Op-ed: Elon Musk brings down Twitter

Sergio Gonzalo , contributor

Well, it’s official: Elon Musk now owns Twitter, one of the most popular social media platforms. A paragon of  “free speech,” one of Musk’s ultimate goals following his acquisition of Twitter was to, according to the Financial Review, “help humanity” because “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.” Essentially, he wanted to purchase Twitter in order to reinstate “free speech.” 

However, what that really means is that you are now allowed to spew anything that’s generally considered bigoted. In fact, not long after Twitter was purchased by Musk, usage of the N-word alone rose by 500%, almost certainly coming mostly from accounts owned by white people who think they are comedic geniuses, as well as other racists. That’s strike number one, Musk.

 Because of Musk’s purchase of Twitter, it has become an even more hostile place for minorities. It is truly impressive how one’s management of a site further boosted the level of hate speech on a platform already known for harboring some of the most hateful commentary posted online, but Musk did not disappoint. 

There’s also another major change Musk made to the platform: paid verification. For a brief time, users could purchase the esteemed blue verification check mark that many celebrities, influencers, politicians, and more bear. Though the program is temporarily suspended, Elon Musk announced he has plans to relaunch a new version of the paid verification system. So now, verification on Twitter is practically meaningless. In all honesty, we should have seen this coming. It’s almost a joke at this point that billionaires such as Musk are looking to milk everyone’s money, but Musk’s attempt to generate profit via the new verification system is not a joke at all. Moreover, the price for maintaining that beautiful blue checkmark on one’s profile was initially going to be $20 a month, but Musk soon lowered it. That’s strike number two, Musk.

 In response to this, many users, such as Ethan Klein of H3H3 Productions, bought verification and changed their display names to those that resemble celebrities and other verified users, giving the impression that the user who definitely wasn’t your favorite celebrity was your favorite celebrity. These same users would tweet some rather hilarious things under these false aliases, prompting Twitter to take action. Musk decided to ban any account that did this if they didn’t clearly state in their display name or bio they were a parody account. 

Nevertheless, some accounts that followed this guideline were still banned. Additionally, tweets criticizing Musk and his recent changes to Twitter would frequently disappear from the platform for ”violating community guidelines.” That doesn’t sound like the implementation of “free speech” Musk was striving to achieve when he acquired the platform, does it? So is his acquisition of the site really about free speech, or is it about him wanting to go on a power trip and earn even more money than he already has? That’s your third strike, Musk. 

Oh, but he’s not finished yet. Musk has responded to much of the criticism he has received but his responses were weak at best and childish at worst. In response to backlash against paid verification, he posted a “wojak” meme criticizing critics of paid verification by claiming that we pay the same amount for one month’s worth of verification every day when we pay for our Starbucks drinks, which only last us 30 minutes, according to the meme. This is immature logic, and the argument immediately crumbles once you acknowledge the obvious: Twitter verification is not the same as your daily Starbucks order. 

Aside from that, Musk made a smart choice with regards to rectifying the now removed  pay-for-verification system. He decided to add a feature that allows you to check whether or not someone is verified due to their notoriety as a figure in government, news, entertainment or another designated category. So, if you click on a verified user’s blue checkmark, it will indicate if they paid for it or not. This is a step in the right direction, but there’s still a big issue. Under the old pay-for-verification system users were typically boosted more on Twitter’s algorithm than unverified users, so if you wanted your tweets to be seen by the largest audience possible, you were pressured cough up those $8. This very obviously inhibits freedom of speech, since criticism on any topic will just disappear into the digital void if you don’t pay for your voice to be heard. This only further adds to the suspicion that Musk doesn’t truly care about freedom of speech.

In the end, Musk has worsened Twitter significantly. In the few short weeks  he’s owned it, he managed to anger a sizeable chunk of its user base by implementing insulting business practices and making it harder to cultivate safe spaces on the website, all in the name of free speech, while still silencing those exercising free speech because they said something he didn’t like. Musk’s Twitter takeover has been nothing short of pathetic. To add further insult to injury, about 89% of Twitter’s current staff have predicted Twitter will fail under Musk.. To say Musk is unfit to helm the site is a drastic understatement. 

Musk should have never purchased Twitter. Under his command, its failure has been practically set in stone. 

Sergio Gonzalo is a first-year journalism and political science double major. He can be reached at [email protected]