Elon Musk buying Twitter is like if the least funny person you know started running a comedy club. Elon Musk buying Twitter is like when your friend’s rich dad tells you “John Wick” is the greatest movie of all time. Elon Musk buying Twitter is like “CODA” winning Best Picture. I’ve thought about tweeting all of these things in the last couple of weeks.
Twitter was already a terrible place before Musk’s purchase of the site. Twitter has shown me some of the most vile and despicable images I have seen in my entire life. Furthermore, much like every other social media site, Twitter is an incredibly non-conducive environment to have healthy discourse, but everyone is disagreeing about everything all the time. While I don’t think social media is to blame for creating divisions between people (whether these are based on politics, socioeconomic status, religion, etc.), the internet has certainly made these pre-existing divisions more obvious and observable. I can see the people I know who follow the Babylon Bee; I can tell who in my life is not funny.
Speaking of not funny: Enter Elon Musk. To quote @GhostEsq on Twitter, “this man has the comedy capabilities of a retired cop and the business acumen of a retired cop and the politics of a retired cop.” Musk, who tweeted, “Comedy is now legal on Twitter,” on Oct. 28, has since tweeted, “Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended,” but, of course, Musk has made this issue even more complicated for himself.
The past few weeks on Twitter have been incredibly special. Musk has offered users a chance to have a Verified Checkmark if they pay eight dollars per month for said verification, which has led to many unusually effective parody accounts. A fake-but-verified Eli Lilly and Company account tweeted, “We are excited to announce insulin is free now,” and Eli Lilly stock fell 4.37%. The real Eli Lilly account, of course, had to respond to this mishap, reminding us that insulin is not, in fact, free now. It reads like an apology to anyone who would ever believe that the American pharmaceutical industry would make medicine accessible. Another fake-but-verified Ben Shapiro account has been tweeting incredibly incestuous things about Abby Shapiro and other comments on Shapiro’s suspected level of marital performance, though I will refrain from reprinting these tweets in this article. Even with the specification of “parody” in these accounts’ bios, at first glance, the tweets seem, as their check marks indicate, verified. Maybe “democratized” verification wasn’t such a great idea—though this democratization will still cost users eight dollars a month.
Really, though, the worst part of Musk owning Twitter is Musk owning Twitter. Hank Green put it well when he recently said, “A lot of people who say they want ‘free speech’ actually just want to be the one in charge of what speech is free.” Paraphrasing his longer argument, Musk isn’t truly concerned with content moderation, which Twitter (and all social media sites) have to do, he’s only concerned that the right content is mediated. He trusts himself to control content on Twitter more than the previous moderators, and his supporters do, too, because he feels less like a stranger. He feels like someone people know.
The reality is, though, that Musk, from my perspective, does not have anyone’s best interests at heart. Abandoning social media, especially Twitter, is most likely in everyone’s best interests. Escaping our virtual prison is most likely the best, or, at the very least, the most efficient, long-term solution to the algorithm- and data-fueled dystopia we find ourselves in every time we log in. No single person (or, frankly, team of people) can be totally trusted with the ever-debated task of content moderation or data management or how to choose what material is promoted or demoted because, at the end of the day, they don’t know you or care about you. They can’t value your interests because they don’t know your interests. Even when the algorithm promotes content that’s based on what you interact with, the slope is still slippery. Think of pro-ana content, self-harm content and conspiracy content.
The abandonment of social media, however, is naive. I know. I certainly will not be abandoning Twitter until it’s completely underwater. Maybe, though, we can think about how to engage with social media more intentionally, how to engage with it while remembering that real life happens with our eyes facing forward, not down at a screen.
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