We are officially one month into Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter. One month of needlessly cruel layoffs, of cozying up to far right goons, of uncertainty about the direction my favourite bar is taking. It is under new management which thinks few people are unwelcome to stay regardless of their behaviour, and fired most of the bouncers so there are fewer people keeping an eye out for things that drive others away. At best, he is spineless. At worst, he is enabling and even welcoming terrible people; that is certainly how they read it.
Is it any wonder advertisers are reportedly spooked?
Now he has decided to take on what used to be his biggest advertiser after they, in the words of Musk, “threatened to withhold Twitter” from the App Store, apparently without explanation. But it does not take a close Apple watcher to speculate on why it would be newly concerned about the Twitter app: it requires all apps which permit user submissions to have functional filtering, blocking, and reporting mechanisms. This is not a mystery. Apple is probably — understandably — worried about Musk’s statements and the laying off of thousands of moderators. In fairness, Twitter does not have a spectacular track record of ridding its platform of even the most heinous material but, also in fairness, eliminating all but one person tasked with removing CSAM in the world’s most populous region will make it harder to solve this problem, despite claims to the contrary.
Musk framed Apple’s reduced advertising spend as an attack on free speech. That is a wild accusation to throw at a company that, as Jason Koebler at Vice pointed out, twice challenged the FBI when the Bureau attempted to compromise encryption. Apple’s control of native app distribution on iOS devices means it is uniquely positioned to influence acceptable limits of speech and, as Musk also complained about today, it extracts fees from digital businesses. Those are also concerning factors — ones which I have repeatedly writen about. But Musk has no credibility in framing its ad spending as a free speech issue.
Of note, Twitter has also been a staunch defender of free speech. This bar I love has long been home to anonymous users and a crack legal team pushing back against worldwide interference. It has also established internal boundaries to try to improve the comfort of its guests. Many of the people making those decisions have been pushed out, replaced by people more obedient to the whims of an owner who believes none of that is necessary. He says he will comply with regulators while laying off staff responsible for that. This bar is filling up with assholes who are making many of us uncomfortable and driving some away. Hopefully, the new spot can fill the void. Even so, it still feels like a loss.