PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) – Tesla CEO Elon Musk has put forward some bold, albeit vague, plans to transform Twitter into a place of “maximum fun” when he buys the $ 44 billion social media platform and takes it private.
But introducing what is currently little more than a mixture of vague principles and technical details can be considerably more complicated than he suggests.
Here’s what can happen if Musk follows up on his ideas on free speech, fighting spam and opening up the “black box” of artificial intelligence tools that reinforce social media trends.
Musk’s coolest priority – but also the one with the most vague roadmap – is to make Twitter a “politically neutral” digital city square for the world’s discourse that allows as much freedom of speech as each country’s laws allow.
He has acknowledged that his plans to reshape Twitter could irritate the political left and for the most part delight the right. He has not specified exactly what he will do with former President Donald Trump’s permanently banned account or other right-wing leaders if tweets have hit the company’s restrictions. against hate speech, violent threats or harmful misinformation.
Should Musk go in that direction, it could mean bringing back not only Trump, but “many, many others who were removed as a result of QAnon conspiracies, targeted harassment of journalists and activists, and of course all the accounts that were removed after Jan. .6, “said Joan Donovan, who studies misinformation at Harvard University.” It could potentially be hundreds of thousands of people. “
Musk has not ruled out suspending any accounts, but says such bans should be temporary. His latest criticism has centered around what he described as Twitter’s “incredibly inappropriate” 2020 blocking of a New York Post article about Hunter Biden, which the company has said was a mistake and corrected within 24 hours.
OPEN SOURCES ALGORITMS
Musk’s long-standing interest in artificial intelligence is reflected in one of the most specific proposals he outlined in his merger announcement – the promise to “make the algorithms open source to increase trust.” He talks about the systems that rank content to determine what appears on users’ feeds.
Partly driving distrust, at least for Musk supporters, is knowledge of US political conservatives about “shadow ban” on social media. This is a supposedly invisible feature to reduce the reach of users who behave badly without disabling their accounts. There has been no evidence that Twitter’s platform is biased against conservatives; Studies have found the opposite when it comes to conservative media in particular.
Musk has asked to post the underlying data code that runs Twitter’s news feed for public review on the code hangout GitHub. But such “code-level transparency” gives users little insight into how Twitter works for them without the data the algorithms process, said Nick Diakopoulos, a computer scientist at Northwestern University.
Diakopoulos said there are good intentions in Musk’s broader goal of helping people figure out why their tweets are being promoted or degraded and whether human moderators or automated systems are making those choices. But it is not an easy task. Too much transparency about how individual tweets are ranked, for example, can make it easier for “dishonest people” to play the system and manipulate an algorithm to get maximum exposure for their case, Diakopoulos said.
‘Defeat SPAM BOATS’
“Spam robots” that mimic real people have been a personal nuisance to Musk, whose popularity on Twitter has inspired countless imitation accounts that use his image and name – often to promote cryptocurrency scams that look like they come from the Tesla boss .
Sure, Twitter users, including Musk, “do not want spam,” said David Greene, director of civil rights at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But who defines what counts as a spam robot?
“Do you mean that all robots like, you know, if I follow a Twitter bot that only retrieves historical images of fruit? I choose to follow it. Is it not allowed to exist? “He said.
There are also many spam-filled Twitter accounts run at least in part by real people running the spectrum from those who sell products to those who promote polarizing political content to interfere in other countries’ choices.
‘AUTHENTICATE ALL PEOPLE’
Musk has repeatedly said that he wants Twitter to “authenticate all people”, an ambiguous proposal that may be related to his desire to get rid of spam accounts.
Escalation of secular identity checks – such as two-factor authentication or pop-ups asking which of the six images shows a school bus – can deter someone from trying to gather an army of fake accounts.
Musk may also consider offering more people a “blue check” – the confirmation tag on notable Twitter accounts – such as Musk – to show that they are who they say they are. Musk has suggested that users can purchase the hooks as part of a premium service.
However, some digital rights activists are concerned that these measures could lead to a “real name” policy similar to Facebook’s approach to forcing people to validate their full names and use them in their profiles. It seems to contradict Musk’s focus on freedom of expression by cutting anonymous whistleblowers or people living under authoritarian regimes where it can be dangerous if a dissident message can be attributed to a specific person.
Musk has launched the idea of an ad-free Twitter, although it was not one of the priorities outlined in the official merger announcement. This may be because cutting off the company’s most important way of making money will be difficult, even for the world’s richest person.
Ads accounted for more than 92% of Twitter’s revenue in the January-March financial quarter. The company launched a premium subscription service last year – known as Twitter Blue – but does not appear to have made much progress in getting people to pay for it.
Musk has made it clear that he favors a stronger subscription-based model for Twitter that gives more people an ad-free alternative. It would also fit in with his pressure to ease Twitter’s content restrictions – which brands largely favor because they do not want their ads to be surrounded by offensive and hateful tweets.
Musk has tweeted and expressed so many suggestions to Twitter that it can be difficult to know which ones he takes seriously. He has joined the popular call for an “edit button” – which Twitter says it is already working on – that will allow people to fix a tweet shortly after posting it. A less serious proposal from Musk proposed converting Twitter’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco to a homeless shelter “since no one shows up anyway” – a comment taken more as an digging into Twitter’s workforce from the pandemic than an altruistic vision for the building.
Musk did not return an email request to clarify his plans.
AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay contributed to this report.