Who will be the first to flee from Elon Musk’s Twitter? (Opinion)

Publisher’s note: Kara Alaimo, associate professor at Hofstra University’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, writes about issues affecting women and social media. She was a spokesperson for international affairs at the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this column belong exclusively to the author.

(CNN) — The story that the business world has been eagerly following for days came to a dramatic climax on Monday: Twitter greenlit Elon Musk’s takeover offer in a $44 billion deal at $54.20 a share. .

If Musk achieves what he has proposed, the sale could mean the death sentence for the platform. But, in the best of cases, it could also motivate the creation of other social networks that are safer and healthier places for all of us.

Musk has pointed out openly that he believes that Twitter should be a platform for most expressions without restrictions. In an interview during the TED conference earlier this month, Musk said he wanted to keep as much legal speech on the platform as possible and didn’t want to kick users out. Although, paradoxically, he also mentioned that he would seek to take strict measures against spam and fake accounts known as “bots”, which, while annoying and potentially dangerous, are also legal.

Elon Musk in 2001: I’m a little tired of the internet 3:26

Last month Musk tweeted that “freedom of expression is essential to a functioning democracy”. And, along those lines, he asked users if they “believe that Twitter strictly adheres to this principle.”

But I anticipate that allowing harmful forms of “free speech” – like misogyny and hate – on Twitter will actually have the effect of silencing many people and will be disastrous for the social network. That’s because thoughtful users aren’t going to willingly continue to use a platform that bombards them with abuse.

And the first people to flee are likely to be those who receive the worst: women and people of color. A study he conducted The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2020 found that 38% of women worldwide have personally experienced online threats such as doxing (publication of private information), hacking, harassment, disinformation and defamation. On the other hand, 85% of women have witnessed such behavior, according to research. According to the United Nations, at least three quarters of the victims of online hate in many countries are members of minority groups.

A pew research notes that while women are much more likely to use Facebook and Instagram than men, they are less likely to use Twitter and Reddit. These are precisely two platforms that have become famous for the trolling that happens there. (Emily Chang, host of Bloomberg Technology, writes in her book Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley that “cyberhate is a much bigger and more visible problem on Reddit and Twitter than it is on Facebook and Instagram. Because my Facebook account is private and I have to accept friends before they can interact with me, I almost never see hurtful comments”).

This tells me that women already avoid social networks where they think they will be abused. And, if the abuse gets worse, it will have a profound effect on the kind of discussions that happen on the platform.

The changes that Elon Musk would implement on Twitter 0:35

As pointed out by the writer Lindy West In the diary Guardian“Internet trolling may seem like a problem that only affects a certain subset of people. But, that’s only true if you believe that living in a world without diverse voices—public discourse shaped primarily by white, straight, able-bodied men— It wouldn’t profoundly affect your life.”

It is easy to predict what will happen now. If Twitter becomes a non-inclusive place and starts to gain a reputation for spreading hateful and questionable content, public figures won’t want to be associated with it. And, ultimately, they will also stop using it.

Only 22% of American adults use Twitter, according to a 2019 Pew survey. But, the platform exerts great influence on our public discourse because many politicians, business leaders, celebrities, and other high-profile people use it to share their messages. In addition, the media often enthusiastically report what these figures publish there. But thoughtful and popular leaders won’t want to suffer the reputational damage associated with an extreme platform. As I said before, this helps explain why former President Donald Trump’s social network, Truth Social, has not been very successful.

There are already people who are tweeting information addressed to those who plan to quit twitter and they ask (with different levels of seriousness) that they turn to other social platforms.

One positive outcome we can expect from buying Musk is that it can catalyze more civic social networking. Like internet activist Eli Pariser tweeted this Tuesday: “I’m just saying… no we have to make our communications infrastructure a plaything for fickle and irresponsible billionaires. We could build public service social platforms that Elon could never buy. And I think we will.”

My fingers are crossed that Pariser, or someone else with a vision for how to run a social network more responsibly than Musk, will pull it off.

If Musk does what he promised, I suspect he will destroy the platform. But the hope remains that having him at the head motivates the creation of new social networks that really serve the public interest. If that happens, the result will be devastating for Musk. But also a win for long-term users.

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