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Being on Twitter "is like staying too late at a bad party full of people who hate you," said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. And it's about to get worse. Last week, tech titan Elon Musk seemed to have capitulated in his efforts to cancel his deal to buy Twitter, agreeing to close the deal at the $44 billion price he offered in April. If he owns Twitter, Musk will be the ultimate troll-in-chief, and he is "likely to make the site a more congenial place for racist demagogues and conspiracy theorists." Already, he's promised to reinstate Donald Trump, and "other far-right figures may not be far behind, along with Russian propagandists, Covid deniers, and the like." Maybe the best thing to hope for is that Musk will make Twitter so awful that "users will flee." But I'm skeptical. Twitter is addictive, particularly for people who live in the world of breaking news, like journalists and politicians.
Sorry, said Rich Lowry in Politico, "at the end of the day, the biggest problem Musk's critics have with him is that he is a threat to their de facto control of Twitter." Since its founding, Twitter's "workforce of hyper-online progressive employees overwhelmingly living and working in a deeply blue jurisdiction" has been calling the shots. By contrast, Musk holds the classical-liberal view that "false or unwelcome speech is best combated by more speech." That feels radical only to those who favor speech suppression. Whatever you think of Musk, buying Twitter will make him a critical force in the 2024 election cycle, said Kevin Roose in The New York Times. Musk "often crusades against the 'woke left,'" and his takeover will make Twitter "a friendlier platform for right-wing voices." He could bring "a host of right-wing culture warriors" back to the service. But don't discount the possibility that ultimately Republicans could "stake out extreme positions on Twitter that end up backfiring on them at the ballot box."
Twitter's value, both as a cultural barometer and as a business, often gets overstated, said Peter Kafka in Vox. With 238 million monthly users, it's dwarfed in size by Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Yes, Trump could command the "world's news cycle" through Twitter, but that's because he was the president of the United States. Twitter's 280-character tweets are losing their appeal to young people "when much of the world is embracing images and video." Indeed, Musk will be taking over a damaged business, said Jack Shafer in Politico, and at the beginning he'll damage it even more. Musk "shoots off his mouth regularly, fails like clockwork, and overpromises like a confidence man." His Twitter will probably explode on liftoff, like Musk's first tries at launching a rocket. The thing to watch for is what happens afterward. Musk's ambitions for Twitter are grand — one option is to turn it in to a "super-app," along the lines of China's WeChat. To make that work, though, Twitter can't reward only the ugliest and loudest. Look for him to find his way there, because if Musk is forced to spend $44 billion on Twitter, he won't want to see that money disappear.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.