American Opinion: Go ahead and improve Twitter, @ElonMusk
Summary: REMEMBER LEAD text summary.
Anyone who ever has sent a tweet with a typo — and who among us has not? — craves an edit button. So the news this week that Elon Musk plans to agitate for just such a long-neglected asset was heartening to anyone who has suffered the agony of a correctable error floating free in the Twitterverse.
Musk’s agitation now comes from a position of clout. On Monday, he disclosed that he has purchased 73,486,938 shares in the company, giving him a 9.2% ownership stake and making the Tesla CEO the largest outside shareholder at Twitter. And since Musk has an outsize following as an iconoclastic disrupter, that was enough to send Twitter shares up more than 25%.
Musk, who has been one of the channel’s most prolific users (he has some 80 million followers) and is known for his advocacy of free speech, now has a seat on the board of the company. And speculation is rife that he will make changes.
We think there is a lot he could do.
There is a growing sense that Americans are moving toward picking their social media channels based on their political allegiance. Former President Donald Trump, who was banned from Twitter, has been trying to launch a rival called Truth Social, although we’re not surprised that the hype has eclipsed the practical details of a product yet to fully launch. A rival to YouTube and Facebook, known as Rumble, is being backed by the tech billionaire Peter Thiel and is selling itself as a place to post content that Mark Zuckerberg’s censors would not allow.
The issue, of course, is that while Twitter and Facebook long have billed themselves as politically neutral channels of user-generated content, that has proven impractical, given how one user’s free expression of opinion is often another’s propagation of misinformation. This reached a head at Twitter not just with Trump but with users such as the widely loathed (and widely read) vaccine skeptic and public health establishment critic Alex Berenson, who was de-platformed and took his many followers to Substack.
Berenson’s supporters tweeted this week that Berenson thinks Musk will find a way to get him back on Twitter. He may be right: Musk, known for his libertarian leanings, has suggested there will be “significant” changes.
It’s all a tough and complicated set of conflicting values for Musk to figure out and it’s worth noting that he will not be the CEO (that’s Parag Agrawal, who apparently had been talking to Musk for weeks, raising eyebrows at the Securities and Exchange Commission over the timing of Musk’s purchase disclosure). By Musk’s own account via tweets, he mused about founding his own version of Twitter only to decide that he would be better off taking a piece of the market leader. Smart.
We’re in favor of that edit button and also concerned that the union will not be served by half of America talking on one channel and the other half communicating on another while feeling dissed and repressed by the first. The country is fractured enough.
If Musk can hold back the censoring bots and moralists, think all of these issues through, and come up with a way forward that encourages diversity of opinion and free expression without privileging conspiracy theories that threaten the democracy, he’ll make Twitter better. Good luck to him.
This American Opinion editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune.