HomeNewsWhat’s the best thing that Elon Musk can do with Twitter? Delete it | Joel Golby
What’s the best thing that Elon Musk can do with Twitter? Delete it | Joel Golby
April 27, 2022
Well, it’s happening then: Elon Musk, one of history’s least inspiring Saturday Night Live hosts, has agreed to buy Twitter for approximately $44bn. I cannot in any realm understand why he has decided to buy the website I go to every day to embarrass myself on, but this is less about the deal and more about Musk himself: not uncool, exactly (although it is impossible to be cool and be a billionaire, and yes this does include Rihanna), but a man who creaks and vibrates with a desperate-to-be-liked-by-the-cool-kids energy that most of us shook off towards the end of secondary school. I should not be able to so palpably see that a billionaire wants me to like him. I should just be living in a constant terror that he is going to explode the moon, like every good billionaire should always be threatening to do.
Anyway, now is as good a time as any to assess the state of Twitter: it is not dead but definitely dying, and not because Musk has bought it (though the fact that Twitter was willing to effectively sell Twitter is frankly a red flag). The thing with social media platforms is that every one of them eventually dwindles down to something removed from the original bright kernel of the idea that made them – it is such a shame that David Fincher made such a cool film about the founding of Facebook, which is now just essentially a car boot sale that Candy Crush mums and dads “who remember proper bin men”get radicalised on – and Twitter is no different: the bizarre way the timeline never loads in sequential order; that doomed experiment with “fleets”; the fact that every viral tweet eventually sours – the user who tweeted it choosing like clockwork to sell galaxy projectors in a sponsored follow-up post.
But also, fundamentally, Musk is buying Twitter at a time when the written word is going away: Twitter started to lose out years ago to Instagram, which did “interacting with people” and “showing off about your life” a lot better than Twitter ever did; Instagram itself has since been elbowed out of the spotlight by TikTok, with its all-seeing algorithm and the fact that advertisers haven’t quite figured out how to ruin it yet. If you have something to say on the internet now, it’s better to say it to camera with closed captions and an elastic facial expression than typing it out in an affected lower-case font. Elon Musk may as well have just bought a Gutenberg press.
So what can Musk do to Make Twitter Great Again? So far he has made some vague statements about “freedom of speech”, which most people are reading as “reactivating Donald Trump’s Twitter account” (to be fair, he is a world-class poster), and suggested he’s interested in an edit button, which functionally would be a disaster. Hearing Musk talk about Twitter’s “tremendous potential” in 2022 is very reminiscent of every NFT bro’s pitch deck for a doomed crypto island: a lot of buzzwords, a lot of baseless trust in the future of tech, and the strange feeling that you are somehow being scammed. In five years’ time the only things Musk will have done are change the character limit to 420, permanently banned me for writing this, and turned his blue tick purple.
But here’s the most powerful (and coolest, by the way) thing Musk can do with the website: delete it, or at least get whichever Tesla engineer was responsible for those cars catching fire to build new servers so it deletes itself. Twitter is nearing its endgame because it has changed the way discourse works on its platform so it is now eating itself: people are in a daily race to have the most unhinged or worst possible faith interpretation of any major event (“Elon Musk is Will Smith and Twitter is Chris Rock. We are all Jada” – some moron who is about to get 250,000 likes, probably), the way many of us process politics is irreparably changed, and frankly every single user on there, myself included, needs to go outside and touch grass.
If Musk deleted Twitter, the masses wouldn’t flock to whatever not-quite-as-good written platform that forms to fill the void: they’ll go outside, finally unclench, stop trying to view every event through the cursed prism of hot takes and content (and maybe get into TikTok). Elon Musk thinks he’s just bought the planet’s town square, the news empire to end all other news empires, but he’s lost sight of the fact that he’s also bought a website where I can just post the word “shart” and get about 30 to 40 likes. Twitter has the potential to be a free speech haven by making every stupid thought anyone can possibly articulate equally important as any other thought, sure. But I think it would be better to absolutely not have that, in any way at all.
Joel Golby is a writer for the Guardian and Vice, and the author of Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant