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18th November 2022

Musk Off: Why Twitter’s acquisition won’t save discussion

Elon Musk’s ill-advised Twitter purchase will do nothing to help the failing platform
Musk Off: Why Twitter’s acquisition won’t save discussion
Photo: @ Prachatai

On October 28, Elon Musk confirmed his purchase of Twitter, proudly tweeting on his (yes, his) app that “the bird is freed”. This brings an end to the incessant legal saga keenly followed by the troop of tech geeks and try-hard investors I happen to be friends with.

Just before the deal was finalised, Musk elaborated on his desire to create a “common digital town square” and prevent societal division. He bemoaned the polarisation of traditional media and insisted that his purchase was to “help humanity”. Talk about a hero complex. Nevertheless, it is only fair we give him the chance to “help”.

So far, he is failing. Miserably. Since Musk’s acquisition, Twitter users have been migrating to apps with warmer climates. The Guardian reports that a flock of left-leaning Northern Cardinals seem to enjoy using an app called Mastodon — 70,000 of them joined the day Twitter was taken over. Meanwhile, the right-leaning blue tits might be persuaded to drift towards Parler, the app about to be purchased by Kanye West following his unceremonious banning from most social media apps. This problem appears to be translatable to other parts of the world; the humble Koel birds of India gently soar to Koo, an app that recently crossed 50 million downloads.

It is hardly newsworthy that Twitter is dying; it is one of the reasons why Musk initially wanted to buy it. But will his changes be enough to save it from irrelevance? Will Elon Musk be the soaring eagle he thinks he is, majestically rescuing Twitter from being the echo chamber we see it as? Or is he a vexing seagull with a few eagle feathers, unnecessarily dropping his excrement onto the app and worsening a bad situation?

Only time will tell. Regardless, Musk was correct in highlighting the poignancy of our echo chamber-esque media culture. Left-wingers devour feed from the bird box of Novara Media, Owen Jones, or TYT. Simultaneously, right-wingers swill from the pool that is GB News, The Daily Wire, or PragerU. Meanwhile, ‘unbiased’ media outlets like the BBC and ITV are afflicted with criticism from both sides for being insufficiently ‘unbiased’ and favouring one group over another. Take this famous clip of the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro trying to attack the BBC for being too left-wing, and this article slating the BBC for being “stupidly right-wing” as proof. I guess birds of the same feather really do flock together.

Time for the next question: can Musk ‘fix’ political discourse?

No. he can’t. More importantly, I don’t believe we want him to. People may spew ineloquent wanton gobbets on polarising politics, but they don’t believe what they say. The main aspect of the digital age is the ability to consume the information we want, when we want. We get to separate our juicy mealworms from our off-brand sunflower seeds. We want to surround ourselves with people who congratulate us for our brilliance and share our worldview. In short, we like being in an echo chamber, and the polarisation of politics is a natural consequence of this.

I like debate. I also like being an insufferable know-it-all. Most people, however, are resistant to disagreement. I don’t blame them. When the purpose of political discussion is victory over understanding, when getting intellectually trounced is the alternative to internet fame, what remotely sane human being would share their opinions in a public forum? This creates a space for the divisive attention seekers to dominate discussions, allowing the greatest agitators to revel in our breed’s disagreements with them. As long as we continue to coddle ourselves in nests with eggs of the same feather, we will find ourselves conned by vultures preying on our search for security.

I am going to end this article now; I just don’t know enough about birds to continue using clever analogies. The only thing left to do is to sum up my view with something cheeky and memorable, so here goes:

The Twitter bird may be free, but so is a pigeon in Piccadilly Gardens. And I don’t think much of pigeons.

Ashwin Venkatakrishnan

Ashwin Venkatakrishnan

History student undergoing a quarter-life crisis

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