A Digital Transformation, Or Merely More Of The Same?

     Yesterday’s closing of the deal, whereby Elon Musk became the owner of Twitter, was announced to its user base thus:

     I wanted to reach out personally to share my motivation in acquiring Twitter. There has been much speculation about why I bought Twitter and what I think about advertising. Most of it has been wrong.

     The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence. There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide society.

     In the relentless pursuit of clicks, much of traditional media has fueled and catered to those polarized extremes, as they believe that is what brings in the money, but, in doing so, the opportunity for dialogue is lost.

     That is why I bought Twitter. I didn’t do it because it would be easy. I didn’t do it to make more money. I did it to try to help humanity, which I love. And I do so with humility, recognizing that failure in pursuing this goal, despite our best efforts, is a very real possibility.

     That said, Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences! In addition to adhering to the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all, where you can choose your desired experience according to your preferences, just as you can choose, for example, to see movies or play video games from all ages to mature.

     I also very much believe that advertising, when done right, can delight, entertain, and inform you; it can show you a service or product or medical treatment that you never knew existed, but is right for you. For this to be true, it is essential to show Twitter users advertising that is as relevant as possible to their needs. Low relevancy ads are spam, but highly relevant ads are actually content!

     Fundamentally, Twitter aspires to be the most respected advertising platform in the world that strengthens your brand and grows your enterprise. To everyone who has partnered with us, I thank you. Let us build something extraordinary together.

— Elon Musk —

     The intentions stated above are highly admirable…but let’s keep firmly in mind that they are intentions. Only the technological aspects of Twitter are entirely under Elon Musk’s control. The behavior of its users is a different subject altogether. We must wait to learn whether the two will find a happy medium that will elevate Twitter from the sewer it’s become to a genuinely worthwhile medium for exchange.

     Critical to the outcome will be the intentions of Twitter’s users. If there is near-unanimous cleaving to a norm of courtesy and civility in discourse, then prospects are good. But how likely is that – and more to the point, how large a fraction of uncivil, discourteous behavior would be enough to bring the project to ruin?

     In non-digital society, a degree of departure from law-abidingness that exceeds 2% of the population would be enough to render law enforcement and the maintenance of public order impossible. While I cannot yet prove this mathematically, the empirical evidence is sufficient for me to be confident about it. Consider the riots of 2020 and 2021 as demonstrations. Does the same percentage apply to a two-way digital realm such as Twitter?

     The question is relevant because there will always be people determined to violate any given norm of conduct. Some will “see a profit in it;” others will simply take pleasure from destroying the norm. If the norm is a standard for civil discourse, there will be a gray zone that will render policing difficult and arbitrary, making the matter still more complex.

     In particular, the intentions of politically oriented Twitter users must be addressed. Do the two sides we typically call Left and Right really want to converse – to argue about principles and policy using evidence and logic? If both are so inclined, then constructive conversation will occur, rather than the hurling of insults and the attempts to defame or damage one another that previously characterized such exchanges. But not everyone in those spheres wants constructive conversation. Some are actively opposed to it.

     There are several possible reasons for which Smith might prefer to insult, defame, or damage Jones rather than have a civil conversation with him. There’s no need to analyze them here today. What matters is whether any method of curbing such behavior could prevail against the intentions of Smiths so inclined. A sufficient number of Smiths would render any policing technique fruitless.

     In this regard, the behavior of political activists as observed and reported in the real world is not encouraging. I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised, though I’m not about to “bet the mortgage money.”

     What will matter most to Twitter’s value as a money-making enterprise is whether there are still advertisers brave enough to risk a dip in Twitter’s previously foul waters. But if Elon Musk is sincerely more concerned with fostering civil discourse than turning an immediate profit, he could succeed where others would fail. It might require that he maintain Twitter at a break-even or lose-a-little concern for some time, until the new standards for user behavior prove durable enough to reassure potential advertisers. Of course it would also require patience and endurance…but Musk appears to have those in quantity.


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    • SteveF on October 28, 2022 at 10:57 AM

    There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers

    I’d say that the splintering was into the far left and everyone else. Whether the centrists would moderate the far right or the far right would radicalize the centrists is an experiment which has not yet concluded.

    Do the two sides we typically call Left and Right really want to converse – to argue about principles and policy using evidence and logic?

    It wasn’t the “right wing fascists” who called for the deaths of their political opponents, nor the right which perpetrated lethal assaults or interfered with their opponents’ ability to earn a living. (Not at first, anyway. Some fraction of the American Right now say that no reconciliation is possible without a lot of death and that we might as well start now by killing leftists.)

    As for lawlessness and the riots of the past few years, I’m not sure that the riots demonstrate your assertion of the 2% lawlessness threshold. The riots continued as long and as destructively as they did and the “CHAZ” was allowed to exist only because the governments supported them, both verbally and by arresting anyone who stood up to them.

    • jwm on October 28, 2022 at 1:37 PM

    We’ll see what happens with Twitter.  One of the things that creeps me out about facebarf is the targeted ads, and the automatic pop-ups referring posters to the “Covid information center” or “See how the climate in your area is changing”.  I don’t want to trade notes with people if my every post is scanned for keywords for targeted ads and propaganda.

    I understand what Musk means by a hellscape. I have a GAB account. I give the forum mixed reviews. On the one hand, the lack of censorship is refreshing. On the other, too many people squander that freedom by indulging in endlessly bashing Jews, and saying N***r, just because they can get away with it. I find that stuff really tiresome.

    The other beef is that it’s very difficult to have any sort of community there. I belong to a couple different artist’s groups. It’s nice to look at what other artists are doing, but I’ve yet to be able to hold anything like an on-line conversation. Much as I despise Facebarf, at least I can log in there and trade notes with people I know in real life, or on-line friends whom I’ve never met in person.



    • SiG on October 28, 2022 at 8:59 PM

    Musk’s take over of Twitter has me thinking of supporting the company by opening an account for the first time.

    The question about whether honest debate and discussion that matters can happen probably isn’t going to be positive.  People can’t be convinced of an opinion by facts and logic if they didn’t arrive at their opinion that way.  Fans of socialism and communism could learn that it has never worked in human history without investing a lot of time studying.  They believe in those things because of “the feels” not logical reasons. My wife worked in a free health care clinic for a decade after retiring as an electronics “master technician” on the space center.  The libs there would give the same old tired answer about Cuba, Venezuela or the others: “they didn’t do it right.”  Oh.  I wanted to ask them, “so you’re smarter than everyone in human history about how do something like that?”

    Likewise the people crying about a coming climate apocalypse could learn that no major organization playing with their models thinks a climate disaster is coming, with no more than an hour or two of reading.  If they could understand the arguments about why the climate models are horrific, we wouldn’t have to talk with them.

    What it comes down to is if anything centered on honest debate between honest, committed people can save the Republic.


    • Abbe Faria on October 29, 2022 at 12:59 PM

    Re: your last para concerning Twitter’s financial viability :


    The ONLY reason Twitter is even afloat at all is because some “unknown” part of FedGov is picking up the tab for their huge data processing requirements.



    1. And that’s a serious problem for the new owner, isn’t it? Unless Musk wants to run Twitter as a “loss leader” for his other enterprises — a proposition I can’t credit — he’s going to need to seduce the online advertising market big time.

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