Trouble in Twitter town

This caricature of Elon Musk somehow looks more human than the actual Elon Musk. Lee Lim

Twitter is being offered as a sacrifice to Elon Musk’s ego

by ayodipupo adetola, contributor

This week has been quite the eventful one on the internet. It’s interesting to watch Twitter melting down in real time. Musk prides himself as a sort of visionary, keen to save Twitter from bankruptcy. Among some of his brilliant moves since taking charge was firing a significant number of Twitter employees. For those who remained, he posed a choice: work twice as hard with no increase in salary or take three months’ severance right before the holiday season. Take a wild guess as to which option the majority picked. Hint: Twitter is currently hemorrhaging staff who are showing their displeasure in very visible ways.

It is interesting that, despite his claims of being a proponent of free speech, Musk seems to heavily endorse a particular political party to the point of even telling people where to cast their vote. It is concerning that social media and news conglomerates are increasingly concentrated in the hands of the mega-rich; in truth, there is an inherent bias in that billionaires control more and more avenues of information (and misinformation) dissemination.

Even more interesting is the current state of content moderation. In the first 12 hours after Musk took over Twitter, usage of the ‘n-word’ went up a remarkable 500%.[1] This, of course, was due to the lackadaisical approach taken to moderation, ostensibly in an effort to ensure ‘free speech.’ Of course this had rapid repercussions on the only thing that matters to Musk (other than his baffling superiority complex): his bottom line.

As it turns out, most advertisers dislike being associated with hate speech. It’s not a good look for Disney or Coca-Cola ads to be screenshot next to colourful screeds about immigrants and/or how anyone who fails the paper bag test is an abomination sent from the devil to destroy the country. So, Wonder Boy had to walk back on his statement[2] and do some moderation to prevent more advertisers from pulling ads.

Now, in order to make money, Musk came up with an idea: a blue checkmark subscription. There are several reasons that this is poorly thought out, and I’ll list them.

1: The origin of the blue checkmark was to verify the accounts for public figures. Since Twitter is increasingly used by local and government organizations as well as emergency services to get out information, it’s important to know that the Regina Police Service Twitter, say, actually belongs to the RPS and not just some random person.

2: The $8 a month for the verification check doesn’t make any sense for verified people to pay since they aren’t necessarily profiting from Twitter; it’s the other way around. Twitter traffic is largely due to these public figures. Why should Taylor Swift pay $8 when it’s her own fans making the site ‘profitable?’

3: The subscription won’t actually make a profit. Twitter has about 400 million users. Now to do some math: about 400,000 of these users are verified. In a year, that would be 8 x 12 x 400,000 = 38,400,000. Twitter’s yearly operating expenses are roughly $1.5 billion a year. The revenue from the verification process is a mere rounding error in the budget. And remember, Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion, and the site continues to lose money. This is even before we mention the lack of (real) utility: all it does is give you a jpeg. But for some people, that’s a bonus, leading to the fact that…

4: It becomes very easy to impersonate other people on Twitter, thus defeating the entire purpose of the verification check. Anyone on the internet in the last week has likely seen the crop of accounts emulating Musk himself (with often hilarious results) or the account pretending to be Eli Lilly (a pharmaceutical company) that actually affected their stock price[3] by claiming that the company was now offering free insulin.3 These accounts are being banned in droves, which is a shame because they’re pure comedy, which is supposed to be ‘legal’ on Twitter[4] now, according to the Chief Twit.4 The fact that this Musk moniker is self-bestowed is proof not only that irony is dead, but that the internet killed it. But it just goes to show that comedy is only ‘legal’ when not directed at our corporate overlords.

I am no self-made billionaire, but if this many people are this unhappy with you, you might be the problem – Gia Vang via Twitter (@Gia_Vang)

Suffice to say, Mars Boy is having to dip into his own pocket to cover for his Twitter purchase. He’s sold off nearly $4 billion in Tesla stock so far.

Personally, I don’t have Twitter, so this entire debacle has been highly entertaining. I think a good way to describe my feelings on Twitter’s freefall is “and nothing of value was lost.” My only complaint is that writing this article in itself has been difficult, because new ridiculous details come out several times a day. I’m sure by the time this article is published, it will once again be wildly out of date. Also, as I write this, Trump’s Twitter account has been reactivated. I’m going to need some popcorn.




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