BARBARA ORTUTAY, AP Technology Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A toxic cesspool. A life line. A finger on the wrist of the world. Twitter is all of these things and more of its more than 217 million users around the world – politicians, journalists, activists, celebrities, weirdos and normies, cat lovers and dogs and anyone with an internet connection.
For Elon Musk, its last troll and perhaps the most numerous user whose purchase of the company is on particularly shaky ground, Twitter is a “de facto town square” in dire need of a libertarian change. o.
If and how the takeover will happen, at this stage of the game, anyone can predict. On Friday, Musk announced that the deal was “underway,” then tweeted that he was still “assured” of it. On Tuesday, the billionaire Tesla CEO said he would overturn the ban on former President Donald Trump’s platform once his purchase is complete but also expressed support for a new European Union law aimed at protecting social media users from harmful content.
It’s been a riot for a few weeks and only one thing is for sure: the riot will continue for Twitter, both inside and outside the company.
“Twitter at the highest level is always chaos. It always has intrigue and it always has drama,” said Leslie Miley, a former Twitter engineering manager. “It,” she said, “is in Twitter’s DNA. “
`WHAT PEOPLE THINK ‘
Since its 2007 debut as a scrappy “microblogging service” at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, Twitter has always been punching more than its weight.
At a time when its rivals are counting their users in the billions, it remains small, disappointing Wall Street and making it easier for Musk to swoop an offer that the board cannot refuse.
But Twitter also has an unparalleled influence on news, politics and society thanks to its public nature, its simple, largely text -based interface and the sense of chronological urgency.
“It’s a potluck of good self-expression that boils down to whim, narcissism, voyeurism, hucksterism, tedium and sometimes useful information,” Associated Press technology writer Michael Liedtke wrote in a 2009 story about the company a few months later rejected a $ 500 million purchase. from Facebook. Twitter had 27 employees at the time, and its most popular user was Barack Obama.
Today, the San Francisco icon employs 7,500 people worldwide. Obama is still its most famous account holder, followed by pop stars Justin Bieber and Katy Perry (No. 6 is Musk). The rise of Twitter into the mainstream can be recorded through world events, as wars, terrorist attacks, the Arab Spring, the #metoo movement and other important moments in our collective history are played out in real time on the platform.
“Twitter always attracts thinkers. People who think about things are likely to be attracted to a text -based platform. And it’s full of reporters. That’s why Twitter is a reflection and a driver of what people think, ”said OnlyFans writer, editor and creator Cathy Reisenwitz, who has been on Twitter since 2010 and has more than 18,000 followers.
These days, Reisenwitz tweets about politics, sex work, housing and land use issues among many other things. She finds it great to discover people and ideas and discover others with her writing and thoughts. That’s why he stayed these years, despite the harassment and even the death threats he received on the platform.
Twitter users in academia, in niche fields, those with unique interests, subcultures small and large, grassroots activists, researchers and many more fill the platform. Why? At its best, it promises an open, free exchange of facts and ideas, where knowledge is shared, debated and questioned. Journalists, Reisenwitz recalls, were one of the first to take Twitter to the masses and make it what it is today.
“If I’m on Twitter, (almost) any journalist, no matter how big their platform is, if you say something interesting will answer you and you can talk about what they wrote and in real time,” Reisenwitz says. “And I just thought, it’s amazing. Whatever field you are in, you can talk to experts and ask them questions.
And those subcultures – it’s awesome. There’s Black Twitter, feminist Twitter, baseball Twitter, Japanese cat Twitter, ER nurse Twitter and more.
“It makes interest groups, especially those organized around social identity, whether we’re talking about gender or sexuality or race, have important group conversations,” said Brooke Erin Duffy, a Cornell University professor who studies social media.
In a 2018 study of social media subcultures-Black Twitter, Asian American Twitter and feminist Twitter-the Knight Foundation found that not only did they help challenge the top-down, they sometimes had trouble viewing the community but also influences wider media coverage of important issues.
“That’s why there’s this interesting flow of information that not only top-down, mainstream media speaks to subcultures, but allows different groups, in this case Black Twitter, to have a significant, meaningful conversations that are picked up by the media and disseminated to a wider public, ”Duffy said.
Software engineer Cher Scarlett says that while Twitter is far from perfect – and, undeniably, home to harassment, hate speech and misinformation – it’s still a step beyond many platforms. That’s because Twitter has at least tried to address toxic content, he said, with advances like Twitter Safety Mode, a product being tested now that can make it easier for users to stop harassment. Scarlett faces repeated online abuse for her advocacy for women in the field of technology.
“I’ve been on Twitter since it started. A big part of my network is Twitter, ”Scarlett said. “There’s nothing else like it.”
On the other hand Twitter’s ease, public, open nature and 280-character (formerly 140-character) limit is a perfect recipe for those who tend to run-especially anger.
“When dealing with fans, emotions can boil over, especially if you share anything negative about their teams,” said Steve Phillips, a former New York Mets general manager who now hosted a show on MLB Network Radio. “The anonymity of Twitter empowers people to take over sometimes, but it’s one of the most effective ways to communicate with people with similar interests.
But it’s not all baseball Twitter out there. There’s also the big, scary, dark side of Twitter. It’s the Twitter of the Nazis, of the demented trolls, of the conspiracy theorists and of the countries that fund big networks to influence the election.
Jaime Longoria, manager of research and training for the Disinfo Defense League, a nonprofit that works with community organizations to combat misinformation, says Musk’s purchase of Twitter risks a platform that is believed by many experts to have done a much better job of preventing harmful pollution than its competitors. .
He worries that Musk will relax the rules of moderation that provide protection against white supremacy, hate speech, threats of violence and harassment. He said he hoped he was wrong. “We’re watching and waiting,” Longoria said. “The Twitter that we know of may be over. I think Twitter as we know it will no longer exist.”
In a series of tweets in 2018, CEO Jack Dorsey said the company is committed to “collective health, openness, and courtesy in public conversation, and to hold ourselves accountable to the public for progress. “
“We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, maneuvering through bots and human coordination, campaigns of misinformation, and increasingly divisive echo chambers. We are not proud of how people are taking advantage of our service, or our inability to respond to it quickly, ”he wrote.
Twitter, led by its trust and safety group, is working to make things better. It has created new policies, added labels of false information, initiated repeated violations of its rules against hate, incitement to violence and other harmful activities.
Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, social media companies have gone through the motions of how Russia uses their platforms to influence U.S. politics. With fits and beginnings, things are starting to improve, at least in the United States and Western Europe.
At best, Twitter connects people around the world to participate in the open exchange of ideas. Musk told The Associated Press recently that he wants Twitter to be “inclusive” and “where most of America is on it and talking.” But it ignores the fact that the majority of Twitter’s user base is outside the United States-and that Twitter will look very different from the rest of the world, where American party line divisions and arguments in free speech it means very little.
Outside of Western democracies, for example, users say there hasn’t been much change when it comes to curbing hate and misinformation.
“There’s a lot of hate speech on Twitter, especially aimed at minorities. And so there’s always been a struggle to stop Twitter hate speech, always violent hate speech and fake news. And yes, I think the Twitter is never enough for that, ”said Shoaib Daniyal, co -editor of Indian news website Scroll.
“Twitter is almost like a central node, feeding political activity to TV channels and to journalists and WhatsApp groups.”
Musk’s free -speaking absolutism, according to Daniyal, doesn’t matter in India because there aren’t many curves in speaking on the platform to begin with.
“It’s pretty full of hatred though,” he said. “And Twitter hasn’t done much about it. So let’s see where it goes. ” Which, given Musk’s mercurial nature, can be almost in any direction.
Associated Press Writer David Klepper contributed to this story from Providence, Rhode Island.
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