Tom's Column - June/July 22
Twitter’s Getting Musky, So Why Can’t We All Just Leave? by Tom Beasley
As someone who spends an awful lot of time on the internet, I've been forced to care far more than I would like to about the life and work of Elon Musk recently. The billionaire CEO of the Tesla electric car company is the wealthiest man in the world and an infuriating blowhard prone to shooting his mouth off about crypto-currencies, politics and all manner of other things. He's usually easy enough to ignore, but Musk has recently agreed a deal worth more than £30bn to buy the social media website Twitter.
In the noughties, Twitter was talked up as one of the most significant online innovations ever created – right up there with Facebook. It was the first place we all saw those dramatic pictures of the plane landing on the Hudson River. It helped Barack Obama get elected. It was used as a vital tool for organising during the Arab Spring protests. There was that charming day when Stephen Fry got stuck in a lift. But the last decade or so has seen things turn, with the site now a mess of acrimony and misinformation. It's tempting to blame it all on the rise of Donald Trump as a political force, but that's a real chicken-and-egg debate.
Many of you reading this are probably lucky enough not to have to care at all about Twitter and who owns it. Certainly, the days of it being the most significant website on the internet are many years behind us. But for those of us who spend hours and hours scrolling through the site's feed, these are worrying times. Musk has made his intentions clear and they're sending alarm bells ringing.
One of Musk's preoccupations is the idea that Twitter should serve as the modern equivalent of the “town square”, with his own, amorphous idea of “free speech” at its centre. The result of this ethos threatens to be more of a lawless free-for-all than an open and welcoming communications utopia. Social media platforms are already riddled with dark undercurrents of racism, hate and misinformation of all flavours, but Musk's idea seems to be to throw open the gates to all of that and more. It's certainly reasonable to expect that Trump will be welcomed back to the platform.
Musk has also suggested that he wants to “authenticate all humans” because the one thing all of these tech business types have in common is that they speak like the Terminator. Just like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Musk often comes across like a sentient computer program trying desperately to impersonate a human being – and failing miserably.
The obvious thing to do for those of us who are concerned about Twitter's future would be to log off, delete the app and never think about tweets, Fleets or fail whales – a real mixed bag of references from across the years there – ever again. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
For many of us, Twitter is deeply embedded in our personal and professional lives. Certainly, as a freelance journalist, I don't know where I'd be without it. The client for whom I now do an enormous amount of my work is somebody I connected with several years ago when they tweeted to say they needed someone to write for them. It's still the primary way I find work and there are several friends and colleagues I only know because of Twitter.
So, for me and many others who were early adopters of the platform, it's difficult for us to disentangle ourselves from Twitter, even if it could be about to undergo quite the paradigm shift. The site can already be a difficult and infuriating place, but it could be flooded very soon with even worse hatred and even more misinformation – all in the name of a megalomaniacal tech bro with more money than most countries.
I wish we could all be back in that lift with Stephen Fry.
© 2022 Tom Beasley
The opinions expressed in this article are personal to Tom Beasley. Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist living just outside London and originally from Coventry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.