03 Nov A man, a sink, and a new vision for social media
After months of wrangling and the prospect of a bitter court battle, Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter has finally been completed. As he arrived at Twitter HQ, kitchen sink in hand, he proclaimed that his intentions were to protect Twitter for the “future of civilisation” and preserve a “common digital town square”.
Less than 24 hours in and the previous board has been dissolved and there is credible speculation that up to 25 percent of the current workforce are to follow them out of the door (some reports speculated the figure could be even higher).
The big hurdle for the sale seemed to centre around the scale of bot accounts on the platform. You can almost guarantee the next thing on Elon’s to-do list will be purging these spam and inactive accounts (account unused for more than a year).
But with Twitter, like most of the social media giants, struggling to generate increased revenue from advertisers, would he seriously consider a paid verification scheme to make money? And would users pay the $8 monthly fee to receive the coveted blue tick?
New dawn of false dawn?
We can all see Twitter has its flaws. Despite often being cited as vacuum for hate and vitriol, it continues to attract politicians, celebrities, journalists, and opinion-makers and regularly shapes the news agenda. For many PR campaigns trending on Twitter is a major win.
But will these flaws lead to a fundamental reimagining of Twitter (potentially into the “X app for everything”)? I am not entirely convinced that Western social media users want a single ubiquitous app for managing everything in their lives, akin to China’s WeChat.
There was once a purity to Twitter. Its unique brevity gave it the ability to break news quicker than traditional media outlets and expose government corruption and restrictions on liberty, as it did so successfully during the Iranian Revolution in 2009.
But that purity has been tainted in the last decade. Brevity has turned into misinformation, healthy debates have descended into debacle, and suddenly the virtual bastion of free speech – a platform for the exchange of ideas and truth – has become a sad parody of itself.
Time to strap in
Is Elon Musk the man to change that? And will his newfound focus on Twitter detract from his pioneering work at SpaceX or Tesla? And will Twitter ever morph into the mysterious “X app”?
Musk has certainly proved doubters wrong before. Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey has put his support behind him. Me? I think he has an enormous battle to turn around Twitter’s business performance, and the scale of the issues may force him to do something radical. Radical does not mean bad, but it means risky.
One thing is for sure: it is going to a fascinating ride!