Twitter and Free Speech

From two really great recent pieces in Techdirt and The Verge, respectively:

It’s kind of a rite of passage for any new social media network. They show up, insist that they’re the “platform for free speech” without quite understanding what that actually means, and then they quickly discover a whole bunch of fairly fundamental ideas, institute a bunch of rapid (often sloppy) changes… and in the end, they basically all end up in the same general vicinity, with just a few small differences on the margin.

Hey Elon: Let Me Help You Speed Run The Content Moderation Learning Curve” by Mike Masnick, Techdirt

The essential truth of every social network is that the product is content moderation, and everyone hates the people who decide how content moderation works. Content moderation is what Twitter makes— it is the thing that defines the user experience. It’s what YouTube makes, it’s what Instagram makes, it’s what TikTok makes. They all try to incentivize good stuff, disincentivize bad stuff, and delete the really bad stuff.

– “Welcome to hell, Elon” by Nilay Patel, The Verge

I don’t think anyone really knows whether Elon Musk will improve Twitter or make it worse. But there seems to be a growing consensus that he can’t increase both “free speech” (a.k.a. less moderation) and advertising revenue because the former tends to drive out the latter.

I really hope Twitter lands somewhere close to where YouTube is now, but better: content moderation, revenue for content creators, and a paid tier that’s ad-free. In our household, we pay for YouTube and we now watch it as much as we do Netflix, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime combined because there’s so much great short-form user-generated content there. And the recommendation engine rarely (if ever) shows anything to us that we find objectionable or offensive.

But there’s a better, bigger question: should a de facto public square like Twitter be under the control of one company (or person)? Or would we all be better off if social media were a protocol, not a platform? I’m very very curious what BlueSky will look like.