Twitter’s Real Sticky Wicket

Yes, Twitter right now is a bit of a hot mess. And it would seem it’s going to be like that for a little while yet as the company is shaken up by Musk. Some advertisers have left, not all. Apple has now said it doesn’t intend and never did intend, to drop the app from the App Store, and it continues to advertise. The jury remains out as to whether or not Twitter will survive. But the real sticky wicket for Twitter isn’t the technology, the spam accounts. It’s far greater headwinds. And in an area Musk is gravely unfamiliar with.

What we may be about to see is a clash of titans. A dyed in the wool Libertarian against governments and momentous bureaucracy. This will be the battle that determines Twitters fate more than any other, along with other social media platforms. Why?

Western, democratic governments have begun to realise the power and impact of social media on civil society, beyond just privacy concerns. Especially the European Union (EU) government and the Digital Services Act. It is one of the biggest overhauls on regulations around online activity beyond just privacy into rules around the use of AI as well as managing misinformation. Canada too, is set to introduce a new privacy act, which also includes AI regulations in 2023.

Civil rights groups across the EU and U.S. have also raised the alarm and are preparing civil actions, against Twitter and other social media platforms. This is the sticky wicket for Musk and other social media platforms to navigate. He has indicated that Twitter will be in compliance, but one can imagine, it may not be a straightforward shift for Musk and Twitter. The coming clash will have knock-on effects for all social media platforms.

While we can’t possibly know the real inner goings on at Twitter, although there’s a lot of speculation, the company hasn’t completely trashed it’s moderation team and policies. Although he pushes the limits with regards to regulatory compliance, sometimes stepping over, Musk will have Twitter in compliance. Or pick a legal battle.

The indicators are suggesting that we’ve reached a tipping point now when it comes to social media and civil society. We have a much better understanding now of where it’s good and where it’s bad. Society, through cultural normalisations, is defining what is and isn’t acceptable. The general public and activist groups are pushing their issues to politicians in democracies loud enough that it’s starting to outweigh the influence of lobbyists.

Operating a social media platform today, especially one at scale like Twitter or Facebook. Even Zuckerberg stated recently that running Facebook is like taking a gut punch every morning. It is easy, when on the outside, to criticise and ridicule. But social media companies are incredibly complex to run (that’s for another post.) They go beyond just the technology to dealing with complex legal and regulatory issues and sociocultural complexities. Musk is an engineer and unequipped to deal with these particular issues. But he’s good at putting the right people in place and perhaps he can do that. Time will tell.

But for now, it’s a sticky wicket for Twitter. And other platforms will be paying close attention.

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