Elon Musk’s outright purchase of Twitter for $44 billion has sparked celebrations on the political right and a meltdown on the left.
The former is ecstatic with the prospect of “free speech,” while the latter is terrified of losing control over the modern public square. Musk signaled a middle ground by tweeting, “A social media platform’s policies are good if the most extreme 10% on the left and right are equally unhappy.”
Though “free speech” is the most urgent thing to solve at Twitter since left-wing censorship undermined the 2020 national elections by suppressing stories eventually proven true while hyping stories proven false, it’s only half the battle.
Online harassment, hyper-partisanship and sociopathic behaviors are all encouraged by Twitter’s structure, tearing at the fabric of society and threatening America’s long term viability. A country which tears itself apart over differences can’t last in perpetuity. Like the former Yugoslavia.
While studying at the Air Force’s Command and Staff College a couple decades ago, one truism I heard there stuck with me ever since: “You can’t expect good people to succeed in a lousy organization.”
And that’s just what Twitter has been. It uses an addictive format which boosts clicks and increases ad revenue by creating a battlefield where the public square looks more like a modern day equivalent of the Roman Colosseum. Or Paris during the French Revolution. Only instead of physical deaths and dismemberment, it’s social deaths and dismemberment. On a larger scale.
Extremism is rewarded. Moderation is not. The saying “reasonable minds can disagree” is no longer true. At least on Twitter. That’s because people are eventually smeared as traitors, racists, sexists, white supremacists, etc. simply for expressing different opinions or challenging corporate media-driven narratives which are routinely proven false or misleading. If you’re possibly going to lose your livelihood plus be socially ostracized over tweets, why even tweet?
Here are five ways Elon Musk can detoxify Twitter for the public good:
Remove Like and Retweet Buttons – It is human nature to be liked. The more “likes” and “retweets” you get, the more successful you feel. Yet with just 240 characters and optionally a meme or photo, provocation is rewarded. Nuance is not. How many people aim for those “viral” tweets which will draw attention to themselves and possibly lead to television appearances, media mentions or even book deals? And how many of those tweets and RTs are recklessly demonizing others to achieve that notoriety? With no buttons, the viciousness will go down.
Eliminate Bots – Web robots are designed to troll others and sow disinformation. It’s one software development we’re better off without. With stunning advancements in artificial intelligence, bots will become more sophisticated and harder to detect. Deep fakes of people on recorded videos are improving with such speed that it may soon become impossible to tell the difference with the naked eye. This is not just a nightmare for politicians and celebrities, but anybody targeted for any reason.
Verify Identity – Many Twitter users will be more civil if they know there could be consequences. Like getting a bank account or passport, identity verification to enter the public square should be a must. Using pseudonyms seems reasonable to safeguard against mob attacks, doxing and violence, though isn’t itself incompatible with registering for an account. However we can’t expect anonymous accounts to behave any better than masked people at Antifa riots.
Expand Blue Checkmarks – The Blue Check feature is one of Twitter’s worst elements because they seem to be disproportionately awarded to corporate journalists and allied left-wing public figures. Purportedly designed for verified public interest accounts, the gatekeepers at San Francisco HQ have used them as a de facto class system with those on top in control. By expanding Blue Checks to anyone with a verified identity, the power dynamics will change.
Ban Serial Harassers – Anyone who has spent much time on Twitter sees it’s the same people always harassing or outright stalking others — usually with baseless conspiracy theories. Twitter typically appears to ban offenders on the right while shielding those on the left. Like crime statistics bear out, it’s a small percentage of people who commit the vast majority of crimes. Twitter seems no different. It’s created a legion of internet trolls with no discernible skills other than chasing clout by attacking anyone who disagrees with them.
While some of these ideas have been floated publicly, none get a fraction of the attention they deserve. Free speech should be just the first step. A tough fight looms ahead.
J.D. Gordon is a former National Security & Foreign Policy Advisor to Republican leaders Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee and Herman Cain. Previously, he served as a Pentagon spokesman during the George W. Bush Administration and is a retired Navy Commander.