Now that Elon Musk has taken over Twitter, he isn’t short of verbal assailants, concern trolls, and volunteer freelance advisors. Brendan O’Neill offers an interesting collection at Spiked Online, including:
From EuroNews Next, “Will Elon Musk’s Twitter become a beacon of free speech or a soap box for hate speech?”
A Washington Post columnist: “I am frightened by the impact on society and politics if Elon Musk acquires Twitter”
and, inimitably, from back in April:
Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.
— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) April 14, 2022
Wow. O’Neill comments:
The most striking thing about Musk and Twitter is the demented reaction to it. Musk himself is not going to singlehandedly restore the hard fought-for liberty to utter. It will take more than online ventures by a contrarian billionaire to turn back the tide of censorship, cancellation and social shaming for wrongthink that have become such a key and horrid feature of Anglo-American political life. Musk’s plan for Twitter is sensible, not revolutionary… Who could possibly be affronted by such a polite, classical-liberal vision? And yet affronted people are. Loads of them. Hysterically so. Their dread of Twitter without moderation is intense.Brendan O’Neill, “Elon Musk and the great fear of free speech” at Spiked Online (October 28, 2022)
It’s as if the concern trolls have never lived in an environment where people speak to one another without a censor overhearing… but then maybe they never did.
Meanwhile, the tech press is replete with wails about the disruptions Musk is, predictably, causing inhouse:
Musk and co. have reportedly barred most of the employees on Twitter’s Trust and Safety team from accessing their usual content moderation and policy enforcement tools, according to a report from Bloomberg attributed to an unnamed number of anonymous sources. Some of these workers are reportedly unable to impose penalties on accounts that violate Twitter’s rules on hate speech, or posts that include misleading or offensive content.Lauren Leffer, “Twitter’s Content Moderation Team Reportedly Unable to Work Amid Musk Takeover” at Gizmodo (November 1, 2022)
Leffer is worried about the effect disinformation/misinformation/hate might have on the upcoming U.S. midterms — as if it has ever been possible to banish them from scheduled jostles for power. From another source, we learn:
The important part of this news is not that employees lost access to the tools. Instead, it is the confirmation that prior management empowered Twitter employees to determine what constitutes “misinformation.”
For those who have had a Twitter account limited, shadow banned, or suspended, the article provides another piece of data. According to the report, a Twitter employee banned you, not an algorithm. “Detection of policy breaches can either be flagged by other Twitter users or detected automatically, but taking action on them requires human input and access to the dashboard tools. Those tools have been suspended since last week, the people said.”Stacey Lennox, “GAME ON: Elon Musk Just Pulled the Plug on Twitter Censors” at PJ Media (November 1, 2022)
The unilateral hostility and uproar among Twitter employees confirms that Twitter staff were decidedly of one mind with regard to who should and who shouldn’t be censored — which is rarely the case in an open society.
But now: Has Musk sensed a transition in the offing? Ramped-up social media may soon altogether replace the former mainstream media (MSM), from which most of these extramural wails are coming. Hence, his Twitter takeover will indeed end in doom, as they constantly prophesy — but principally for them.
Look, it isn’t possible for Musk to make Twitter more of a hellstorm of hate than it has been. But some haters had privileges and others didn’t, which is a different matter. So, if hate’s the accusation, the defence rests. And the fate of mainstream media has little to do with Musk anyway. That was baked in from the moment the first blogging software appeared in 1999.
In his book Postjournalism and the Death of Newspapers, Andrey Mir describes what happened next. Starved of ad revenues, print media outlets changed their business models. They had already been drifting toward partisanship, but now they saw there was money in it. Instead of seeing their readers as consumers of the ads they sold, they started looking at them as potential donors. They began appealing to their political consciences, asking readers to subsidize their noble journalistic missions, NPR pledge-drive style. “Support our brave truth-telling work,” went the pitch, “for Democracy Dies In Darkness!”Leighton Woodhouse, “How the Media Trains Journalists to Lie” at Tablet (October 31, 2022)
In other words, the New York Times and the Washington Post are selling partisanship in a cause, more than news as such. Financially, it has gone well for them. But, inevitably, donor readers begin to shape the news by their demands, more than readers used to. And so does the formerly lowly newsroom:
But there was a threat even more perilous than that: a revolt by all the young reporters you hired to cater to the millions of outraged new subscribers you had enlisted in the fight against MAGA authoritarianism. Those young reporters were true believers. They’d never known the old, aspirationally nonpartisan mode of journalism. They had joined your outlet to fight for social justice, wielding their pens as swords. So had all the app coders you had enticed away from their overpaid but unfulfilling Facebook jobs with the promise that here, you might take a pay cut but you could also change the world.
Today, a politically unpopular article or personality can leave a publisher besieged from the outside while facing a revolt from within.Leighton Woodhouse, “How the Media Trains Journalists to Lie” at Tablet (October 31, 2022)
In book publishing, which faces a roughly similar fate, Penguin Random House has faced intense pressure from within to Cancel a book (2024) by U.S. Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett — but has so far resisted.
Here are some other outcomes: The MSM are no longer needed for basic information. They now mainly advertise the views of a social elite to the public. Objectivity is no longer a goal so they fall easily for hoaxes that suit their purposes, while claiming some kind of superior expertise. Thus politicians who are not favored by that elite now ignore them with impunity. No, it can’t last — and it hasn’t.
Thus, it’s best to read everything to do with the purported Muskageddon! meltdown with these transitions in mind.
On a lighter note, Rich Cromwell advises at Spectator that Elon Musk should make Twitter weird again: “A true town square needs plenty of cranks on milk crates.” However tiresome and objectionable that turns out to be, it’s not democracy dying in darkness.
You may also wish to read: With Elon Musk as “Chief Twit,” a flurry of changes is expected. At Twitter, Musk hopes for a “common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.” But most of the tech press despises Musk and has made clear that it has little use for the more open Twitter he espouses. (Denyse O’Leary)