Will Twitter’s new ownership alter the political landscape?

He says he’s not going back, but it’s not like he’s actually been unbanned yet. He has no choice at this point, so making it sound like it’s his decision is typical Trump. Even if he did actually choose to focus on Truth Social, it’s going nowhere fast, so there’s no way he doesn’t switch back once unbanned, unless his handlers can somehow prevent him from realizing it’s happened.

A lot of people seem to think that large companies change policies right away. Apparently it is currently trending to lie about ivermectin. I was a bit surprised there weren’t other groups crowding this one out.

In fact, I wonder if that foreshadows what Twitter is going to be like.

It really depends on what the “new Twitter” looks like.

To me the most interesting parts are what Musk described as “verify all humans” and a paid/no-ad tier.

Basically if Twitter costs money (at least for a premium tier with few or no ads), and you have to be a real person with a real name to tweet, it could become a more useful product. And perhaps not being publicly traded would allow for these long-term changes (which may temporarily reduce revenue growth) to be made.

I also wonder if he is serious about making various Twitter algorithms open-source. If that truly is the “special sauce” then it’s pretty trivial for another company to just create a “new Twitter”.

I am skeptical that Musk is as much of a free speech absolutist as he claims to be. He famously cancelled someone’s Tesla order after they wrote a mean blog post. That’s not the action of someone who highly values a free speech as an ideal. I’m also skeptical that you can run a modern web platform and use the 1st Amendment as your moderation guidelines. You’ll get a lot of porn and spam. Requiring every account to be linked to a named person might help, but it’s also a step in the wrong direction from free speech ideal. Anonymous speech is arguably an essential part of freedom of speech.

I’m not convinced that removing anonymous accounts would make twitter a more useful product. Some of my favorite accounts are anonymous, and I’m sure at least some of them would stop tweeting if they were forced to identify themselves. If people really think it would be better, seems like we could just add a checkbox for “only show me tweets from verified accounts” or something and let people choose.

I expect that the moderation guidelines will shift to be a bit more favorable to the libertarian right, and that’s fine with me.

ISTM that Musk’s complaint is the proliferation of bots. If he (the collective “he” of Twitter) can come up with a useful way to stem the onslaught of disinformation bots while somehow retaining the availability of anonymous accounts then Twitter could be a better place. However, I am not optimistic.

I’m skeptical that finding and eliminating most disinformation bots (without touching anonymous users) is a truly challenging engineering problem. Like, obviously, there’s an arms race here, as people who want to spam with bots will keep finding ways around the technological restrictions, but many many bots are trivial to recognize and a little engineering work goes a long way.

I think the primary barrier to getting rid of ~90% of bots is financial, in that social media companies are generally measured by MAU (monthly active users) and getting rid of a bunch of bots is measured the same way as losing a bunch of engagement. In that respect, taking twitter private might be just the thing to fix this, since Musk doesn’t have to care what the market thinks about MAU anymore.

The type of tweets Musk may allow would NOT be of the form “please go shoot all Democratic office-holders.” Instead, they would be of the type “Democratic office holders are demons and servants of Satan and murder children and drink their blood.” The recommended action is left to the initiative of readers.

I am guessing there will be a lot of that latter type (and obviously that Musk will permit them)

^ This. Musk’s takeover lies weeks or even months in the future (most likely), so Donald will pretend to disdain Twitter for at least that long. Then, at the earliest possible moment, he’ll claim that Big Strong Men with Tears in Their Eyes approached him and begged him to start tweeting again.

Count on it.

What I also think. To be a half decent free speech platform I feel you have to stamp out bots, masses of fake accounts that are targeted to specific ends. Remove the echo chamber algorithms that steer people into seeing just one side of issues. Ensure unbiased fact checking. And if the fact checking is good enough, use it to rate the accounts. Not delete accounts that do not break the law. But clearly rate them. Very tricky. But a truly open source approach might give such ratings deserved clout.

My guess is that Musk will go with the facebook model for content moderation. Any of these platforms that go full free speech absolutist inevitably turn into 4chan and there’s no way Musk is recuperating his investment if that happens. More likely there will be the boilerplate mod policies for hate speech, advocacy of violence etc., but then major media and political figures and big events akin to January 6 will essentially be given a pass.

At base this is true. But if he can get ahead of Twitter faults quickly, it will retain such a huge user base and maybe a better product at the same time, that it would be less a worry. If Twitter gets better, then no worries. If it goes haywire, then people may switch to a new one based on it’s code. But how that one is run…? Appealing to people to use a new Twitter, that is even more of an echo chamber, etc, etc,… Peoples Front of Judea or Peoples Judean Front. Lesser sects already abound.

I am confident that would result in a much bigger exodus from Twitter than pretty much everything else proposed. The vast majority of Twitter users are anonymous and want to be that way. Most of us don’t want to be worried that someone might track us down for something we say. Plus a whole lot of how the activism aspect works is that people can be anonymous and not face retribution.

And there’s little benefit to such a policy. There was the myth that using real names would make people nicer. But we already have a case in point: Facebook. And the real name requirement doesn’t work to accomplish this. Plus studies have shown that GIFT (Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory) is not true—the people who are assholes and trolls online tend to act the same way in person.

I actually would argue that the real name policy is a huge part of why younger people avoid Facebook. They have more experience with cyberbullying, and realize the huge downside of having a single name that can follow them to the real world.

I can see having to verify you are a real person, especially if you have a certain follower count. But, even then you have the issue of Twitter now having people’s personal information that some government could subpoena. That would kill a lot of the activism in less free countries.

The best I can see is making sure that those who use real names have to be verified. Though what I suspect will happen is that verification will be tied to paid accounts, which only makes the free speech issue worse, having an even larger divide between the haves and have-nots.

Oh, and @iamthewalrus_3: a lot of the bots are easy to spot now, but that’s because little is being done about them. When even YouTube can’t stop the tons of bots on its platform (all the porn and crypto spam, for instance, and even phishing bots), despite Gmail having the best spam protection, I don’t really think anyone else can really stop it.

And he will need to care what the advertisers think about MAU.

Yep. And all the while Truth Social, his own Twitter knock-off, will be twisting in the wind, along with the rubes who invested in that, and Devin Nunes. I am sure the whole thing and everyone involved with TS will just be discarded like a used napkin in a New York minute if Trumpy is unbanned. Nunes will be blamed, of course, for the failure of the platform.

Both definitely good points, but while there’s nothing that can stop the bots/spam, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that can reduce them and limit their reach. If you wanted to invest some engineering time.

He’ll have to care what advertisers think, but advertisers know that bots and spam accounts don’t buy their products, so there’s at least a reasonable path to reducing bots without reducing ad spend.

I think this is mostly wrong. Young people avoid Facebook because it’s not cool. It’s the lame site where their parents and grandparents share lame recycled memes and baby pictures. But not being a young person my impressions could be very wrong.

I could also be very wrong here, but do we think that there’s some kind of really special algorithmic magic in Twitter? I certainly don’t think so. The “special sauce” of twitter is 99% network effect. I think there’s some basic graph analysis, engagement measurement, and probably a big machine learning blob that (almost?) no one understands. Twitter could release its machine learning blob today and it would help approximately zero for anyone making a Twitter clone.

I am not a Twitter guy.

  1. Is it actually a good investment? It seems to be a shadow of the other FAANGs (AMAMAs). For Musk, it is his advertising forum. But is that worth billllllyuns and billllllyuns? Did he but himself a headache?

  2. Is there any way to increase free speech while not turning troll? Will the US ever seek to “increase laws” in the way the EU has done?

Sure, that’s a huge part of it, too. But I can’t help but notice that none of the replacements that are considered cool have such restrictions. And that younger people seem to prefer this. No one who knows them in real life can just look them up—not adults, and not their bullies.

Twitter is also used by adults, but it doesn’t have nearly the uncool factor that Facebook does. And I think a large part of that is kids can have anonymous accounts, without pressure to add adults or people who know them IRL.

Indeed. I don’t think anyone would bet against either of those predictions.

Yeah, I misspoke with “real name”. I absolutely don’t think Musk will remove anonymity. But he may require more advanced and robust “human verification”. So you have to be real person and perhaps jump through various hopes to prove it from time to time. Something to cut down on the bots.

But maybe Twitter can’t really be “saved”. Or perhaps we just have to learn, as a society, how to deal with the negative side-effects of that sort of dispersed information source that is rife with misinformation and disinformation with no meaningful attempts to control it.

Maybe not. But doesn’t that seem to answer @Dr_Paprika 's question about the value proposition? How can a product that literally is only popular because it is popular be a good investment? What is stopping all of it’s users from running off to the next thing, other than inertia? And why would Musk want to significantly rock the boat if it’s likely to tip?

Network effect is not the same as inertia. A subscription to a gym is maintained by inertia, but there’s no (or generally little) network effect. The switching cost for any individual is relatively low, and is mostly unrelated to how many other individuals stay or switch.

But lots of networks are actually valuable for the network itself. The telephone network. Email. There are now tons of ways to transmit voice or text, but those networks are very valuable because they are the voice/text transmission networks that essentially everyone uses. People don’t continue to use telephones out of inertia. They do so because the person they want to call has a telephone. How much would it be worth to own the whole of the telephone network? Ask Ma Bell. So much that it took the federal government 30 years to break it up.

Sure, people can run off to the new thing. But a network effect is one of the best moats in the business.

Relevant to this thread, Musk stated today that he would reverse Trump’s Twitter ban once the sale is complete:

Mr. Musk is trolling for attention again, I see.

I hope Twitter staffers are polishing up their resumes.