by Timothy Kunken
“The bird is freed”. This tweet from infamous billionaire and public figure, Elon Musk, rang out on October 28, 2022 as his deal with Twitter executives came to a close. As the tweet appeared on the timelines of millions, few suspected that this would be the day that the social platform they once knew would never be the same again.
Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 Billion. Although this seemed like a sudden event to many at the time, this came after a months long back-and-forth between himself and Twitter’s owners beginning in early 2022. As of today, months have passed since Elon seized the throne.
This was a start of a new era for the platform and for internet culture as a whole. Whether this era is a golden age or a dark age is anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly not boring.
Elon Musk — or “Chief Twit”, as his Twitter bio states — was not new to Twitter. He spent over a decade on the platform and has built up quite the reputation of being both an innovator and an online provocateur. On a regular basis, Musk tweets to millions of his followers content ranging from videos of a new SpaceX rocket launch, tweets hyping up the value of Dogecoin, beef with his many many critics, and an assortment of memes and 420 jokes that would make a 14 year old swoon. In recent years, he’s even inserted himself into political discourse with his (“very responsible”) armchair arguments about undoing quarantines in the middle of a pandemic and his (“very foolproof”) peace plan for the war in Ukraine.
Now, whether or not you may call Elon a little full of himself is out of the question, (but I think that he is). His reputation wasn’t exactly unique in Twitter terms. However, Musk didn’t just want to consider himself a simple user. He wanted to shape the platform in his image.
At this point, Twitter wasn’t exactly regarded as the happiest place on Earth. Most users generally regarded the platform as a sea of vitriol where anyone could decompress from their everyday lives by unleashing the most potent fury that their brains could muster in 280 characters or less. Many regarded it as an elitist hellscape where smug politicians, celebrities, and brands would duke it out for dominance in pointless feuds that would mean absolutely nothing for everyday life. Actually, scratch that; simple tweets can lose people their jobs and cost the stock market billions.
Elon Musk shared these concerns. Like many, he also had one criticism of Twitter in particular; it’s terrible for freedom of speech. Rather than heavy moderation, he instead preferred a more open and less speech-limiting platform. He tweeted in March, “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.” In a TED Interview he gave in April, he remarked that “[Twitter] should be reluctant to delete things, and be very cautious with permanent bans.” All of these comments make up Musk’s own personal philosophy as a self-described “free speech absolutist.” (We’ll see how well that’s going for the platform later).
Among changes in content policy, Elon Musk also had his own ideas about future changes to the platform. These include making the code open-sourced, allowing an edit function for tweets, and a crusade on “bot armies.” These changes sound promising, but to be clear: these were the ideas floating around as early as April. This begs the question: Has Elon gotten around to implementing his to-do list?
In short: nope.
Months have passed since Musk transformed his personal playground into his feudal kingdom, and the results are spectacularly awful. What started off with a fun project to daydream about quickly turned into one of the biggest disasters in internet history. Advertisers left Twitter in droves, users started ditching the platform, employees were laid off en masse, journalists started making a refuge in alternative platforms, and hate filled content and impersonation runs rampant. At this point, governments have begun stepping in as US regulators like the Federal Trade Commission are thinking about intervening and the European Union is considering kicking out Twitter entirely. Speech laws and layoffs and ads, oh my!
Many of these developments are months-old news at this point. However, the current collapse and implosion of Twitter’s user-base is finally starting to raise the ultimate question: Is Twitter dying?
What the heck happened? What’s Elon Musk going to do next? Will Twitter get regulated? What’s my least favorite platform going to look like in one year? Which bunker can I hide in where I’ll be safe in my digital bubble?
These are the questions that this series of articles wants to get to the bottom of. In the next part in the series, I want to know how it all happened in the first place:
How did Elon Musk buy Twitter?