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What the Elon Musk Twitter acquisition means for you and for society

The world's richest man is expected to bring freedom of speech, combat fake news, and eliminate the bots on the platform
By Roland Udvarlaki April 26, 2022, 9:30 am
Twitter Elon Musk Source: Pocketnow

Yesterday was quite an eventful day. Twitter officially announced that it has entered into a “definitive agreement to be acquired” by Elon Musk, for $54.20 per share in cash in a transaction valued at around $44 billion. Upon completing the transaction, Twitter will officially become a privately held company, which is expected to go through by the end of 2022.

In the formal announcement, Twitter shared that its stockholders will receive $54.20 in cash for each share of Twitter common stock that they own, and that the price represents a 38% premium to Twitter’s closing stock price on April 1, 2022.

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“The Twitter Board conducted a thoughtful and comprehensive process to assess Elon's proposal with a deliberate focus on value, certainty, and financing. The proposed transaction will deliver a substantial cash premium, and we believe it is the best path forward for Twitter's stockholders,” said Bret Taylor, Twitter’s Independent Board Chair.

Musk previously talked about how he wants to make Twitter a platform that’s all about freedom of speech, and also mentioned that he wants to see all users verified (to see if they’re human), and eliminate the bots from the social network.

In the formal announcement, Musk said that “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. I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it."

Open-source algorithm

Before Musk disclosed his stake in Twitter in late March, he ran a poll asking people if the platform’s algorithm should be open source. 82.7% of the 1.1 million picked “Yes”, while 17.3% thought it wouldn’t be a good idea.

If the algorithm were published, it would allow everyone to see how Twitter determines which of the Tweets are worth promoting and hiding from users’ feeds. The algorithm is sophisticated, and it will enable social media platforms to moderate the content that users post freely.

While we aren’t going into specifics, some politicians believe that Twitter and Facebook’s algorithms are biased against them. Making the algorithm open source could show how these work, determine what is helpful, harmful, what it deems as “fake news,” and generally offer a look behind the scenes. Open sourcing the algorithm could help Twitter make significant changes to its social network and other platforms that could license it – which is one possible way for Twitter to make money. Revealing the algorithm could provide the transparency that most social networks lack, but it could also hurt the business as it would show off its most crucial feature.

Freedom of Speech

What are the advantages?

Expressing all views “within the bounds of the law” would result in more transparency and freedom when sharing an opinion. It would result in people not being afraid of sharing all of the things on their minds. For as long as the content doesn’t incite violence, and doesn’t encourage others to break the law, or cause any harm and injuries, it could be shared freely.

Freedom of speech promotes a free exchange of ideas, and people learn from the experiences and perspectives of one another. It allows knowledge to be freely shared without worrying about the consequences. It can explore immoral and unlawful activities, and it lets people express themselves in any way, shape, or form.

What are the disadvantages?

Twitter label tweets
Twitter currently shows labels on tweets it deems as misleading
Source: Twitter

Freedom of speech is great, but the law doesn’t allow anyone to make threats against another individual, and slandering people is often illegal. Freedom of speech also prohibits people and businesses from plagiarizing, and it doesn’t allow anyone to share material that could be deemed obscene. If Twitter allowed freedom of speech without filtering out these things, it could be shut down as it could become a platform that could spread fake news, incite violence, and generally cause more trouble.

The problem with social media networks is that they make receiving and reading information so easy, and as a result of that, many people have started relying on them for news. Spreading fake information has become so effective over the years, that it has become a legitimate business for some criminal organizations and groups. Fake information can spread too quickly, and it’s too difficult to filter out real, distorted content and other fake media.

During the TED interview, Musk was asked why he made an offer to buy Twitter. Musk shared that he wants people to talk freely “within the bounds of the law.” While that sounds like what everyone wants to hear, it’s important to note that the law is different all around the world. While most governments are open to freedom of speech, there are some other governments that want to suppress the media and spread their own views for one reason or another.

Giving the users freedom of speech “within the bounds of the law” would still result in many account suspensions, and it wouldn’t solve all of the problems. It could result in more “fake news,” as Twitter could be more lenient about specific topics and views and do more harm than good.

Combating fake news

To combat fake news, scams, and other frauds on the social network, Musk wants to eliminate Twitter bots, authenticate all human users with verification service, and introduce significant changes that would change the way Twitter works. Musk already said that he doesn’t want to buy Twitter to make money, but he appeared to show that he’ll be adjusting the monetization techniques and systems used by the social giant to focus less on ad revenue. The service could emphasize subscriptions, offering a recurring revenue stream.

What are Twitter bots?

An unofficial bot posting pictures from the Earth Polychromatic Camera on the DSCOVR spacecraft."

Twitter bots are automated accounts controlled by software. Bots are labeled as “Automated by [bot creator’s name]” and the person who created it. Bots can be either helpful or harmful, and they can like, retweet, and generally do everything that normal users can. Most bots offer users free features, some post memes regarding a trending or random topic, some let users download videos, show threads of tweets in an article layout, and so much more. They can also help spread fake news, spam, and scam people.

As a developer who owns a Discord bot used by more than 50,000 people, bots are undoubtedly helpful and provide great tools, but they can and are certainly misused on the platform. I would hate to see bots removed from Twitter, but all signs point that it could happen either at the end of the year, or sometime next year.

How is this going to affect you?

There will likely be a lot of changes after the deal goes through at the end of the year, but until then, it will remain to be controlled by Twitter’s board and the current shareholders. Twitter has been very slow at introducing new features, and while the edit button is currently under development, it should have been available on the platform for many years.

The proposed changes by Musk will likely take a while until they make it to the platform, and there will be some challenges and public criticism. We also have no idea what the board’s structure is going to look like, or if Elon will manage the company himself, or appoint someone to help him out; after all, he’s the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, two very different and massive companies.

In the near future, it’s clear that Elon Musk will try to change the way Twitter works, but it remains to be seen how that will affect a platform that has more than 217 million daily active users. Those against Musk’s vision have already widely expressed that they’re against the new changes, and claimed that they would leave the platform. We’ll have to wait and see how this pans out.

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