about who gets to decide what legitimate speech is, but I think the average person can agree that trying to get retweets, likes, shares, is not helpful for democracy,” Kevin Navratil, MV political science professor, said. “I think there are some people that don’t have the intentions of contributing meaningfully to the dialogue, to the marketplace of ideas.” 

That is very much the case with Twitter, with people harassing and threatening people daily based on race, gender, sexuality, economic status, political beliefs, or for simply having a blue verification check. People don’t deserve to have platforms if they wish to use them for malicious purposes. But the issue is who gets to decide who deserves an account and who doesn’t.

Graphic by Sarah Schudt
Musk is the 8th most-followed user on Twitter, currently just behind recently banned former President Donald J. Trump.

This is where things get tricky. Should the man who supposedly incited an insurrection get to keep his megaphone? What about people spreading false information about COVID and vaccines, discouraging people from getting them through rumors and negative reactions? Or people sending death threats to the former president under #KillTrump?  

Although Trump’s use of the platform helped make discourse less civil, Musk’s ownership could lead to even more division.

“In terms of how ugly the discourse got, I don’t miss his voice on Twitter,” Fefles says of Trump. “I don’t miss hearing those tweets because those tweets became part of the news. And I was so sick of hearing about it because it just made the rhetoric so much more ugly.”

Under new Musk leadership, Trump might just come crawling back. Twitter has already shown itself to be a cesspool of political dissidents and controversial ideas. If Musk were to bring Trump back to the platform, the political mixing pot would simmer and then boil over to disastrous results.

It could be extremely dangerous for Musk–a man with a clear interest–to get wrapped up in a platform that’s taken a name for being one of the most politically-charged and ideologically-warped places on the Internet, with hate speech, ignorance, and intolerance running rampant on the platform daily.

Graphic by Sarah Schudt
Musk’s net worth is depicted in dark green. Light green shows the portion of it spent on his Twitter acquisition.

LGBTQ+ people, especially transgender people, already face an oppressive social media system whose main goal is to antagonize and belittle them. These groups face increasing harassment not only on Twitter but on other social media sites as well, and that could all easily worsen under Musk’s leadership.

We have to wonder, why didn’t Musk plan this takeover sooner? He currently has 88.7 million followers on the platform–around the same number Trump had before being kicked off–making him one of the most influential users on the platform. Musk has had a romantic affair with Twitter for quite some time now and as a result, it makes sense that he would want to go from meeting at the rendezvous to Twitter soulmates. This seems to be the great Musk legacy at this point.

No matter what the outcome of his takeover is, I can safely say that this move will only propel democracy further into the darkness, as the world strays further away from talk of political views and constantly decides to deem anything they don’t agree with “misinformation” or “controversial.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey may think that Musk is the chosen one to lead the Twitter revolution, but I don’t think Musk will make it much further than spilling a couple of boxes of tea into the Twitter harbor before his progress is swept aside. Controversy or not, I’m not sure Musk has what it takes to lead a revolution.