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One billionaire used to own Twitter and now another one might — what does this mean?
Hello friends, I hope you’re having fun trying to pick which Mastodon nodes to join.
This week was something I could have done without 👎. Why? Well perhaps you can guess...
Breaking: If you have enough money, you can just go out and BUY a SOCIAL MEDIA
Why making Twitter’s algorithm open source is the dumbest idea in history
How this is nothing more than a radical business decision badly disguised as social impact
🤡 Oh, ELON you little scamp
Right okay... I honestly did NOT expect Twitter to say yes to Elon Musk’s unsightly posturing. None of this means that it’s a done-deal. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did this just to boost Twitter’s stock so that he can sell his shares and make loads of money.
I’m not going to go through the details on how he gave a sweaty handy to 10-15 banks in order to get the money together because that’s boring. The point is, he decided to buy Twitter instead of doing something useful with his money (and hands). He’s said a lot of Dumb Shit since this announcement, so I thought I’d spend this Horrific/Terrific pulling all of it apart. Do I regret spending many hours of this week reading and writing about a guy I hate? Yes, I do. Leave me alone.
First of all, let’s look into why he’s buying twitter
Well, besides his crippling main character syndrome, I would say his reasons for doing this are so he can continue to live in his favourite reality: one where his tweets have a direct impact on his wealth. If he has full control over the platform, he can tweet whatever he likes with no consequences (except... money).
Let’s just look how he’s done this with Tesla: it’s supposed to be a car company, but really I think it’s a hedge fund that very occasionally makes dangerous self-combusting electric vehicles to keep up appearances. I will explain in a few simple steps:
February 2021: Tesla bought $1.5bn of Bitcoin.
March 2021: Elon tweets about how great Bitcoin is, and says ‘I do at this point think Bitcoin is a good thing’ in a Clubhouse conversation. Bitcoin inevitably goes up, and then Tesla tells 10% of their stash, making $101m in profit.
May 2021: Tesla had made their money at this point, so it was time to drive the price of Bitcoin DOWN by tweeting about how bad it is for the environment, and how it doesn’t make any sense for an EV company to be using Bitcoin at all.
So yes, his tweets have an effect on financial markets, and this is very good for him. But why doesn’t he just make money from selling... cars? And why does he now need to outright buy Twitter to keep this ridiculous show going?
Teslas are shit. They are expensive and hard to build. Mining lithium and cobalt takes ages, and is environmentally destructive (apparently more destructive than simply manufacturing a petrol car?? I’ve read a lot this week and lost my source for this, sorry).
Elon has a special ‘pay package’ set up with Tesla: four years ago the Tesla board agreed to only pay him if he simply increased the stock price an insane amount. So his incentives were just: swell Tesla’s market cap to ridiculous proportions, maybe sell cars if you can.
Well guess what — he did it. And now the pay package has run its course. He needs another way to make money. He’s just doing what all rich people do in his position: diversifying his portfolio.
Right, now for all this ‘free speech’ stuff
Elon says that his purchase (and therefore full control) of a social media platform is a step in the right direction for free speech. He either doesn’t understand what free speech is, or he thinks we’re all idiots (why not both?). Here’s a key bit of his official statement:
“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.”
I’m sorry but I just have so many complaints about this. Not only is the idea of ‘making algorithms open source’ completely unhinged, but it’s also at odds with ‘defeating spam bots’. Just to be clear, open-sourcing ‘the algorithms’ is not the same as making Twitter as a whole open source. He just wants to shine a light into how Twitter decides to ‘personalise’ your feed, because he thinks this will somehow level the playing field. Some important points:
☝️ The way recommendation algorithms work together is highly complex, and it’s likely that even the people who work at Twitter will have trouble unraveling this. Making these mechanisms open won’t make anything fairer, or increase trust (after all, if something is fully transparent... what the hell do you need trust for?). There’s a reason why algorithms like this are a black box: if users were privy to the inner-workings of Twitter’s recommendations, they would be able to exploit it and always ensure they content gets pushed to the top. In other words: this would likely increase spam.
✌️ Elon Musk thinks a machine-curated feed is a hindrance to free speech because it might show you some things, and not other things. He thinks this because he’s an idiot. Every single method of organising information is curation. The books a library chooses to stock is curation. Your ability to care about and even read the books is curation. Curated information is everywhere — a twitter feed is just one example. There has to be some predetermined way to show us Tweets; it’s humanly impossible to absorb every tweet that happens in a 24 hour cycle, and scrutinise every single one without bias.
🤟 If Elon was actually serious about this point, he’d call for getting rid of recommendation algorithms on Twitter altogether. His supposed reasons for wanting to open up this tech are much more of an argument as to why we just shouldn’t algorithmically determine what you do and don’t see on a feed. Important note: switching to a plain chronological feed is not a good idea either — it rewards volume, so you can very easily get your content ‘to the top’ by simply posting more.
FYI I have no idea what he means by ‘authenticating all humans’ but coming out of his mouth, this sounds ominous af.
Finally, he and Other Men are trying to pass this off as social impact
Here’s a completely deranged tweet from Jack:
Sure, Twitter should be like a public utility, so that’s why you never made that happen in the eight years you had control, and the best move right now is to just give the whole fucking thing to Elon Musk, the hugest most overwhelmingly self-serving capitalist on Earth. Okay.
😵💫 Feeling confused about content moderation?
There’s a lot of chat flying around now about how to execute content moderation correctly, because people are concerned that Elon has no idea what he’s doing. Try and separate yourself from Elon as much as possible by getting your info from actual experts — use this Twitter list compiled by Ben Whitelaw, a guy who also writes about content moderation a bunch. I found it very useful indeed.
Thank you for reading what was essentially a hastily cobbled together essay about why Elon Musk is terrible — I hope this wasn’t a topic you were trying to avoid this week (haha sorry if so...).