Elon Musk’s quote highlights Twitter’s unique role in public discourse

Anjana Susarla is a professor of information systems at Michigan State University.

opinion: Twitter has been in the news a lot lately for all the wrong reasons. Its stock growth has slowed and the platform has remained largely the same since its inception in 2006. On April 14, 2022, the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, offered to buy Twitter and take the public company private.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Musk said, “I invested in Twitter because I believe it has the potential to be the platform for free speech around the world, and I believe that free speech is a platform for free speech.” There is a social imperative for a functioning democracy.”

As a researcher of the social media platform, I think Musk’s possible ownership of Twitter and his stated reasons for buying the company raise important issues. Those issues stem from the nature of the social media platform and what sets it apart from others.

what makes twitter special

Twitter holds a unique position. Its short text and threading foster real-time conversations between thousands of people, making it popular among celebrities, media figures, and politicians alike.

Read more:
* Elon Musk wants Twitter’s algorithm to be public. it’s not that easy
* What should Twitter’s ‘poison pill’ do?
* Why Elon Musk Wants To Buy Twitter For $63 Billion – And Whether It Will Actually Happen?
* Twitter says it is testing an edit button

Twitter's ability to shape real-time discourse, as well as the ease with which data, including geo-tagged data, can be collected from Twitter, have made it a goldmine for researchers.

Matt Rourke / Associated Press

Twitter’s ability to shape real-time discourse, as well as the ease with which data, including geo-tagged data, can be collected from Twitter, have made it a goldmine for researchers.

Social media analysts talk about the half-life of content on a platform, which means the time it takes for a piece of content to reach 50% of its total lifetime, usually measured in metrics based on the number of views or popularity. goes. The average half-life of a tweet is about 20 minutes, compared to five hours for Facebook posts, 20 hours for Instagram posts, 24 hours for LinkedIn posts, and 20 days for YouTube videos. Too Short Half-Life shows the central role that Twitter has come to play in advancing real-time conversations as events unfold.

Twitter’s ability to shape real-time discourse, as well as the ease with which data, including geo-tagged data, can be collected from Twitter, has enabled researchers to analyze a wide variety of social phenomena ranging from public health. For it has been made a gold mine. Politics. Twitter data has been used to predict emergency department visits related to asthma, measure public pandemic awareness, and measure the spread of wildfire smoke.

Tweets that are part of the conversation shown in chronological orderAnd, even though the majority of a Tweet’s engagement is preloaded, Twitter Archive Provides quick and complete access to every public tweet, This ranks Twitter as a historical historian of record And a de facto tester.

Musk’s change of mind

A key issue is how Musk’s ownership of Twitter and personal control of the social media platform in general affects the wider public welfare. In a series of deleted tweets, Musk made several suggestions for how Twitter could change that, including adding an edit button to tweets and offering premium users an automatic verification mark.

Musk believes Twitter has the potential to become a platform for freedom of expression around the world.

Patrick Plell / Associated Press

Musk believes Twitter has the potential to become a platform for freedom of expression around the world.

There is no experimental evidence about how an edit button would change information transmission on Twitter. However, it is possible to extrapolate from previous research analyzing deleted tweets.

There are several ways to retrieve deleted tweets, which allows researchers to study them. Although some studies show significant personality differences between those who delete their Tweets and those who do not, these findings suggest that deleting Tweets is a way for people to manage their online identities.

Analyzing removal behavior can provide important clues about online credibility and misinformation. Similarly, if Twitter adds an edit button, analyzing patterns of editing behavior could provide insight into Twitter users’ motivations and how they present themselves.

A study of bot-generated activity on Twitter has concluded that almost half of the accounts tweeting about COVID-19 are probably bots. Given the partisanship and political polarization in the online space, allowing users – be they automated bots or real people – the option to edit their tweets could become another weapon in the propaganda arsenal used by bots and campaigners. Editing tweets allows users to selectively distort what they said, or refuse to make inflammatory remarks, which can complicate efforts to detect misinformation.

Twitter’s Content Moderation and Revenue Model

To understand Musk’s intent and what’s next for social media platforms like Twitter, it’s important to consider the arrogant — and opaque — online advertising ecosystem that encompasses the many technologies driven by ad networks, social media companies, and publishers. Advertising is the primary revenue source for Twitter.

Musk’s vision is to generate revenue for Twitter from subscriptions rather than advertising. There will be less pressure on Twitter to focus on content moderation, without worrying about attracting and retaining advertisers. This would make Twitter a kind of freewheeling opinion site for paying customers. Twitter has been aggressive in using content moderation in its efforts to address disinformation.

Musk’s description of a platform free of content moderation issues is troubling in light of the algorithmic pitfalls caused by the social media platform. Research has shown a host of these disadvantages, such as algorithms that assign gender to users, potential inaccuracy and bias in the algorithms used to collect information from these platforms, and the effects on those viewing health information online.

Musk's potential bid for Twitter highlights a whole host of regulatory concerns.

Richard Drew / Associated Press

Musk’s potential bid for Twitter highlights a whole host of regulatory concerns.

Recent regulatory efforts such as the testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and the online security bill unveiled in the UK show there is widespread public concern about the role played by technology platforms in shaping popular discourse and public opinion. Musk’s potential bid for Twitter highlights a whole host of regulatory concerns.

Because of Musk’s other businesses, Twitter’s ability to influence public opinion in sensitive industries such as the aviation and automobile industry would automatically create conflicts of interest, not to mention affecting the disclosure of material information required to shareholders. for. Musk has already been accused of delaying the disclosure of his ownership stake in Twitter.

Twitter’s own algorithmic bias reward challenge Concluded that a community-led approach is needed to build better algorithms. A very creative exercise developed by the MIT Media Lab asks middle school students to re-imagine the YouTube platform with ethics in mind. Perhaps the time has come to ask Twitter to do the same, whichever owns and manages the company.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

Subscribe

Get the best of Newspaper delivered to your inbox daily

Most Viewed

Related Stories