I shouldn’t have to care about Twits and Musk.
I don’t have a Twitter account and barely knew that Mr. Musk had some involvement with Tesla, had the brilliant (?) idea of launching a car into space, and periodically says something stupid that causes the stock markets to react.
Over the last few days I have felt bombarded with references to them. This morning’s paper had two articles about it in the business section, Mr. Maher’s New Rule was about how we should up our BS meters to learn to live with a lack of censorship. I agree, in a way.
We do need to tune up our BS meters. No question about that.
Let us start with the BS that Twitter is either a town square or about “free speech”.
When you walk through a town square you see whatever is around. I think of the Boston Common. You may stop and listen to one soap box oration more than others, but you see whoever happens to be out. You might even notice other things, like a few homeless people camped under trees, interesting graffiti; you might watch the swan boats or see ducklings in the pond. Twitter calling itself a “town square” is marketing, not a description, or even a goal, of the platform.
Social media platforms have to use one. There is too much out there to dump it all out to everyone. People would be overwhelmed, realize what a waste of time it is and stop using the platform. Heaven forfend!!
The algorithm has one basic goal: to make money for Twitter, including the company itself (including shareholders) and its advertisers, both formal ones and the folks who use the platform as an informal marketing tool. They might call it “optimization”, but it is a form of censorship: they don’t feed you ideas that would cause you to close the app or stop clicking
Even its attempt to bring new ideas into people’s consciousness with “trending” isn’t really an egalitarian feature. Rich, famous people making inane remarks trend because they have large followings, not because they have interesting, original or worthwhile ideas. What they do is generate clicks.
The trending feed is chosen for you with an idea of what will engage you, based on content that you “like”. Remember that the longer you spend on the platform the more advertising they can sell. If you think that they don’t fill your feed with material that gently guides you to make purchases from their advertisers then your BS meter needs a reset.
When something is monetized it isn’t free anymore. Twitter, like all other social media platforms has a business model where you create content at no cost to them and they promote it, or not, as they see fit.
Many users create content in order to market their business, find new clients, etc. They study the algorithm and learn to manipulate it to reach their desired customers, then groom them into buying. They tailor what they say to cause the algorithm to give them the results they want.
Even those who aren’t looking to make a buck, or million, get hooked by likes and shares. Like rats pressing a lever for pellets in a lab experiment. They learn to tailor their output to get more pellets. Humans are very trainable, as anyone with cute pets can attest.
Mr. Musk is not a free speech messiah
Mr. Musk is a high end influencer. No more, no less. That is basically a snake oil salesman, a spin master. Right now he is floating ideas and getting Twitter a bunch of PR in order to get money to finance his purchase and more customers for what it offers. Massaging his ego is a side benefit, the goal is publicity and the money it brings.
Twitter benefits if you keep scrolling. It is a for-profit company and will remain so after the Musk acquisition is completed. Whether its algorithm is changed or released or not, it will be optimized to keep you clicking for pellets.
Use Twitter or don’t, but do tune your BS meter finely enough to realize that you aren’t intended to benefit from Mr. Musk’s acquisition of the platform, and that any changes to the algorithm will be based, as they always have been, on maximizing profits.