What Elon Musk might do to Twitter

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Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter should give pause to anyone worried about the spread of dangerous disinformation, online bullying and hate speech. He wants to make the platform a global town square. It’s a great theory, but devilishly difficult to implement given that a not-insignificant share of the hundreds of millions of people who post every few seconds tend to harass others, encourage violence, say the 2020 election was stolen in ways that make it likelier for the 2024 election to end in chaos, and so on.

Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition in Washington, Monday, March 9, 2020. (Susan Walsh/AP)

But notwithstanding his very stupid Sunday tweet claiming that underground tunnels are immune to extreme weather conditions (Superstorm Sandy, anyone?), Musk is no idiot. He’s been a savvy company-builder for decades, and his Monday sketch of a way forward for Twitter is, dare we say, promising. He spoke of “defeating the spam bots,” a fine idea, “and authenticating all humans,” another very good one. Twitter is rife with fake accounts and people concealing their identities, making the service miserable for ordinary users. So too, he says he wants his biggest critics to keep tweeting freely.

Nor are Musk and his allies wrong that Twitter has made more than its share of boneheaded decisions — blocking legitimate news and commentary such as a certain competitor’s pre-election scoop about Hunter Biden’s laptop, and even barring satire when it allegedly ran afoul of community guidelines. Twitter higher-ups have barred some incendiary voices even as they allowed Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and other transparently bad actors to continue to tweet away. For instance, it’s fair at this point to let Donald Trump get his thumbs back on his favorite toy — at least until he tries to do another coup.

All that said, it is easy for a color commentator to critique a coach from the media box. When that commentator takes over the team and has to win games, all bets are off.

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