Well, it’s official. After weeks of speculation, Twitter has officially accepted Elon Musk’s $US44 ($61) billion offer to purchase the social media platform. The agreement opens up a ton of unanswered questions about the future of the site — and some very specific questions about what this all means for automotive media and the journalists who work in this realm.
Twitter users have brought up a host of questions and concerns about how things will work when Musk controls the site. “Goodbye Twitter” and “Leaving Twitter” are already trending on the platform, less than an hour after the Musk news broke. Many of those who threatened to quit the social media platform cited concerns over how the site will handle harassment — particularly toward marginalised communities that have already suffered major issues on the site — as well as who will and will not be allowed to use Twitter. Would former President Donald Trump, banned for inciting violence around the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021, be allowed to return to Twitter? (So far, Trump says he won’t come back even if Musk lets him.) Would other figures, once booted off the site for violating Twitter’s terms of service, be allowed to return and spread misinformation once again?
In the world of automotive journalism, it’s almost a badge of honour to have been blocked by Musk on Twitter. Folks in car media have been blocked for poking fun at the Tesla CEO, but also for asking seemingly straightforward questions, or raising legitimate concerns about the company or the cars it builds.
Some of these pokes and jabs have been entirely fair game. There have been plenty of documented issues with the build quality and reliability of Tesla vehicles. There are documented problems with letting everyday drivers serve as beta testers for Autopilot. The Cybertruck seems doomed to never reach production, at least not in the form it took as a concept vehicle. These are fair concerns, and they deserve to be voiced. And that’s to say nothing about the worker injury problems at Tesla factories, the COVID outbreaks among Tesla factory employees (many of which flouted COVID rules to resume production), and the startling and horrific allegations of racist harassment allowed to persist at Tesla facilities.
It doesn’t help that Musk is no ordinary automotive CEO. Most days, it feels like Elon lives to shitpost on Twitter. Have you seen the heads of Porsche, General Motors, or Toyota posting memes on the bird site? Elon feels Twitter has compromised or inhibited his free speech. Now that he owns it, he can fix those issue, right? Given how he’s handled personal criticism, who knows.
Now that Musk owns Twitter, he controls the platform. Would he go so far as to block, or ban, accounts that offend him? What happens to automotive sites that prefer EVs from other companies, or publish a critical review of a Tesla?
Twitter has been used to spread hate speech, harass underrepresented communities, target individual people, and spread harmful misinformation. Are these types of behaviour acceptable under Elon’s definition of “free speech?”
Let’s not forget why people like former President Trump were banned from Twitter. Misinformation spreads like wildfire on Twitter. While the social medial platform has made some changes to mitigate the worst behaviour, Musk seems to oppose such efforts. Where does Musk draw the line between “free speech” and “harmful speech?” What does he consider “harrassment?” Will Musk ever commit to actually protecting his critics, or is this vague, noncommittal statement the best we can expect?
I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 25, 2022
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough with social media in general. When used properly, social platforms can be a great way to build community and bring people together. Many of us have found friends, jobs, opportunities of a lifetime, via Twitter. It has certainly done that for me, and I am forever grateful for that. However, social sites can also be used as a dangerous weapon — and I fear for the smaller voices, and the future of those who criticise Musk or Tesla, whether it’s through a professional endeavour like car journalism or as private individuals.
I deleted 10 years of digital memories when I canned my Facebook. It won’t hurt too much to nuke my Twitter.