Rumours abound about how Elon Musk will manage Twitter once he has taken control. Musk already stated that he will “authenticate all human beings,” and this could include real names or photo identification.
Experts believe Musk should focus on the most basic priorities.
Gaining trust is our immediate priority. Elon has no shortage of innovation, but Dr. Dustin York from Maryville University, an associate professor of communications, must take the lead.
Jui Ramaprasad, Professor in Decision, Operations and Information Technologies at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, said that misinformation is one of the major problems facing social media platforms.
Ramaprasad said that Musk’s free speech stance seems at odds with policy on content moderation. “It is evident that, with the influence that social media has in elections and other public health issues (examples of the last few decades), a mechanism to sort fact from fiction in an way that actually discourages consumption and distribution of false content would prove important.”
The typical signals of credibility – including verified accounts, number of followers, even warnings about the source and content of potential misinformation – no longer seems to be serving that purpose.
Ramaprasad stated that the lack of effective policies in this area is worse for traditionally marginalized groups. Digital platforms, such as Twitter, provide an opportunity for marginalized voices to be heard but can also revert back into increased marginalization without proper moderation. This moderation might be made easier by the EU’s Digital Services Act.
Social Media and its changing role
Social media continues to play a vital role in society. It is no longer the informal platform that we used to share highlights from our trip or nights out with our friends. Social media has evolved into a platform that anyone can use to broadcast their views to the world. However, it is entirely dependent upon how many followers an individual has.
The purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk reflects the evolution in social media. Social media platforms (including Twitter) have the potential to become a market place for ideas as is. However, that possibility has not yet been realized,” said Julianna Krischner, Ph.D., lecturer in the Master of Communication Management program of the University of Southern California.
Social media platforms favor content that is amplified, or people want to increase. After studying social media for over fifteen years, I have learned that not every idea is the best. Popular content will be liked by the most people, usually with an existing fanbase. Popularity is the result of popularity.
A billionaire also pledged to improve transparency and uplift the platform.
Musk’s remarks about Twitter’s algorithm being open-source could have been a surprise development. Kirschner stated that a lot of the current social media research relies on known or accessible quantities. However, Twitter’s algorithm doesn’t fall under this umbrella.”
“If Musk holds true on making Twitter’s algorithm a known quantity, anyone—scholars and users alike—can learn how data is used and how algorithmic structures shape what users see and, by extension, engage. If a marketplace of ideas is Musk’s intention, the first step is to create public access to the algorithm and have an accessible debate—free from the influence of the algorithm—about the algorithm’s impact on user experience. This information is vital for the development of next steps towards creating an online community that’s more open and communicative.
What needs to change?
Although there are many users who like Twitter as it is now, others will most likely adopt the new changes. The direction that it might take is not likely to please everyone.
The pivot from an advertisement model to a subscription model will have the greatest impact on Twitter’s business. This has been required for many years. The best social change is to make Twitter’s algorithm accessible to all. York stated that Twitter might be the first social network to openly reveal their algorithm in order to encourage accountability, given the growing distrust surrounding social media’s involvement in mental health.
Twitter can “change things up” from time to time, but this will not be Musk’s first.
Twitter is known for its experimentation with platform functions. Ramaprasad said that Edit is one of their most recent and high-profile features. “One question that Twitter must address moving forward is how they plan to determine the success of these new features.” We usually talk about more engagement being better as it brings in more advertising dollars – but is this the case in the world of filter bubbles and misinformation?”
York suggests that while testing the new features is important, it could also be crucial to be transparent with the testers.
York said that while some updates, such as trying to delete Twitter bots should be done at full speed ahead of others like editing buttons or changing advertising messages should be tried first on small scales to assess real-world impacts before mass implementation. Think of a social media platform with transparent algorithms that are accountable. Imagine accounts of more than 100,000 users being charged a monthly subscription. It will create an advertising-free environment. Musk is right to be concerned about a private “town square,” but only these two changes can change the course of media.