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Analysis | Musk invites Trump to his Twitter Hellscape

Remark

That was Elon Musk’s most recent Twitter post at the time of writing, just hours after he announced he would reinstate former President Donald Trump to the site.

It’s a move that epitomizes the chaos Musk has wrought at his new social media company, as well as his inability to keep his word or stick to a plan.

For example, on Oct. 27, he promised increasingly dubious Twitter advertisers that Twitter would not become “a free hellscape, where anything can be said without consequence.”

The next day, Musk said he would form a “content moderation board with widely differing views” to review high-profile, banned accounts like Trump’s. “There will be no major substantive decisions or account recovery before that council meets,” he said.

That didn’t happen. Musk has since said nothing about a council and instead decided Trump’s fate with a Twitter poll, which he likely suspected would favor the twice-imposed former president who helped instigate the rebellion from the US Capitol on January 6. (Much of Musk’s loyal fan base is on the right side of the political spectrum; the billionaire also recently said that Americans should vote Republican.)

His poll received 15 million votes, with 51.8% recommending reinstating Trump.

The former president’s account can now be visited and is also inactive. Trump may be wondering what to do. He has a financial incentive to support his own social media platform, Truth Social, and has said he won’t be back on Twitter because it has “a lot of problems”.

But Trump is not a man of his word either. Truth Social is small and the lure of a larger megaphone with a constant feedback loop is hard to resist for those with big egos.

If Trump does start tweeting, it could herald a further descent for the site. About 75% of Twitter’s staff and most of its content moderators have left the company since Musk took over, either through layoffs or layoffs, and more may be joining on Monday, according to Bloomberg News.

That could pose initial problems as a flood of visitors pour in to browse the latest news about Trump and the World Cup, which kicked off on Sunday. Reduced to a skeleton crew, Twitter’s infrastructure engineers will be working overtime to ensure the site stays up and running.

More problematic is that a second wave of Trump tweets could spark a wave of offensive messages similar to the growth in hate speech that happened right after Musk took over the reins.

To what extent does this fit with Musk’s goals? It seems he is creating a platform for unfettered free speech that is light on the consequences for the worst behaved. But he also seems to be swept up in what Twitter’s algorithms do best: an addiction to getting more attention on Twitter.

Musk praised the site’s growing popularity since he took over. He tweeted last week that Twitter usage had reached an “all-time-high” and then posted a chart showing an upward trend in daily users. “The recent trend is promising,” he said.

For Musk, all the extra activity on Twitter points to success. But it won’t help Twitter’s precarious situation with advertisers, many of whom have suspended ads on the platform over concerns about spotty content moderation and toxic messaging.

An analysis by GroupM, the world’s largest ad buying agency, warned last week that Twitter – which derives 90% of its revenue from advertising – had become too “high risk”. It advised customers to stay away until the platform improved its content moderation strategy, according to a GroupM document seen by Bloomberg Opinion.

Musk seems to have forgotten the age-old mirage that disappoints many social media influencers, that online popularity doesn’t necessarily make money. The imageboard 4chan has tens of millions of visitors and spawned powerful online movements, but generates relatively little ad revenue. The reason: no brand wants to be associated with a website that was once called the “a****** of the internet”.

Twitter isn’t quite the infernal landscape that 4chan is, but with so few people left to delete the toxic, rule-breaking posts just as one of the site’s biggest rule breakers returns, things are headed in that rather unpleasant direction.

More from Bloomberg’s opinion:

• Musk’s latest Twitter move can only drive ad revenue down: Parmy Olson

• Twitter destroys the Musk Aura Tesla needs: Liam Denning

• Trump Reminds Republicans He’s Not Going Away: Timothy O’Brien

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist on technology. She is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes and author of “We Are Anonymous.”

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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