Elon Musk acquisition’s of Twitter has been controversial for some, but it has received the backing of former CEO Jack Dorsey.

Musk had claimed his bid for Twitter was a move to protect civilisation and free speech, and after the takeover was confirmed, he pledged to open source Twitter’s algorithms and defeat spam bots.

But critics are still worried that the world’s richest man now controls free speech on one of the most important social networking platforms around the world. There is also concern how he will approach tricky content moderation decisions.

Free speech

Musk however tweeted that he hoped even his worse critics will remain on Twitter, “because that is what free speech means.”

Musk then issued a mini statement on Twitter celebrating his successful bid for the platform, and outlining his future goals for Twitter.

Twitter can be at times a toxic and bruising experience, something that fo-founder Jack Dorsey had sought to tackle.

In April 2019, Dorsey said he wanted to change the platform and move “away from outrage and mob behaviour and towards productive, healthy conversation.”

It remains to be seen if Musk will manage to tackle this, or whether it will get worse in the name of ‘free speech.’

Industry reaction

But what has been the reaction from industry experts and observers, to Musk gaining control of the microblogging platform?

“Twitter has been on a downward trajectory for some time so Musk snapping it up could help it get its mojo back. In the short term, at least,” noted Peter Vidlicka, co-founder of the free PR platform, Newspage.

“Elon Musk describes himself as a free speech absolutist, so in the current socio-cultural climate, we can expect fireworks in the months ahead,” said Vidlicka. “To many, Musk’s purchase of Twitter will be seen as less a hostile takeover than a cultural stand, a reinforcement of free speech and a much-needed authentication of everyday people and their everyday views.

“To others, there is a fine line between free speech and hate speech and many are concerned that Twitter under Musk could become an even wilder West than it already is,” said Vidlicka. “Describing Twitter as a digital town square is an avuncular metaphor that doesn’t necessarily convey the mayhem that often unfolds there. It’s a digital town square, after kicking out time.”

“For now at least, Twitter is back in pole position among the heavyweights of social media, and its shareholders will be popping the champagne corks,” Vidlicka concluded.

Cybersecurity implications

Another expert touched on what the takeover means in the cybersecurity context, especially Musk’s ambition to open source Twitter’s algorithms and tackle bots on the platform.

“Much of the focus around Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has been centered on how he will treat speech on the platform,” noted Jamie Moles, senior technical manager at cybersecurity specialist ExtraHop.

“But at least two of the changes he has proposed actually have bigger implications for cybersecurity,” said Moles. “The first is his promise to make Twitter’s algorithm open source so that users can see the code that determines what is surfaced in their timelines.”

“The decision to open-source this code likely means that it will be adopted by other social platforms, advertisers, and others who are looking to hone their user targeting,” said Moles. “Of course, as with any widely adopted open source code, there are significant security implications.”

“As we’ve seen with Log4Shell and Spring4Shell, vulnerabilities in widely used open source applications are exponentially more valuable,” said Moles. “Making its code open source may increase transparency for Twitter users, but it may also make Twitter a much bigger target for attackers.”

“The other reform Musk proposes may actually lean in the other direction,” noted Moles. “Musk has stated that he’s on a mission to eliminate bots on the platform.”

“While this seems like a Sisyphean task, if he’s successful, the methods used by Twitter to eliminate bots from the platform may generate new techniques that improve the detection and identification of spam emails, spam posts, and other malicious intrusion attempts,” Moles concluded. “If Musk and his team can train AI to be more effective in combating this, it may well be a boon to security practitioners everywhere.”

Content moderation

Another expert, Forrester VP, research director Mike Proulx touched upon the impact Musk’s takeover may have on disinformation and content moderation going forward.

“In an age fraught with misinformation and disinformation, the parameters around free speech become murky because algorithms built to promote ‘click-worthy’ content, combined with bots spreading risky content, give disinformation a tailwind,” noted Proulx.

“While touted as a battle over ‘free speech,’ this [acquisition] is really a battle around content moderation: Is it responsible or is it censorship?” said Proulx. “This leads to questions on whether Musk would address disinformation and hate speech on Twitter or enable it to further amplify in the name of ‘free speech.’”

“If Musk decides to loosen content moderation policies, he puts Twitter ad dollars at risk,” said Proulx. “Brands are becoming more conscious of their adjacency to risky content or disinformation, so they may take their dollars to other channels with greater safety measures in place.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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