Ciara Davies analyses the consequences of Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter for young progressives on the platform.
On the 28th October 2022, Elon Musk tweeted that ‘the bird is freed’. Whether the bird is ‘freed’ is contestable. Who benefits from Twitter becoming an unmonitored bastion of so-called ‘free speech’ is clear: not young progressives who use the site for activist purposes.
Since Musk’s takeover ‘trust and safety teams’ have been eradicated in some Twitter offices - to the extent that Musk now faces a confrontation with the EU over concerns that his management of Twitter will not comply with the Digital Services Act. It is no coincidence that ‘trolling’ and online hate has risen enormously since he took over.
While many Twitter users have flocked to alternative sites like Mastodon, the amount of newly created accounts that follow misogynistic ‘self-help gurus’, like Andrew Tate, has increased exponentially. Naturally, the result is a shift in the demographics of Twitter users; one that reflects the demographics of ‘alt-tech’ sites like Telegram and 4Chan.
‘Alt-techs’ are ‘alternative’ social media sites with lower regulation relative to mainstream sites. Dubbed as ‘counter revolutionaries’ to ‘woke ideology’, the views of these users are often extreme. It is indeed a concern for young activists on Twitter then, that not only is the regulation of Twitter looser but there is now an influx of new users- most likely to target young progressives for their ‘woke’ agenda.
“I don’t care about the economics at all” says Musk. Despite 90% of Twitter's revenue stemming from advertisements, the loss of advertisers, who do not want to be associated with the cesspool of hate and abuse that Twitter is becoming, does not seem to be a present incentive for Musk to intervene. While he does not ‘care about the economics’, he does indeed care about making Twitter a ‘de facto town square’. This objective is implausible for several reasons, not least because the ‘economics’ would be untenable.
Most notably, a ‘town square’ is still subject to social order and authority. If, say, an individual in a ‘town square’ used a megaphone to preach against the rights of any given minority, to call for their harm, they would face repercussions from the police (if they were propagating ‘hate speech’), or others in the ‘town square’ who could collectively defend the attacked minority group. What Musk’s vision of Twitter seems to be is a ‘town square’ without legal or social repercussions.
In Musk’s ‘town square’, to continue with the metaphor, if the individual with the (online) megaphone began to preach against the rights of a minority group and call for their harm, they would not face the same consequences as the offline individual: they would be allowed to continue preaching.
Now say that the others in the ‘town square’, who rallied against the individual with the megaphone, were young progressives. Say that they did not materialise against the online megaphone-user because they had left the ‘town square’. As the social order has been lost, the ‘town square’ is no longer healthy for them and therefore, those with the megaphones are no longer being challenged.
Instead, the megaphone-users speak in a ‘town square’ filled only with those who share the views that they espouse. Then, claims that Twitter is now a bastion of free speech is ludicrous. If only one dominant view is spoken, then there is no debate, only reinforcement of anti-progressive ideas. Naturally, the megaphone users’ voice will grow louder in the absence of countering voices.
After Musk’s Twitter takeover, Marjorie Taylor Greene (endorser of the January 6th insurrection), tweeted that ‘we are winning’. ‘We’ is a collective pronoun. It creates an ‘in group’ and an ‘out group’. A group that wins and a group that loses. A group that the ‘bird is freed for’ and a group for whom the bird is confined.
Ciara Davies is an A Level Politics Student from West London. She is a member of the Labour Party and Fabian Society with a particular interest in far right extremism, conspiracy thought and online misinformation.