UPDATED: 9:00 a.m. ET, Oct. 28, 2022
Originally published on April 25
The confirmed sale of Twitter to Elon Musk has prompted a number of questions about what will become of the popular social media platform now that the ultra-billionaire has gained complete control of the micro-blogging app. After both sides closed the deal back in April to allow the world’s wealthiest man to buy Twitter for a whopping $44 billion, the transaction was completed on Thursday.
Black Twitter, a group of influential users whose tweets spotlight issues affecting Black people, is among those who have reason to be concerned about the direction in which Musk could take the app now that the sale is official.
Those concerns were immediately validated after the completed sale was announced when it was revealed that Musk had already fired several top executives at Twitter, including Vijaya Gadde, the now-former head of legal policy, trust and safety who is credited with deciding to permanently suspend Donald Trump’s account. Cutting Gadde out of the Twitter picture seemingly set the stage for Trump’s account to eventually be restored.
There was also swift evidence that racist hate speech and misinformation — the same things that got former President Donald Trump kicked off Twitter — would not only make a triumphant return to the app but would also be fostered.
Musk’s intentions for Twitter remained unclear. But if his past commentary and the way he’s run his other businesses are any indications, Black people who use Twitter — and there are millions of them — have reasons to be wary.
There are fears Musk could change the way Twitter moderates content posted by its users, whose words have been policed more aggressively in recent months and resulted in permanent suspensions, like Trump. (More on that later.)
The Washington Post previously described Musk’s social media ambitions in part as wanting “a free speech utopia,” but that could mean allowing misinformation, lies, racism and threats of violence with impunity.
“What Musk seemingly fails to recognize is that to truly have free speech today, you need moderation,” Katie Harbath, a former Facebook public policy director and CEO of consultancy Anchor Change, told the Post. “Otherwise, just those who bully and harass will be left as they will drive others away.”
Musk’s main company, automaker Tesla, has been accused of and sued by its workforce for racial discrimination for years now in a situation that has not been corrected. The implication is that the same administrative approach that prompted accusations of racism against Tesla will come to Twitter, which already has a disproportionately white workforce. At worst, that suspicion could become true as Musk — who has said he’s unsure what a “Karen” is — allows racists like Marjorie Taylor Greene to not only regain access to their banned accounts but also resume spewing their white supremacy drivel.
Social media accountability
The free press and other groups have been pushing for accountability on social media platforms for a while now to no avail. But making any inroads in that area with Twitter is not likely to happen now that Musk has taken over, a prospect that is especially concerning since we are just days away from the pivotal midterm elections.
Building off the above sentiment, without any accountability in place, the potential for the aforementioned misinformation could run rampant. Twitter is a major part of the political infrastructure now, but without any accountability for misinformation that has been proven effective, it could revert back to its former Wild Wild West-like environment that fostered the type of propaganda that helped hand Trump his presidency. Conversely, Black Twitter and its attempts to highlight political issues affecting people of color could be censored.
And speaking of Trump, it’s no secret that his own social media endeavor has been a spectacular flop. If Musk buys Twitter, chances are likely that the racist narcissist and accused traitor will be handed the keys back to his shuttered account that was banned two days after the deadly Capitol Riots for what Twitter called “the risk of further incitement of violence.”
This is America.