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Give Musk a chance to fix Twitter


About the only people happy with Elon Musk’s first days at Twitter were the network’s shareholders who saw their long moribund stock turn into hard cash at the rate of $54.20 per share, a price that anyone paying attention knew was way more than they were actually worth.

Everyone else, it seemed, was up in arms, including most of the employees, many of whom were laid off, and a subset of the site’s heaviest and most progressive users. Shonda Rhimes and Whoopi Goldberg to name but two, exited the platform in theatrical fashion, as did Sara Bareilles and Toni Braxton.

In her announcement on “The View,” Goldberg headed down a rabbit hole of absurd paradoxes.
“People keep saying it’s free speech, but all speech is not free speech,” she said. “Some speech is not OK free speech. So everybody has to agree on that, but if people keep saying, ‘You hurt my free speech,’ it’s going to be a problem.”

We’ll let you sort that one out. Suffice to say that some people only now believe in the speech they deem acceptable.

But let’s be clear about a few things. Twitter was losing money and, for a public company, that’s generally a problem. Even during the halcyon days for social media, otherwise known as the pandemic, Twitter did not see any kind of meaningful increase in shareholder value, certainly not as compared with other channels such as Facebook.

Even Facebook announced layoffs of some 11,000 workers; not as drastic a percentage as Twitter, for sure, but a larger number of lost tech jobs. The social networks ate the lunch of traditional media by being leaner and meaner, but in time, they became bloated, complacent and vulnerable to competition.

While his methods were far from ideal, Musk had no choice but to reduce expenses and/or find new revenue sources. And as all media companies well know, the two major categories available are advertising and subscriptions. Most end up with some combination of the two with a preponderance of the latter. Twitter had been trying to make money only on the former, but that wasn’t working.

So what other choice does Musk now have? Go nonprofit after shelling out $44 billion? That would make him quite the philanthropist, but the guy is an entrepreneur.

His ideals of a channel that respects all points of view equally may well prove to be naive in a country where one half defines much of the speech of the other half as various degrees of unacceptable. And since one person’s opinion is another’s misinformation, he’ll likely end up tying himself and his company in knots just trying to sort out contrary but legitimate points of view from actual, factual lies.

Musk also will likely find that advertisers are not so fond of being next to certain kinds of speech. Some degree of ideological curation is, in our real world, inevitable. Musk is learning this lesson fast.
Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service



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