Tuesday Reads: Twitter Trouble

Musk-Twitter-stake

Good Morning!!

I’m a daily user of Twitter, because it’s where I can find the very latest news, often before it’s on TV or published anywhere. Yesterday’s shock news was that Elon Musk bought Twitter and took the company private. Lots of people apparently deleted their Twitter accounts, and so many people tried to sign up for an app called “Counter Social” that the site crashed repeatedly.

I’ve briefly tried Counter Social, and so far I don’t think it will work for me. I agree with this thread:

Counter Social is owned and operated by a Twitter troll called “Jester Actual” whom I unfollowed long ago because of his weird tweets, so I’m not sure I want to use his platform. 

So I guess I’m going to stick with Twitter for now and see what happens. Obviously, I’m not happy about Twitter’s new owner either. I didn’t know that much about him until he started making noises about buying the company, but the guy seems to be a Trump-like monster. Here’s just one example from the Los Angeles Times in February: Horrific allegations of racism prompt California lawsuit against Tesla.

The N-word and other racist slurs were hurled daily at Black workers at Tesla’s California plant, delivered not just by fellow employees but also by managers and supervisors.

So says California’s civil rights agency in a lawsuit filed against the electric-vehicle maker in Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of thousands of Black workers after a decade of complaints and a 32-month investigation.

Tesla segregated Black workers into separate areas that its employees referred to as “porch monkey stations,” “the dark side,” “the slave ship” and “the plantation,” the lawsuit alleges.

Only Black workers had to scrub floors on their hands and knees, and they were relegated to the Fremont, Calif., factory’s most difficult physical jobs, the suit states.

So says California’s civil rights agency in a lawsuit filed against the electric-vehicle maker in Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of thousands of Black workers after a decade of complaints and a 32-month investigation.

Graffiti — including “KKK,” “Go back to Africa,” the hangman’s noose, the Confederate Flag and “F– [N-word]” — were carved into restroom walls, workplace benches and lunch tables and were slow to be erased, the lawsuit says….

The lawsuit comes in the wake of Tesla’s billionaire chief executive, Elon Musk, moving the company’s headquarters from Palo Alto to Austin, Texas, where he is building a major new assembly plant.

The state’s lawsuit suggests the relocation to a state known for looser enforcement is no coincidence, declaring it to be “another move to avoid accountability.”

Not only were Tesla’s Black workers subjected to “willful, malicious” harassment, but they were also denied promotions and paid less than other workers for the same jobs, the suit asserted. They were disciplined for infractions for which other workers were not penalized.

Read more at the LA Times.

Twitter workers are worried about what will happen now, according Elizabeth Dwoskin at The Washington Post: Twitter workers face a reality they’ve long feared: Elon Musk as owner.

Twitter employees reacted with shock and dismay Monday as a new reality sank in: Elon Musk — the world’s richest man, free speech defender and strong critic of Twitter — would be the company’s new owner.

On Twitter, in private messages and in interviews with The Washington Post,employees expressed fear about Musk’s $44 billion takeover. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal,along with board chair Bret Taylor, held an internal town hall on Monday afternoon in which the leaders tried to assure anxious staff but offered few direct answers.A central concern was that Muskwould attempt to break down safeguards to protect everyday users that staff had built over many years, according to the interviews and tweets, as well as audio from the town hall obtained by The Post.

Some tweeted tear-filled emoji and memes of people having emotional breakdowns, while others told The Post they were too in shock to speak. At Monday’s town hall, leaders were vague in response to questions about future layoffs, changes to the company’s approach to free speech and safety, and whether the company will continue to make money from advertising.

“Totally understand that this is entertainment for some,” one employee tweeted. “But please understand that this is certainly not entertainment for me.”

“The news today is so crazy I literally forgot I have COVID,” another tweeted.

Twitter employees who have worked long and hard to stop hate speech and public health misinformation on the platform were very concerned.

In dozens of internal messages obtained by The Post, workers expressed worries that the firebrand Musk could inflict damage to the company’s culture and make it harder for people to do their jobs. Observers and misinformation researchers echoed the criticism.

The company, which is based in liberal San Francisco and has more than 5,000 employees, has spent years building a progressive corporate culture that allows employees to say just about anything they want and to live anywhere they choose. Twitter was the first company to take action against former president Donald Trump for his tweets supporting Capitol rioters on Jan. 6, 2021, and engineering teams have spent years building tools to fight spam, disinformation and hate speech under an initiative known as healthy conversations.

“I don’t know any non-engineer who works on health issues who sees how this helps,” said a Twitter employee in an interview in response to questions about Musk’s ownership, referring to the company’s health division that enforces rules against harmful content such as hate speech and misinformation. “Most find it dispiriting.”

https___cdn.cnn.com_cnnnext_dam_assets_170106113815-trump-tweeting-illustrationAccording to Politico Playbook, Republicans are freaking out at the possibility of Trump getting his Twitter account back: Republicans to Trump: Stay away from Twitter.

The news that ELON MUSK is buying Twitter has thrown Washington into a tizzy over one major question: Will DONALD TRUMP return to his old favorite social media platform and start tweeting again?

As it turns out, no one is more petrified of this than members of Trump’s own party.  

On Monday night, in a series of calls and texts with several top GOP insiders, every single one of them told us that they hoped the former president stays the hell away from Twitter, lest he sink their chances at flipping the House and Senate. Some of his allies even think that a return to his old Twitter habits could damage his own brand ahead of a possible third presidential bid in 2024.

“If I’m a Democrat, I’d pray that Elon Musk puts Trump right back on Twitter,” said one House GOP leadership aide, who asked not to be named to speak candidly. “I don’t think it costs Republicans the House, but it certainly will elevate Trump’s opinions — and is going to put Republican candidates and members back having to answer for that.”

The person added: “It’s enough to create headaches — and it’s enough to probably cost us a couple seats.”

Some may find this a rather surprising reaction, given that many Republicans have both accused Big Tech of censoring conservative voices (the former president being the most prominent example) and showered praise on the Musk takeover. But as is often the case with the GOP and all things Trump, privately, they feel very differently.\

Media reactions to Musk’s acquisition of Twitter:

Shira Ovide at The New York Times: Buying Twitter, Elon Musk Will Face Reality of His Free-Speech Talk.

A decade ago, Twitter executives, including the chief executive, Dick Costolo, declared that the social media site was the “free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” The stance meant Twitter would defend people’s ability to post whatever they wished and be heard by the world.

Since then, Twitter has been dragged into morasses over disinformation peddlers, governments’ abuse of social media to incite ethnic violence and threats by elected officials to imprison employees over tweets they didn’t like. Like Facebook, YouTube and other internet companies, Twitter was forced to morph from hard-liner on free expression to speech nanny.

Today, Twitter has pages upon pages of rules prohibiting content such as material that promotes child sexual exploitation, coordinated government propaganda, offers of counterfeit goods and tweets “wishing for someone to fall victim to a serious accident.”

The past 10 years have seen repeated confrontations between the high-minded principles of Silicon Valley’s founding generation of social media companies and the messy reality of a world in which “free speech” means different things to different people. And now Elon Musk, who on Monday struck a deal to buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion, wades directly into that fraught history….

Soon, Mr. Musk will be the one confronting the gap between an idealized view of free speech and the zillion tough decisions that must be made to let everyone have a say.

His agreement to buy Twitter puts the combative billionaire, who is also the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, at the white-hot center of the global free-speech debate. Mr. Musk has not been specific about his plans once he becomes Twitter’s owner, but he has bristled when the company has removed posts and barred users, and has said Twitter should be a haven for unfettered expression within the bounds of the law…..

Mr. Musk is a relative dilettante on the topic and hasn’t yet tackled the difficult trade-offs in which giving one person a voice may silence the expression of others, and in which an almost-anything-goes space for expression might be overrun with spam, nudity, propaganda from autocrats, the bullying of children and violent incitements.

Technology and culture writer Charlie Warzel at The Atlantic: The Worst-Case Scenario for Elon Musk’s Twitter. Plus: the more likely one.

Warzel posits three possibilities: 

The Dark Timeline: There is, I suppose, a world in which Musk goes wild and attempts to turn Twitter into a Truth Social/Gab/Parler free-for-all. This seems like it would have to start with a total gutting of senior leadership and the instatement of some kind of Musk loyalist regime. (I’m honestly not even sure who would qualify, though such people certainly exist!) It could involve reinstating banned accounts, particularly former president Donald Trump’s. There have been attempts to quantify exactly what Trump’s presence on a social network actually means, and what it boils down to is that his Twitter account was a megaphone for bullshit. Shortly after he was banned from Twitter last year, a social-media analysis from Zignal Labs found that “conversations about election fraud dropped from 2.5 million mentions to 688,000 mentions across several social media sites in the week after Trump was banned from Twitter.” [….]

The darkest-darkest timeline is the one where the world’s richest man runs a communications platform in a truly vengeful, dictatorial way, which involves Musk outright using Twitter as a political tool to promote extreme right-wing agendas and to punish what he calls brain-poisoned liberals. This is the scenario I’ve seen some privacy folks worrying about. (What might Musk do with all of the private data the company collects, including our non-encrypted DMs?) This nightmare unfolding is easy enough to imagine, but it would probably trigger a revolt from existing employees, who would need to be replaced by people who share Musk’s values.

The Weird/Chaotic Timeline: This is the one where Musk remains invested and interested in doing experimental things with his new platform. The most cited example is an edit button, which he could introduce to the delight of some and the groaning of many others. A Musk-owned Twitter could introduce this feature carefully, study how it changes the platform, and tweak it accordingly—or it could move fast and break things by tossing it onto the platform and simply seeing what happens. The break-things ethos is the one I think about most when considering a Musk-owned Twitter—lots of quick building, throwing shit at the wall, with very little consideration of the consequences. [….]

The Recent Past Is Future Timeline: When it comes to content moderation, Elon Musk doesn’t know what he’s talking about. (For an explainer, read Mike Masnick’s excellent piece from last week.) A number of the changes that Musk has suggested are things Twitter has already attempted to do, or even implemented. I strongly believe that Musk has thought about Twitter as a service only as it relates to his user experience—which is, to say the least, a unique one. As one former senior Twitter employee put it to me this morning, Musk’s musings about improvements to the service are mostly “highly solipsistic things that are only about his experience of the product as a user with 80 million followers and a consent decree with the SEC.”

And so, owning Twitter may prove to be a boring logistical nightmare for Musk—one he might offload onto underlings while directing his attention to things that interest him. He’d still come in for the culture warring and the trolling—I’m sure he’s delighted by the notion that his every missive will carry the new weight and context of coming from Twitter’s Keeper. The thing Musk might ultimately enjoy most about owning Twitter is the ability to attract more and more attention to his potential power. 

 

One more from Tim Miller at The Bulwark: Musk Twitter Could Be a Disaster For MAGA Grifters and Republican Ostriches.

While concerns about the Russian bots and blarmy bigots returning to the hellfeed where news happens does have merit, let me offer a countervailing perspective about the impact of the Twitter acquisition.

Musk Twitter might also be a disaster for a couple of groups who cosmically deserve it:

1) Mitch McConnell and the establishment Republican ostriches who are doing everything in their power to put their heads in the sand and pretend Donald Trump doesn’t exist (unless they need to cash in on his name and likeness).

2) The Nazi grifters who started the various Deploratwitter knockoffs like TRUTH, Parler, and Gettr and are now set to be totally pwned by Twitter offering these very fine people the same freedom to shitpost in front of bigger audiences.

So if the two-faced Trumpists and the worst MAGA scammers are going to suffer, might we consider squeaking out one cheer for Musk. Or a half a cheer? Or even just a mild affirmative grunt?

The case for their suffering is as follows:

In Georgia on Insurrection Eve, we saw how a big Trump megaphone could divide the Republican base, resulting in political success for the Democrats. The election fraud mass formation psychosis led Trump voters in rural parts of the state to stay home rather than participate in yet another RIGGED contest while a small percentage of Atlanta Kemp/Raffensperger Republicans refused to be a party to the anti-democratic horror show. As a result, Georgia elected the state’s first black and Jewish senators—on the same day!—despite the fact that both had fewer votes than their GOP opponents during the November election.

A repeat of that is the worst-case scenario for the GOP at a time when the political environment is looking rather rosy for them.

Back in January, Bloomberg’s Joshua Green interviewed experts on the possible ways Republicans could screw the pooch in the midterms. Liam Donovan offered this hypothetical: “For the last year Trump has been in a straitjacket where he can’t harm his own party . . . Maybe he gets back on Twitter, there’s no bigger wild card than letting the tiger out of its cage.”

I know there is lots of other news out there. I’ll post some links in the comment thread and I hope you will too.


28 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: Twitter Trouble”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Have a nice Tuesday, Sky Dancers!!

  2. bostonboomer says:

    • bostonboomer says:

  3. bostonboomer says:

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  5. roofingbird says:

    Amidst all this brouhaha if free speech, it seems to me the real concern is his consolidation of internet media and potential for monopoly. SpaceX sends up satellites that distribute media. How is that different from media conglomerates controlling TV, radio and other news outlets? We know he is capable of determining where to allow access, because he already did that for the Ukrainians. With Neuralink, Tesla and money, he is going to be the biggest “big brother” on the planet. No wonder the Chinese are watching this.

    • roofingbird says:

      You said it above, BB. Its where you get your news first.

    • dakinikat says:

      It really worries me as someone who teaches both investing and corporate finance that he’s taking this company private. It has a lot of the characteristics of a public good. Now, we’ll be unable to see where the revenues come from, what cash flows go out, and where, and just basically it will be a black hole of financials we can’t see. This is not good corporate governance and I almost feel the need to nationalize it based on what’s going on. This is not something I say lightly either because I tend to try to minimize market interferences from heavy-handed players in a market be it government or a huge business. This really is frightening from an information asymmetry and agency perspective.

      • roofingbird says:

        I think you are absolutely right. I also think this might be a bypass of the FCC.

      • quixote says:

        It IS a public good fercryinoutobviouslyloud. Education, and its subset information are both incredibly obviously public goods. That would be true even in the Stone Ages, but it’s even more true if you hope to have complex tech and social organization.

        The US has been trying superhard, la-la-la-stick-fingers-in-the-ears-hard, to pretend they can marry it to profit motives and get away with it. It’s working about as well as it does for medicine. Or justice, where I think the only thing they’ve tried so far is for-profit prisons.

        That isn’t to say government has to run information. Equally obviously, it better not.

        But it is to say that it has to be run for the public good and that profit cannot be a motive. (People can and must make livings, but that’s different from profit.)

        And because the US has refused to see any of that, we’re getting deeper and deeper into the hole of what happens when your eyes and ears are bought and paid for. Now we have Musk. That feels bad, but I’m sure it can get a lot worse.

        I keep wondering when we’ll start to pull back from the basic fallacy that you can sell anything and lose nothing by it.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Really good points roofingbird. I’m completely ignorant about these topics. People on Twitter are also talking about he could use Twitter for data collection.

  6. Minkoff Minx says:

    I’m with you BB, like you I use Twitter all the time for news updates and such. I don’t know what I will do for that when the Musk take over is complete. I may go on Facebook once a year or so…but never stay long. This is just Bullshit.

  7. I deleted my Twitter account. I never used it to get news or do anything even remotely political. I was on it because of my interest in food and the food world. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been on Twitter because just about everyone in the food world stopped participating there and are now on Instagram.

  8. dakinikat says:

    The pushup bra bro has been busy this week:

  9. dakinikat says:

    I’m heartsick about this! She was 3 1/2 years old!

  10. djmm says:

    Re Twitter, many steps have to be taken before it’s a done deal. It will take months. Also, Twitter has to comply with policies of Apple and Google. So how much can its T&C’s change without losing access to i-Phones?

    It makes sense for reasonable people to stay on for the time being.

    Re the shooting of the young girl, what is wrong with us as a society???!!!

  11. I spend about an hour on twitter every morning, following links to articles. Twitter gives me both breaking news and chuckles and I hope the people I enjoy reading don’t leave. I’m worried about what Musk will do, but I’ll hang in as long as it’s worth my time.

  12. Minkoff Minx says:

    Hey, I’ve decided to stay on twitter but I’m going to use my backup account @PeggyDickover and eventually delete my @minkoffminx account, since I have all my personal information on the Minkoff Minx account.

    So please follow my new twitter account…thank you