Elon Musk seems to churn up public debate in the wake of everything he does these days, and his $44 billion purchase of the social media giant, Twitter, means that a great many are asking whether he will improve wellness on the platform.
Will he enhance the quality of discussion, kick out the spambots, and increase user security?
Can we dare to think that it will become a cozier, more friendly place?
These are important questions, and all the more so since social media addiction and digital wellbeing are such big issues today.
Signs are that Elon Musk is addicted to Twitter himself. He’s tweeted more in each passing year, and it’s not uncommon for him to tweet more than thirty times in a day - making him appear to be the billionaire who bought a restaurant because he fancies the waitress.
His tweets themselves have not always covered him in roses. He’s been accused of slandering rescue divers, manipulating stock prices, and spreading COVID misinformation. He can be, well, a bit of a troll, and the best thing we can say about young Elon is that he’s just a little too famous, and not everyone gets his sense of humor.
Ultimately, he’s no better or worse on Twitter than any one else. But as a tweet junkie, he’s just not a good advertisement for wellness on the platform himself, given the general consensus that Twitter makes its users feel bad about themselves, amplifies their anxiety and depression, and that they find it all but impossible to quit the platform for good.
Twitter is also a mean-spirited and dangerous place, and has an innate ability to turn discussions ugly - with all of this having implications for wellness. Politically, those on the left hate the podium it gives to bigots and trolls, while those on the right hate its censorship of free speech.
Elon Musk’s critics mainly come from the left (despite him voting for Hillary and Joe, and seeing himself sitting somewhere between the two main parties). But this political faultline is obvious in the heated online debate about whether he will improve wellness on Twitter or make it worse - though the “wellness” is framed around ideas of free speech and transparency instead.
It’s possibly too early to know what Elon Musk is going to do to Twitter, but there will be changes - he hasn’t spent all those billions on Twitter to do nothing, “Gentlemen, pretend I’m not here”.
And as a mainstay on the podcasting circuit, he’s spoken candidly about the direction he sees Twitter going, and his motivations certainly appear positive - or at least grounded in educated conviction.
We might not see the first tweet from Mars any time soon, but he does believe that he can do society a great service by improving certain aspects of Twitter, and particularly by using Facebook as a guide for what not to do.
Data privacy has long been a key weakness of Facebook, and it is still responsible for the largest data breach in history back in 2019, when the personal information of 533 million of its users suddenly appeared freely available online.
Given that Twitter has suffered similar - though smaller - breaches of its own, it’s good to read that Elon Musk is a vocal critic of Facebook’s data privacy policies and is serious about improving security on the platform.
And, as the cofounder of PayPal, he knows a thing or two about the subject.
Elon Musk has also publicly declared his intention to get rid of all the spambots on Twitter, and experts believe that he could stimulate cybersecurity innovations around identity, multi-factor authentication, and botnet detection (Security Week).
For the moment, these spambots remain a knife to the throat of wellness on Twitter, since they spread misinformation, manipulate voter choice, and circulate fraudulent links around the platform.
Eliminating them would bring real benefits to users, though he might lose a few of his own 90 million followers as a result - since almost half of them are fake (SparkToro).
This is much higher than normal, and reflects how different this business tycoon, influencer, celebrity, richest-man-in-the-world, and digital nerd is from everyone else in the world - celebrity and average Joe alike.
Think of him as a tweetaholic rather than alcoholic Iron Man, with his flamethrower and other inventions to match. He even needs his own unique sentence construction just to describe him properly.
Admittedly, the issue of internet privacy is wider in scope than spambots alone. But its impact on the mental health of users is well understood, and any work to address this will undoubtedly improve wellness.
Tackling the full ambit of internet privacy means Elon Musk would also need to move Twitter away from an advertising model that currently accounts for 90% of its revenue (BQ), and which relies on the exploitation of user data - putting them at risk.
He has previously criticized this business practice - both by Twitter and Facebook - and he’s publicly stated that he has not bought Twitter to make a profit. This brings hope that he can find a different revenue stream for the platform that doesn’t sell user data to third-party companies.
Elon Musk has also been vocal in the past about the sheer scale of fake news on Facebook, which has more clicks than real news, and which spreads faster than on any other social media platform (The Washington Post). This is reassuring, given that Twitter has a similar epidemic to worry about, and which we can hope he confronts.
He has also stated that, while not being a fan of regulations, he feels that they are necessary with social media, because of how harmful these platforms can be to the public - something that can only be a good thing for the safety of its users. This is also encouraging to hear.
Twitter may be the smallest of the social media giants, but it still holds a huge sway over the industry, and the wealth of Silicon Valley’s megacorporations is a powerful check on government regulation - unless someone from these companies is willing to open the door to them.
Ultimately, his purchase of Twitter was motivated by his political and philosophical convictions. He believes that the platform is too quick to censor users without due cause, and that its policy of deleting content or reducing the reach of tweets is a clear violation of his deeper concern - free speech.
Elon Musk sees Twitter as the “de facto public town square” - a watering hole for public debate in the digital era - and this means that it has a responsibility to respect democratic values. He has stressed his reluctance to delete tweets, and believes that content should be allowed as long as it adheres to the laws of the country it's operating in.
His political philosophical leaning also means that he wants to improve the transparency of Twitter’s tweet management, and specifically by making the algorithm itself both public knowledge and open source - so that users are aware of the platform’s policies around tweet promotion or suppression, for instance.
Not everyone agrees with this approach, but he has no plan to dominate the decision-making à la Zuckerberg. Elon Musk undoubtedly has a powerful voice at Twitter, and will influence its future, but he doesn't own a majority share and other shareholders will have their say.
Given all this, he’s hardly the Twitter dictator hellbent on societal destruction that his critics paint him as, and it’s unlikely that wellness would be welcomed without him onboard - and with banks and other investment companies left to make the decision making.
It’s also difficult to understand why this neurologically divergent African American gets more stick than Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bazos - two CEOs with far more power over their respective platforms.
But maybe that’s just the divisive nature of Twitter.
He’s in the almost unique position of being able to use his huge wealth to make a positive impact on society - digital wellbeing isn’t visiting Mars, but it would certainly make things a little better down here.