Elon Musk has filled the void vacated by Donald Trump on Twitter, mirroring the former president’s behavior on the platform through his promotion of misinformation, attacks on news organizations, and desire to rule by tweet.
Take Musk’s last 24 hours on the platform for example: The billionaire gave credence to a fringe conspiracy theory about the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi. Musk attacked media outlets for reporting on Musk’s irresponsible behaviour. Musk trolled The New York Times in one tweet and chastised The Guardian as a “far left wing propaganda machine” in another.
Musk showed that he wants to run Twitter, a social media institution, by sending tweets. Musk is a renunciator of the formal, traditional style corporate governance that his predecessors used. In fact, he’s blown that model up. Twitter has yet to issue one formal press release (that I’m aware of) since Musk took over, but the platform has made plenty of news.
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Instead of communicating through conventional means, Musk has chosen to make significant news through seemingly off-the-cuff tweets — just like Trump. For example, Musk disclosed that “the whole verification process is being revamped” in a random reply messageTo a photographer. This announcement is usually done in highly choreographed fashion.
The worry about Musk’s behavior, however, is not about how he announces changes to the platform. It’s about the recklessness in the way he operates.
Twitter is an important communications platform that plays an outsized role in our information environment — and it is one that the billionaire now unilaterally controls. As the steward of the platform, Musk has an implicit responsibility to make sure that it doesn’t become, as he put it, a “hellscape.”
But since he ascended to “Chief Twit,” Musk’s actions have suggested he simply does not care about it.
Musk has contaminated not only the information environment that he currently controls, but also the infrastructure that was put in place to assist users to sort through the chaos. SME reports that Musk plans to take away the blue verification badges from public figures and institutions who do not pay.
At first glance, charging for badges may seem like a business strategy. This move has significant implications on the information environment. Users will find it more difficult to tell the difference between genuine and fraudulent accounts.
Perhaps that is what the point of it all.
The right has for years lashed out at “blue checks,” whom in their eyes represent elitist gatekeepers who control the conversation, even though many conservatives also don blue badges. Conservatives are sure to be pleased when they take away the blue checks that they don’t have and give off an air of authority based on the profile they are added to.
Musk’s authorized biographer, Walter Isaacson, tweeted in 2018 that “the best thing” one could do to “save social networks, the internet, civil discourse, democracy, email, and reduce hacking would be authenticating users.”
Musk has decided to reverse his original tweet almost five years ago. That speaks volumes about his management style on Twitter.