Well, I don’t think anyone saw this coming, not in any realistic sense at least.
As per Musk’s note to the SEC:
“I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy. However, since making my investment I now realize the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form.”
Last week, before it was revealed that Musk was buying up Twitter shares (which he’s actually been accumulating steadily since January), Musk noted that Twitter needs to adhere to ‘free speech principles’ to truly serve its purpose.
Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy.
What should be done? https://t.co/aPS9ycji37
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 26, 2022
That’s seemingly the impetus for Musk’s takeover bid, with Musk now outlining a vague plan to take Twitter into private ownership, in order to reduce its reliance on shareholders and ad dollars, thereby enabling it to make truly independent decisions for the good of public debate.
“I am offering to buy 100% of Twitter for $54.20 per share in cash, a 54% premium over the day before I began investing in Twitter and a 38% premium over the day before my investment was publicly announced. My offer is my best and final offer and if it is not accepted, I would need to reconsider my position as a shareholder.”
Market analysts say that Musk’s offer is low, given that Twitter shares recently reached $70. But it could still be tempting, and it is enough to at least be taken seriously as a legitimate takeover bid.
If Musk’s takeover offer is accepted, Twitter will likely see significant changes, and really, all bets are off as to what then happens to the app. But if the bid is rejected, Musk has suggested that he will likely withdraw from the company completely.
“If the deal doesn’t work, given that I don’t have confidence in management, nor do I believe I can drive the necessary change in the public market, I would need to reconsider my position as a shareholder. This is not a threat, it’s simply not a good investment without the changes that need to be made.”
It’ll be interesting to see if that also includes Musk deleting his Twitter account, which currently has over 81 million followers, and is a key media tool for the sometimes eccentric billionaire.
Following the revelation that Musk had become Twitter’s biggest individual shareholder earlier in the month (till Vanguard Group bought up more shares to overtake him), Musk began polling his Twitter followers on questions about how to ‘fix’ the platform. Musk was seemingly then advised to stop tweeting critical commentary, as a pending Twitter board member, which then lead to Musk withdrawing his interest in joining the board entirely.
It seems that Musk was dissatisfied with the response that he received from Twitter management, as he’s now looking to replace them wholesale, and start afresh with the company.
It’s an extraordinary move, and one that again raises questions about the disproportionate power of the billionaire class. Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, owns The Washington Post, and some have suggested that it’s now more favorable to Bezos’ positions in its editorial coverage (note: independent studies have found little to no evidence of bias in the Post’s reporting since Bezos’ acquisition).
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg holds significant power as the owner of several of the most utilized social media apps, while Apple and Google, while not independently controlled by a single wealthy founder in the same way, can also exert a level of control over media reach via their highly used digital properties.
In Musk’s case, he clearly doesn’t like what Twitter is doing, and being rich enough as he is, he’s seeking to do something about it, which could have significant consequences, in many ways.
On balance, I would say that the likelihood of Musk’s takeover offer being accepted is not high – but then again, I’d have never guessed that Musk would make such an aggressive push on Twitter shares, or indeed that he’d move into hostile takeover mode for the app.
So, who knows how this plays out? In some ways, it seems like just enough of an offer to be taken seriously, but not enough to be actually accepted.
But maybe Twitter will become ‘Tesla Social’, and memes and in-jokes about ‘420’ (note Musk’s offer price) and every other ‘edgelord’ trend will dominate in this new ‘free speech’ led cesspit.
It’s pretty concerning to think about – but maybe, this could actually happen, which could spell the end for Twitter as we know it.
TikTok Rolls Out Comment Downvotes to All Users
After testing them out in the live environment over the last six months, TikTok has today announced that it’s rolling out comment downvotes for all users, as a means to flag inappropriate responses to video clips.
As you can see in this example, TikTok’s ‘Thumbs Down’ comment downvote option will be displayed at the far right of each comment, providing a quick and easy way for users to tag such, in order to help TikTok identify negative behaviors in the app.
Which is the key focus – rather than being an audience response element, like downvotes on Reddit, TikTok’s approach is actually to use the indicator as a means to weed out negative behaviors.
As TikTok explained back in April:
“We’ve started testing a way to let individuals identify comments they believe to be irrelevant or inappropriate. This community feedback will add to the range of factors we already use to help keep the comment section consistently relevant and a place for genuine engagement. To avoid creating ill-feeling between community members or demoralize creators, only the person who registered a dislike on a comment will be able to see that they have done so.”
So dislike counts won’t be public, as they are on Reddit, with the purpose, again, being to help TikTok’s moderation team get on top of negative trends, as flagged by its users.
How it will likely work in this respect is that downvoted comments will be displayed to TikTok mods in ascending order, based on total downvote activity across the app, which will then enable them to them wade through the list and pick up on rising negative trends, providing another way to detect and address such in their process.
That could also help to limit the use of the feature for ‘brigading,’ or using it as a means to launch targeted attacks on people or opinions based on alternative motivations. You can imagine how, for example, people might try to use this feature as a means to downvote conflicting political opinions into oblivion, but as the downvotes themselves don’t impact public display, and are only an indicator for TikTok’s moderation team, that’s less likely to become an issue.
Which would be part of the reason why TikTok’s comfortable pushing ahead with a full launch – and it may well be a good way to help keep things more civil, and more positive in the app.
TikTok actually first began its comment downvote experiment back in 2020, with some researchers spotting the feature in early testing.
Both Facebook and Twitter have also been experimenting with comment downvotes for similar purpose, not as a means to better surface or hide user responses, but to help identify negative behaviors based on what users think is bad, which effectively then helps to improve automated algorithms to detect such in future.
Which could be a better use of the option – though it is worth noting that Reddit’s public downvote system does help the platform highlight more relevant conversations and topics, based on actual responses from humans, as opposed to algorithmically identified trends that are guided by clicks, Likes, dwell time, shares, etc.
The problem with algorithmic trends is that divisive, negative content is amplified via this process, because sparking an emotional response, like anger, drives more people to comment and share. The algorithm then takes as an indicator that more people might want to see it, based on engagement response. The system itself has no way of determining the intent of the content, it only goes on binary signals – which means that triggering more reactions, however you can, is the best way to maximize exposure.
That doesn’t happen on Reddit, because such posts are rapidly downvoted into the doldrums of the app.
Giving actual people the chance to drive exposure in this respect may be a more beneficial approach overall, but the bigger players will never go with it because it also makes users less likely to comment, likely because they’re also concerned about their own remarks being downvoted to the pit.
Previous analysis has suggested that more than 98% of Reddit’s monthly active users don’t ever post or comment in the app, which is likely a key consideration that would limit take-up of such in other apps.
So they go with automated algorithms instead, which also then enables them to wash their hands of any responsibility for whatever type of content gains traction and doesn’t across their networks.
Negative content drives more engagement, and thus, more reach in their apps? ‘We don’t know, it’s based on how users respond, factoring in all forms of engagement, so we’re not responsible for whatever that leads to’.
It does seem that a human-moderated process, via public downvotes, could improve the flow of information in this respect. But the impacts on engagement could also be significant.
In any event, TikTok’s comment downvotes are not designed to help guide the conversation, and could be a valuable supplementary measure to detect rising negative trends.
TikTok says that comment downvotes are being released globally in the app from today.
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