Nine things we want from Elon Musk, Twitter’s new owner
Elon Musk’s job with Twitter won’t be easy. He is no longer dealing with machines of the future. He is now dealing with human societies of the future.
There is unlikely to be another human on this planet who announces a $44 billion purchase with a ‘Yesss’ posing between two symmetrical walls of emojis — a heart, rocket, and a dizzy star — on each flank.
But that is Elon Musk for you. He just bought Twitter.
Beneath his fascinating array of masks — the maverick, the prankster, the clown, the trippy hippie and the benevolent bully — Musk is an extraordinarily cold and sharp businessman. But he is also an incurable dreamer and a man of great curiosity about the mysteries of the universe. If José Arcadio Buendía of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Thousand Years Of Solitude were unimaginably rich, he would probably be Elon Musk.
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His choice of businesses shows his obsession with the future and a compelling need to shape it by putting his wealth to use. If Space X is his foray into the galaxies, Tesla is about tomorrow’s mobility. If X.com is a new-age online bank, Neuralink Corporation develops implantable brain-machine interfaces. If OpenAI is an artificial intelligence research laboratory, The Boring Company makes tunnels as part of inter-city transit systems.
It is hard to believe that he became the world’s richest man with such exotic, tangential leaps of business imagination. It is equally hard to believe that Twitter was frivolous vanity shopping for him.
In spite of Twitter’s reach being far smaller than YouTube or Facebook, Musk sees a lot more intrinsic value in it. It is a global, political and cultural influencer. It could be the harbinger of free speech. As Musk describes in his tweet, “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
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So, what do we expect him to do with the platform? Or rather, what do we want him to do?
Here is a wish-list:
First, let us have free speech across ideologies, except when there is a clear threat of physical harm and violence. On Indian Twitter, for instance, bring both True Indology and Sanjay Hegde back. They are from two extremes of the ideological spectrum, and neither of them deserve to sit out. People cannot be randomly deplatformed.
Second, remove the shadow bans with immediate effect. Users, especially conservatives, have repeatedly complained about Twitter limiting their reach, capping their follower count of eroding it, and forcing them to remove media without any explanation or investigation.
Third, make algorithms transparent. Right now nobody knows on what basis Twitter punishes some users and promotes some others. What is the scientific basis behind its actions? Transparent algorithms will enhance trust.
Fourth, every single human user of the platform whose identity can be verified should get a blue tick. Twitter has created a small uberclass of blue ticks mainly from media and politics who go around with a great sense of entitlement and self-importance. Many of them are not even minor influencers. This artificial hierarchy and rocky playing field must be evened out.
Fifth, Twitter can do with some new features, like a time-bound edit button (which shows changes that have been made). It also needs to create a better video and livecasting environment to take on YouTube or Instagram.
Sixth, it should stop rewarding the mob. Targeted and politically motivated mass-reporting of an account cannot be the basis of bans.
Seventh, ban the bots. Musk has stated clearly that he will fight the bots till the end and that is quite reassuring. Multiple fake accounts hounding others with replicated tweets or trending PR stuff for companies must end. Bots are dementors that suck the soul out of Twitter.
Eighth, Twitter must follow the laws of the land. It cannot function like an unaccountable super-government.
And ninth, get Donald Trump back. Whether one agreed with him or not, deplatforming a sitting American President, an incorrigible motormouth, was the darkest hour of social media when it comes to freedom of speech. It showed that Big Tech and a powerful woke set can casually unseat the most powerful person elected by the people.
Politicians with a far more contentious track record are allowed to use the platform. Why should Trump be left in the cold because Democrats and Big Tech connived to get him out while brazenly blocking any coverage of Hunter Biden’s alleged corruption?
Elon Musk’s job with Twitter won’t be easy. He is no longer dealing with machines of the future. He is now dealing with human societies of the future — an oceanic, unpredictable mass of life hurtling forward with hope, fear, anger, love and zen.
He has dynamite in his hands. He has to choose whether to blow up a road or make one with it.
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