From Twitter to X
Opinion by Azfar Hasin
The social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, has had a rocky year since billionaire and entrepreneur Elon Musk decided to take it over after a messy purchase finalized in October 2022 for $44 billion. Musk has taken several actions since the acquisition in his efforts to prevent spam bots and remove what he termed as unconstitutional censorship; he has also instituted new subscription options as well as massive layoffs in his efforts to make the platform profitable.
Musk’s stated reason for the purchase was to, in his own words, “reinstate free speech.” He has called himself a free speech absolutist and has unbanned several accounts related to controversial actions or beliefs. One such account that has been unbanned is former President Donald Trump’s, which was suspended in the days following the January 6th attack on the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. He has also reinstated other accounts that were banned for violations of the terms of service relating to hate speech and disinformation. Mr. Musk’s decision to reinstate these accounts have drawn the ire and scrutiny of critics, who have claimed that his actions have supported the far right. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Center for Countering Digital Hate noticed a significant uptick in the rate of hateful comments on the platform since the takeover. This has in turn caused many advertisers to pull their ads from the site, greatly affecting its financial well-being.
The platform previously known as Twitter has also affected Musk’s other companies, such as Tesla, which underwent a steep decline in stock price in the months following the purchase of Twitter. Tesla, an established brand in the electric vehicle industry, faced a sharp decline in its stock due to market concern following the Twitter takeover. The decline was also exacerbated by other considerations, such as the global chip shortage that developed during the early stages of the COVID pandemic. Mr. Musk has reportedly lost 80-90% of Twitter/X’s worth since its purchase, meaning that X is now only worth $4 billion.
To be fair, Twitter has never been a profitable company; instead, its value came from its essential role in the world of news and content generation. In an effort to stop declining profits that have plagued the company since its inception, Elon Musk has pushed Twitter Blue, a subscription service where paid members get access to more features, such as the ability to edit posts and preferential placement, as well as the highly prestigious blue checkmark. Previously, accounts had to go through a formal vetting process to receive such verification. Critics of the platform have derided these changes as opening up the possibilities of impersonation and bot activity while decreasing the prestige of the blue checkmark.
As X’s ad revenue continues to decline, Mr. Musk has threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League, an organization advocating against antisemitism and hate speech that has been critical of the changes on the platform. Many folks criticized this turn as antisemitic and pointed to the delighted reaction of many confirmed antisemites and neo-Nazis on and off the platform.
Fortunately, those using X and other social media platforms are able to moderate their experiences through a few tools available to them. These tools include making your account private, which limits those who can interact with your posts; blocking or muting unwanted users; and reporting content such as hate speech. In addition, X still includes the Community Notes feature, in which vetted users add clarifying context on posts with disinformation (deliberate falsehoods) and misinformation (incorrect facts). In this way, users can tailor their social media interactions to limit contact with distressing content.
Elon Musk’s leadership over Twitter/X have raised important concerns over the importance of moderation and how far freedom of speech should reach, as well as renewed debate over how social media companies should deal with increasing hate speech. Whether or not Elon Musk’s approach to running a social media platform will be successful, we will have to wait and see.