What does this mean for the future of Twitter?
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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- Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on affirmative action in higher education. The court appears primed to end the policy of race-based admissions in colleges. (The arguments)
- The Justice Department charged David Wayne DePape with attempted kidnapping and assault after he allegedly broke into Nancy Pelosi's residence and assaulted her husband. DePape told police he planned to hold Pelosi hostage to talk to her. (The charges)
- Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily blocked a House committee from accessing Donald Trump’s tax returns. (The ruling)
- Police in India arrested nine people in connection with the collapse of a century-old suspension bridge in the western town of Morbi. 135 people died in the accident. (The collapse)
- President Biden says he will push for new taxes on oil companies if the industry does not take action to lower fuel prices and boost domestic output. (The comments)
Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.
Elon Musk. On Thursday, the world's richest person, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, secured his purchase of the social media platform Twitter for $44 billion, setting off a new era for a company whose product is frequently referred to as the "modern town square."
Musk's path to owning Twitter was long and arduous. After first attempting a hostile takeover, Musk then attempted to renege on the inflated offer and back out. The price was rich enough that Twitter opted to force the deal to completion, and after a bitter legal fight Musk finally saw it through. Last week, he officially took over the company. On Wednesday, he showed up at the company's office carrying a sink and quipped on camera that he wanted it to "sink in" he would be the new owner. "The bird is freed," Musk tweeted late Thursday night.
It didn't take long for things to get interesting. In one of his first moves, Musk fired several longtime Twitter executives: Chief executive Parag Agrawal, chief financial officer Ned Segal, head of legal policy, trust and safety Vijaya Gadde, and the company's general counsel Sean Edgett. Three days after taking over, he also posted a tweet in a reply to Hillary Clinton sharing a story with baseless allegations about the attack on Paul Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi's husband, which suggested Pelosi was actually drunk and in a fight with a male prostitute (police have since confirmed Pelosi was the victim of a home intrusion, and Musk deleted his tweet without comment).
Now that Musk has taken over Twitter, speculation has become rampant about how he will moderate misinformation on the platform. Specifically, many users are curious whether he will allow former President Donald Trump back on as he has promised, or if he will continue to institute lifetime bans on certain users who violate the platform's rules. Musk says he plans to build a content moderation council with "widely diverse viewpoints'' that will meet to make big decisions on content and account reinstatements.
Already, change has come to Twitter in a big way. Logged out users, or those without an account, can now view content on Twitter.com's homepage. Previously, if you went to Twitter's homepage without an account, you would be prompted to create one to see things like trending topics. Employees say such a change would have previously taken weeks of deliberation, but this time the move happened swiftly with just a few employees' involvement.
Musk has also brought in his inner circle. Dozens of people from his family office, other companies and his social circle have been added to the Twitter directory and given company email addresses. His personal lawyer, Alex Spiro, is now acting as Twitter's general counsel.
Musk has said his priority is removing the armies of bots who operate on the platform and sometimes simultaneously push misinformation. He has suggested charging a monthly fee for the blue checkmark verification badges that appear next to someone's name when the authenticity of their account has been confirmed. This, Musk said, would be a good way to diversify revenue and make Twitter less reliant on advertisers, while also making it less vulnerable to bots.
Meanwhile, Musk has been pointing to Yoel Roth, the head of safety and integrity at Twitter, who is leading the charge to address a "surge" of hateful conduct on Twitter in the last few days. Roth says they've removed more than 1,500 accounts and reduced impressions on the content to nearly zero.
From his verified Twitter account, which now reads "Twitter Complaint Hotline Manager" in the profile, Musk has — among other things — suggested he may purge accounts that are inactive for 30 days, said the platform’s "commitment to brand safety is unchanged," and suggested the entire verification process was being "revamped." He’s also insisted repeatedly that nothing about Twitter's content moderation policies has changed yet.
Today, we're going to explore some reactions to Musk's takeover, with arguments from the right and left, then my take.
What the right is saying.
- The right is celebrating the takeover, and hopes Musk will bring balance to Twitter's content moderation policies.
- Some argue Musk was right to clean house, as Twitter's previous leadership was marred by bad decision making.
- Others suggest this is the beginning of a new social media era that will have less censorship than the one we’ve been living in.
In Fox News, David Marcus said Musk should "let freedom reign" in new Twitter.
"So, what could this takeover mean for Twitter and for the country? Musk has promised to restore many banned accounts, most notably that of former president Donald Trump. This is good news, by all means unlock the gates of Twitter jail," Marcus said. "The real opportunity for Musk to make a difference and achieve his goal of a global public square free from biased censorship is in content moderation. One thing he can and should do immediately is to sever all connections with third-party fact-checkers used by Twitter to judge what is or is not misinformation. The simple fact is that the American fact-checking industry is dangerously broken beyond repair.
"It was these supposed experts and credentialed institutions that crushed debate over COVID-19 policy under their censorious boot for 2 years. It was these same ill-informed technocrats who buried the Hunter Biden laptop story and wrongfully suspended the account of the New York Post," Marcus said. "The whole point of a marketplace of ideas is to let the market determine which are good or bad, which are true or false. When a prominent account posts an obvious lie, which happens about once every 15 seconds, there are thousands and thousands of users ready to point their fingers and laugh, bringing attention to the lie. And if even if some are missed it is better that a dozen lies go unchecked than that a single important truth be hidden from the people."
In The Federalist, Jordan Boyd praised Musk for cleaning house.
"By the gnashing of teeth and wailing from Twitter employees, corporate media mouthpieces, and other leftist elites who are quick to defend Big Tech censors, a stranger might think these Twitter heads were unjustly ousted. In reality, Agrawal, Segal, Gadde, and Edgett got what should have come to them two years ago when they knowingly interfered with the 2020 election to help install Joe Biden in the White House," Boyd said. "Twitter doesn’t like to admit who on its staff is ultimately responsible for the suppression of information that makes ruling elites and Democrats look bad, especially ahead of key elections, but it was under the now-fired leadership’s watch that Twitter banned and censored conservatives, Covid-19 jab skeptics, election-integrity supporters, legitimate reporting, and those who told the truth about the sexes.
"Oftentimes, Twitter executed this censorship with undeniable arrogance and no remorse. That’s why when Agrawal openly admitted that he believed Twitter’s 'role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation,' he wasn’t chided for contradicting the social media company’s supposed commitment to advancing free speech," she wrote. "Instead, he was rewarded with a short-lived spot as CEO and congratulated by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey for his 'transformational’ work. Agrawal quickly used that power to usher in a new era of partisan crackdowns. Gadde, who handed down the decision to ban the sitting president, wasn’t criticized for unjustly removing the sitting president and world’s biggest critic of Big Tech. Instead, her attempts to keep Trump and his campaign off of the internet were hailed as heroic, necessary, and moral."
National Review's editors said we are entering a new stage of the social media era.
"As we discovered during the pandemic, the government began suggesting what kind of tweets and posts they wanted to see," the editors said. "Right-wing rhetorical bomb throwers like Milo Yiannopoulos were permanently banned. Discussion of the Hunter Biden laptop story in the run-up to the 2020 election was suppressed. After January 6, a Twitter ban came for Donald Trump. Speech codes have been used to force figures like Jordan Peterson off the site. But when the satire-blind illiterates at Twitter’s anti-misinformation crew went after the Christian humor publication the Babylon Bee, they goaded billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk into action.
"Musk is certainly no conservative icon, and we are especially unnerved by his close business ties to China, one of the world’s most oppressive enemies of free speech. But there is reason to wish Musk well," they added. "Musk is an instinctive, not a doctrinaire, libertarian. He is a champion of free speech in an age when progressives associate free expression with harm and oppression... Just as we hope that a future Republican Congress does a thorough investigation of our nation’s public-health response, we hope Musk’s takeover of Twitter brings about an audit of this era’s social-media policies. A republic dedicated to liberty needs not just a free media, but media institutions that are themselves dedicated to free expression. In Musk’s Twitter, we may have that once again."
What the left is saying.
- Many on the left worry about the future of Twitter, and how Musk will moderate content.
- Some are concerned about the return of Trump, and the prospect of an ultra-rich person owning another information platform.
- Others are skeptical that Musk will ruin Twitter by abandoning moderation because he needs it to thrive if he wants to save his investment.
In The Guardian, Hamilton Nolan said Musk probably bought Twitter for the same reason "sickeningly rich" people throughout history become press barons: to control the conversation.
"About themselves, in particular, and secondly about their own economic interests, and thirdly about their own inevitably selfish, bizarre, half-witted political beliefs," he said. "Once you have ascended the ladder of wealth past buying real estate and cars and boats and models and the other tawdry baubles that come with money, there comes a time when a hardworking plutocrat begins to be irked by the fact that, beyond their sphere of servants, people are still talking trash about them. It upsets their sense of omnipotence. After the thrill of bending the material world to their whim has worn off, the desire to bend the public conversation – and, by extension, the public mind – to their own liking takes root.
"Elon Musk is, ironically, the exact type of person for whom Twitter is poison. Wealthy, powerful and celebrated, he could have kept his mouth shut and let his work speak for itself; instead, he uses Twitter, and reveals to all of us that the richest man in the richest nation in the history of the world is an unfunny meme guy easily seduced by the same sorts of ideas that grab the minds of Reddit-scrolling 13-year-old boys," Nolan wrote. "There is a lesson there about the inability of wealth to make someone interesting – but, setting that aside, there is a more relevant lesson about the danger of vast concentrations of wealth. Because when you mix the immature, half-baked, self-righteous grandiosity of a guy like Elon Musk with the ability to buy and sell multibillion-dollar global public corporations like toys, you have a recipe for chaotic, destructive stupidity on a staggering scale."
In The Washington Post, Greg Sargent warned about the frightening consequences.
"The world’s richest man buying perhaps the world’s most influential political echo chamber is the latest sign of a development that international relations experts have long feared: With tech giants amassing stratospheric levels of influence over global affairs, they are morphing into a species of geopolitical actor, with uncertain long-term consequences," he said. "Those experts have a term for this development: 'Technopolarity.' The idea is that big tech companies have become their own sovereigns, on a par with nation-states. The result: an increasingly unchecked level of influence over international affairs that will demand a new kind of political response.
"Musk’s acquisition of Twitter underscores the situation. Musk has already fired the company’s top executives, showing he intends to transform it. He’s widely expected to relax content moderation," Sargent said. "That, too, could have uncertain geopolitical consequences. One possibility is that Twitter becomes more hospitable to disinformation and online influence operations. If so, Russian propaganda designed to distort perceptions of the war and weaken support for Ukraine — in the United States and abroad — could become more widely seen... If Twitter permits more violent content... it could whip up violence against ethnic and religious minorities around the world and facilitate other persecution, such as the campaign China is carrying out against the Uyghur Muslims."
In Slate, Alex Kirshner wrote about why Musk isn't going to "open up the Nazi floodgates" on Twitter.
"Musk seems to enjoy Twitter. He seems to enjoy being a legend among conservative posters. So, sure, he may be inclined to throw them bones even in a reality where he is mostly focused on Twitter’s dollars and cents," Kirshner wrote. "He has said he thinks Trump should be allowed back on the platform, and that could set up an interesting quandary for the former president: Return to a platform he needs like he needs air to breathe, or avoid it in hopes of drawing traffic to Truth Social, his own much tinier corner of the internet. None of this will make Twitter more enjoyable for most people, or for many advertisers, but it also won’t kill the company. On the other hand, moves that hinder user growth or scare advertisers en masse won’t appetize Musk.
"For his many faults, Musk did not reach his perch in life by doing bad business to win political points," Kirshner said. "He makes those points when they’re cheap, and when they make him feel good, like when he didn’t actually own Twitter but could talk about what he’d do if he did. Now, Twitter’s gains and losses are his own. He could be rich enough to not mind lighting a many-billion-dollar investment on fire. That would be a change of pace, though. Something much more normal would be if Twitter remained a lot like it has always been, just with one narcissist dictating how it changes policy instead of a more varied board of directors with diffuse power. Maybe, after years of striving, Twitter can be more like Facebook.”
Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.
- Musk's best and worst traits were on display this week.
- I suspect Twitter really won't change that much in the next five years.
- I'm still very uneasy about an ultra-worth person buying such an influential platform.
The dichotomy of Elon Musk was on full display this week.
It's hard to argue with the business acumen of the world's richest man, a guy who is reshaping the auto industry in a way that previously seemed impossible, is seemingly leaving NASA in the rearview mirror on space travel, is sending internet to hard-to-reach offline places, and now runs one of the most influential social media networks on the planet. This week, he's been active on Twitter, responding to concerns about how the platform might change, elevating a longtime content moderator and presenting an open mind on what he can do to improve it by soliciting feedback in real time.
At the same time, we've also seen Elon being Elon. For a guy who professes concern about ensuring Twitter doesn't become a "free-for-all hellscape," as he put it, one of his first acts was hardly encouraging: He shared an obviously bogus story from a notoriously unreliable website suggesting the House Speaker's husband — currently sitting in the hospital with head injuries — was not the victim of a deranged political attack, but was actually caught up in some kind of lover's tryst with a male prostitute. The story was from a notorious fake news website that once alleged Hillary Clinton was replaced by a body double in 2016. He quietly deleted the tweet later, then trolled The New York Times for writing an article about it, as if it was no big deal that the platform's now most influential account was spreading obvious and actual fake news in his first days on the job.
In a lot of ways, Musk is the dog that caught the car. It's no secret that he didn't actually want Twitter at the price he got it for, if at all, and his hostile takeover — which may have been a huge troll job in the first place — has ended up costing him $44 billion. As Alex Kirshner put it: Twitter is "the company he tried to buy, then didn’t, then did again, then maybe didn’t, and finally did." Still, he isn’t stupid enough to light 20% of his net worth on fire for no good reason. He is going to try to make Twitter a more profitable platform, and he’s going to try to make it a better platform. My hope is he assembles a very qualified team to do so, but so far it looks like he is just turning to his inner-circle.
If you can put his sometimes grating personality aside for a moment, nearly all of Musk's suggestions for the platform strike me as smart or at least compelling. Yes, there should be a diverse council of people making content moderation decisions, not a group of political ideologues who all view the world the same way (as the previous team has been described). Yes, there should be some element of the platform that is paid, whether it's for large accounts or verified accounts or to unlock new features — relying solely on an advertising revenue model for a platform that routinely offends large swaths of its users probably isn't so smart.
I’m not a fan of lifetime bans. I didn't support the permanent ban of President Trump. I didn't support the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story. Musk seems to agree with me on these two things, though he hasn't made any big policy changes or announcements yet. We'll see.
I was glad when Musk was supposed to join Twitter's board and a bit more apprehensive when he decided to buy it. Since then, based on everything Musk has said and the reporting around what he's done internally, my position is that in five years Twitter probably won't be all that different than it is now. In fact, I suspect the entire circus around him taking it over will be looked back on as one of the great overreactions of 2022. If Musk can generate more revenue to roll out more features, actually eliminate the spambots (which he says is his number one priority) and usher in a more balanced moderation team, it may actually be a better platform in five years than it is now.
My greatest fear, though, the one I wrote about last time we covered this, is the uneasy feeling I can't shake of the world's richest person buying a platform that is critical to disseminating news. Of course, the world's richest men buying up news outlets and information ecosystems is hardly a new phenomenon, but it's unsettling nonetheless. At some point, Elon will be tested. A damaging piece of news will proliferate on the platform, and this one man will have the power to control it. Will it be a story about Tesla? About his business ties to China? About his unsettling family history? About a politician he supports? Or, perhaps, a story about how he is mismanaging Twitter as its new CEO?
None of that makes me comfortable, and it should make you uneasy, too.
For now, though, I'm willing to wait and see if and how the platform actually changes and what Musk actually does before passing judgment. I'm holding out hope we see more brilliance than bluster.
Your questions, answered.
Q: As the midterms approach, I've been seeing and receiving a lot of messaging about "grassroots" efforts, including one today about President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, & John Fetterman "hosting a special grassroots event in Philadelphia." By strict definition this may be the case, but I've always believed grassroots implied the effort was not just targeting a region or community but was also locally-based, and I question how an event hosted by several nationally-recognized figures can be grassroots under that lens. Does the term mean anything these days or is it simply a buzzword (like "Main Street"), and how do the use of buzzwords like this impact our politics?
— Jesse, Havertown, Pennsylvania
Tangle: It's a keen observation. I would argue that at this point the word "grassroots" has basically been rendered meaningless. To me, “grassroots” principally implies an organization that is mostly made up of “ordinary” people whose work or day-to-day life is tied closely to that organization. A movement to raise the minimum wage, organized by a group of people who are being paid minimum wage, would be “grassroots.” This would be opposed to, say, a presidential-led movement or a local syndicate of a national organization.
Sometimes, for instance, I call Tangle a "grassroots" idea. To me, that's because I relied almost entirely on Tangle readers to spread the word about Tangle when I got this thing off the ground. I got about 30,000 subscribers to Tangle without spending a dollar on advertising — a "grassroots" push of the newsletter. But even with that usage I'm probably pushing the definition of the word.
Anyway, I think a lot of these now-meaningless words are thrown around a lot in politics. Reporters making $45,000 a year are often chastised as "elite." Normie Trump supporters are often called "fascists." Liberals are derided as "evil" for advocating for trans rights. Both sides throw out expressions like "existential threat" or “literally” or “nazi" or "conspiracy theory" with little attachment to their actual definitions. Unfortunately, that is just the world we're living in right now.
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Under the radar.
Behind closed doors, the U.S. government — through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — has been pressuring private platforms like Facebook to police speech. There is a formalized process for government officials to directly flag content on Facebook or Instagram and request that it be throttled or taken down. Documents collected by The Intercept via leaks and court cases reveal the DHS is broadening its efforts to curb online speech it considers dangerous. To this point, the work has remained unknown to the U.S. public. The Intercept has the story.
- ~7,500. The number of employees at Twitter.
- 25%. The percentage of those workers who will be laid off, according to reporting that Musk has denied.
- $20-$60 million. The amount of compensation the executives Musk fired were set to receive before Musk terminated them "for cause."
- 238 million. The number of monetizable daily active Twitter users, according to the company.
- $44 billion. The final price Elon Musk paid for the platform.
- $223 billion. Musk's estimated net worth.
Have a nice day.
You haven't heard a lot about the ozone layer recently; because we've done an awfully good job restoring it. Anyone who was alive in the 70s, 80s and 90s probably remembers the panic about holes in the ozone layer — and the deleterious impacts those holes could have on the planet. After scientists discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were the main cause of the ozone depletion, a global response to ban the chemicals was swift and effective. Some 30 years later, new data from NASA — released on October 26 — indicates that the major holes in the ozone layer are now shrinking. Vox has a new piece about this success story.
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