Female Twitter users, in particular, ought to worry about whether Mr. Musk will bring his apparent disdain for women to the company he is about to own. Twitter is already a toxic place for women who use it, particularly those of color.
And the whole world should be concerned that Mr. Musk might reinstate Mr. Trump, who has so adroitly used social media platforms to spread dangerous Covid misinformation, mock his enemies and cast doubt on the integrity of free and fair elections. Mr. Trump said Monday he would not return to Twitter if allowed back on, in favor of his Truth Social network, but, of course, the former president has reneged on many promises.
Mr. Musk is correct that Twitter has become a de facto public square. But consider the fate of another public square led by a billionaire with no real check on his power: Facebook. Leaks over the past year have shown that Meta, under Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership, has overlooked evidence that hurtful comments on the company’s platforms caused emotional harm to teenagers and increased users’ anxiety and anger. The company knows its algorithms are deeply flawed, but because Mr. Zuckerberg holds a controlling share of votes on the board, external and internal pressure on the company to change how they are designed and deployed has proved futile.
Perhaps Jack Dorsey, one of Twitter’s co-founders and a board member, should have trusted his instincts when he tweeted that he doesn’t “believe any individual or institutions should own social media, or more generally media companies.”
Mr. Musk has said that he doesn’t care about the economics of his deal for Twitter. He may need that attitude if, as some expect, the platform becomes a free-for-all and advertisers abandon it.
Where can people go if they don’t like what Twitter turns into under Mr. Musk? New social media networks promising a free-speech alternative to Twitter have so far failed to gain traction, notably Truth Social among them.
As with the motives for establishing those competitors, Mr. Musk’s reasons for taking control of Twitter aren’t about free speech; it’s about controlling a megaphone. With his legion of fans, Mr. Musk will command a gigantic megaphone and be free to plug his own investments, pooh-pooh sound health regulations and shout down critics.
Speaking freely: Does that sound like a better place?