It’s easy to be nostalgic for the early-2000s wild west days of the internet, when the soundtrack to every Myspace page was a compulsory Fallout Boy song and you could melt your family’s computer by downloading a file called “ALIEN.AUTOPSY.FOOTAGE.HD.REAL” from Limewire.
Bush wasn’t using Bebo to call Al Gore a loser, and he damn sure wasn’t using it to spur on an insurrection (that’s more of an MSN thing). It was a simpler time.
That isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot of bad stuff on the internet of yore; there was, but there was a comfort to be had in its relative nicheness.
The influx of power players and the internet’s increasing ubiquity over the past decade have had the effect of mainstreaming some of that online toxicity, and putting its power in fewer and less stable hands. And unfortunately, it might be about to get even worse.
Yet this week it was revealed that Elon Musk has offered to buy Twitter for more than $41bn (£31.3bn), a proposal the social media giant promised to “carefully review”. If reading that made your entire body clench then good, that means your brain hasn’t been replaced with a jpeg of Pepe the Frog.
Musk’s online persona is so overwhelmingly bizarre it’s easy to forget that he’s a 50-year-old emerald mine heir and owner of two Fortune 500 companies. He’s what would happen if Tom Hanks’ character from Big was an internet troll and the movie ended with him fathering an incomprehensibly named child with Elizabeth Perkins.
Handing him control of Twitter would be like handing a toddler a loaded gun, except most guns have more reliable safety features in place and toddlers have the capacity for growth.
In the past Musk’s Twitter use has affected stock prices, lowering or raising their value based on one-sentence Tweets he admits to often sending on the toilet. He used it to call British caver Vernon Unsworth a “pedo guy” after Unsworth committed the grave sin of… rescuing children from a collapsed cave. He shares memes whose origin can be traced back to 4chan’s infamous neo Nazi board /pol/.
He shared pandemic misinformation at the height of Covid. Also, I’m not sure if this is the right word for it, but does it count as cyberbullying when you tell beloved 80-year-old progressive politician and former Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders that you “keep forgetting [he’s] still alive”?
Even his offer to buy Twitter itself is tinged with the kind of way-too-online-ness he’s become known for, setting his price at $54.20 a share, which many believe to be a reference to the 420 meme (itself a reference to marijuana use).
Not to put too fine a point on it, that would mean that Musk made a financial decision worth potentially millions of additional dollars on the basis of the world’s most played out weed joke.
There was a time not too long ago when people used to compare Musk to a real-life Tony Stark, to the point that he actually had a brief cameo in the second Iron Man movie. He isn’t, though. He’s more of a Loki. But not the sexy MCU Loki; the one from Norse mythology who gives birth to a horse and helps bring about the end of the world.
There’s a dark, rebellious part of me that almost admires Musk’s total refusal to be normal. He’s kind of an anarchist; or as close as you can get to anarchy while still opposing unionisation and commanding $265bn of the world’s wealth.
But with Twitter being such a core part of people’s personal and professional life, giving him unfettered control of the platform feels like playing with fire.
I don’t even like Twitter. It’s plagued by perverts and Nazis, and none of them ever retweet my hilarious observations. But speaking as a freelancer, I’ve got more work from using Twitter than I have from using LinkedIn, and that’s basically Facebook for Tories.
I can’t afford for Musk to decide to make some big sweeping change to the site’s functionality based on something he saw on Reddit that day. It’s only been a few days since he indicated that he would add an edit button to Tweets, an idea with so much potential for abuse that I’m honestly surprised it took them this long to consider implementing it.
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Twitter isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s something a good deal of us have to use for work, staying in touch with people, keeping up with breaking news, or just ranting about how much we hate Twitter.
There are jobs that expect you to have a Twitter account before you even apply, and it’s where a good deal of online life takes place now. That isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it’s the reality of the situation, and regardless of your personal feelings on the matter it’s a reality we already live with.
Entertainers use it, politicians use it, and your friends and family likely use it to; does it really seem like a good idea to put all of those online identities in the hands of a man who once tweeted “I put the art in fart”?
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