Love it or hate it, Elon Musk is one of the most eccentric billionaires of our times. His financial decisions and investments give us something to talk about. Even his own tweets can lead to heated discussions on the internet, and between big companies. For sure, this is not the first time Musk made something that impressed us.
Just three weeks after buying 9.2% percent of Twitter, the owner of Tesla and Space X, took over the whole company. An unexpected plot twist, since the directors were apprehensive about Elon’s purchase of the company.
After confirming the new transaction through a press release, the billionaire reinforced the importance of his vision of free speech for our democracy (that he’s been preaching since the beginning of this whole story).
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
We all agree that free speech is important. The question is that we can’t ignore his countless controversies, including his own unconventional vision about free speech, which is considered radical and can lead Twitter to have more hate speech and fake news, according to some analysts.
And we sure can’t forget that we are marketers and brand owners who are on Twitter in a strategic way, might also feel the harm of the changes Musk is intending to do—in fact, we are already feeling it: just one day after the acquisition, prominent users on the platform have been seeing wild swings in their follower counts.
So… what might really change on Twitter from now on? Will Musk’s “freedom of speech” boost hate speech and misinformation instead? And how does that affect brands that are on Twitter?
Let’s dig into it.
First, let’s remember Elon Musk’s controversial behavior on Twitter and beyond
The new Twitter owner has had some previous controversies on the platform. One of them is receiving a lot of criticism for sharing fake news about COVID-19 in 2020. In fact, his polemic tweet has brought him problems from his own business and colleagues.
Musk already complained about Twitter’s moderation tools, although even his anti-vaccine posts and bad “jokes” involving even Hitler were not deleted by the platform. One time, he compared the last Twitter CEO, Parag Agrawal, to Joseph Stalin due to these same moderation tools.
For example, in 2018, he faced some problems for making a joke about Tesla private shares on the microblogging platform. Also, a lot of their shareholders have shown discomfort due to his behaviour. And the list continues.
In other scenarios, the South African is well-known for his attitudes in the workplace. Former colleagues describe him as a workaholic. In addition, their companies have been sued for harassment and inappropriate behavior against their employers.
Elon Musk, as one of the wealthiest billionaires in the world, has a lot of power on the stock exchange, as well as in the international economy. Buying the largest microblogging social media on the market is going to impact the way we communicate with our audience.
As brands, we will have to stay updated with all the changes we are going to see in the algorithm and new policies that are coming.
Freedom of Speech?
As we have heard over and over in the past days, Musk’s main focus is improving freedom of speech on Twitter. But what does that even mean for the billionaire? It is important to highlight that he has self-declared as a Freedom of Speech absolutist (despite being harsh against employees and critics), so we could see a lot of this in the months to come.
The main problem is that the vision of freedom of speech shared by Musk and other “free speech absolutists” is controversial and can create space for the massive sharing of fake news and radical discourses against minorities, for example. Musk himself has already posted antivaccine posts on Twitter. As an “absolutist”, Musk’s discourse seems to show that being able to broadcast free information is more important than it being safe and responsible.
Of course, Musk is not a journalist. But, as content marketers, most of us have journalism backgrounds, and the number one rule of our profession is: always check the information before publishing it. Why? It’s not just a question of techniques. When you have a large audience, you have immense power to spread important news, but also make the population panic if you are irresponsible.
For example, the major news outlets don’t publish suicidal stories. The reason is simple: there are researches showing that publishing stories about suicides leads to more people committing it. The same as spreading fake news about vaccines, for example. You can make people afraid of protecting themselves. We are talking about deaths. All of us must appreciate the huge responsibility we have regarding information before hitting any “publish” button on the internet.
But Musk seems to not have this background, and may find legal barriers in his path. The US Congress is currently debating some regulations and federal laws to hold social media platforms and big techs accountable for information shared inside their digital domains. If they don’t have a clearly defined way to avoid misinformation and hate speech inside their platforms, they might be in trouble with the law.
Employees freaking out, worried users. All fearing the worst but hoping for the best
And how was the news received by Twitter employees and users of the social network? Like everything since this story began, controversially.
Twitter’s employees are divided. Some see Musk’s ownership as a good thing when it comes to making some real changes on the social platform and “getting things done”. Others worry about what might be undone, particularly when it comes to stemming hate speech or similar content.
Shortly after the billionaire bought the social platform, Twitter lawyer Vijaya Gadde called a virtual meeting and ended up crying due to her concerns about how the company could change. Guess what happened in the wake of that meeting? She started facing abuses on her Twitter account after Musk publicly criticized her work, but the courts said that he is forbidden to make posts like that during the Twitter acquisition process.
— Dave Lee (@DaveLeeFT) April 26, 2022
The former owner of Twitter, however, seems optimistic about the acquisition, after saying on his personal account that Elon Musk was the “singular solution he trusts”.
— jack⚡️ (@jack) April 26, 2022
The tweet, however, was not very welcomed as seen from user replies.
In many ways Twitter failed to live up to these values as growth became the driving force for everything post IPO. Not to mention the Lord of the Flies management style of certain people. Enough people did believe in these values to keep the company from going full Elon tho. https://t.co/3vca71wZTG
— Leslie Miley (@shaft) April 27, 2022
Leslie Miley, CTO of Obama’s Foundation, about the case
Well, if there’s one thing we’re getting used to with this acquisition, it’s the controversies, concerns and division of opinions.
But practically speaking, what does Elon Musk really intend to do with Twitter?
So, what might really change from now on?
From the tone of some of his rhetoric, we can speculate many changes (and be quite alarmed, as we mentioned earlier).
But, in practical terms, there is some information that we already know about the possible future changes to Twitter, which could affect your brand on the social network.
Lest check some of these updates…
An open algorithm
For Musk followers, the algorithm should be more open. The hypothesis is to fight against manipulation and massive propaganda. Also, this initiative would let the users know if their content has been downgraded or promoted.
Having a more transparent algorithm will encourage advertisers to rethink their content and to be more focused on their users. The new challenge is to deliver more immersive experiences and maintain a safe environment.
Real accounts verification
Another of Musk’s ideas is to have higher authentication standards regarding the use of real names and documentation. This can sound cool for stopping scams and bots, but some users have legitimate reasons to stay anonymous.
Even though real people verification can be a good thing, the real disadvantage is the new lack of moderation. This means for marketers a lot of content without filters, which gives room for the continued spread of fake news.
We have to remember that Twitter is one of the social media that has the least number of moderation policies in comparison to its competitors. So, does checking on real accounts guarantee a safe environment free of disinformation? Experts and marketers declare that this can be worsened with the changes Elon Musk wants to implement.
And of course an edit button
The edit button is an update that a lot of marketers have been waiting for. However, Elon Musk still doesn’t have a full plan on how to deliver this change. We have to take into account that a full edit or wipe button can be used to take a lot of messages out of context, after they have been retweeted.
Editing tweets makes room for the discussion of online harassment on the network, which can be easily edited after reaching the target people and generating revolt among users.
But getting away from this problem, editing tweets can be an incredible resource for those who create content on the social network. After all, it is very easy to make a typo or upload an incorrect file when launching a campaign.
This year has been defined by a lot of changes to social media. While some platforms are looking to reduce fake news and speech hate, the Elon Musk takeover could mean a step back for these advances.
It is important to remember the fact that we are going to have fewer filters on Twitter, doesn’t take away our accountability as brands. Looking for the best way to communicate our services must be our north. Striking the perfect balance between what is really meaningful for our audience and beating the algorithm.