Here's one perspective on Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter that suggests Musk may not enjoy owning Twitter as much as he thinks.
Social media’s newest billionaire overlord is in for a surprise.
Beyond the stray hints he’s offered in tweets, SEC filings, and interviews, Musk hasn’t given much detail about his vision for Twitter. But if he thinks it can exist without extensive content moderation, he is in for a shock. A universal rule of user-generated platforms is that every one of them has to moderate posts once it reaches a certain size. A platform that refuses to dirty its hands by taking down content will soon become flooded with scammers, porn, terrorist recruiters, and, sometimes, literal shitposts. And its user base, its advertisers, and the other tech companies it relies on to operate won’t like that. Parler, Gettr, and Reddit all learned this lesson the hard way. That’s not even to mention the tightropes platforms have to walk in dealing with governments around the world that are ramping up pressure on platforms to submit to their will, often at the cost of their citizens’ free-speech rights.
Fine-grained and consistent content moderation is impossible on platforms that host hundreds of billions of posts a year. Optimists might argue that Musk is known for his ability to make seemingly improbable things happen: private space travel, mass-market electric vehicles. And some of Musk’s ideas for Twitter could open up new possibilities. He has said he wants to make the platform’s recommendation algorithm “open source” so that people can see what it is promoting or demoting. Many digital-rights activists and regulators have been calling for similar kinds of algorithmic transparency for a while. Platforms and policy makers should be thinking about new ways to empower users and the public in the governance of online spaces.
But most of Musk’s vision does not actually appear to be that novel. Instead, it’s a return to the past…