One of the biggest tech stories of the year so far is the proposed takeover of Twitter by an Elon Musk in a deal that could be worth about $44 billion. Since then, the action has been more or less uninterrupted: a handful of Twitter executives were firedMusk announced last week that the deal was “temporarily on hold” thanks to botsand now… well, it looks like Musk is deliberately trying to shut down Twitter.
There has been some speculation, given Musk’s behavior since the deal was announced, that he may have had second thoughts and be looking for a way to avoid the deal. The delay in focusing on bots and questioning Twitter’s public records may be a genuine concern, but the way Musk is acting is, as always, designed to provoke reactions – over the weekend, he announced that his team would be doing random sampling. of Twitter users to come up with their own estimates of how many there are bots.
To find out, my team will randomly sample 100 @twitter followers. I invite others to repeat the same process and see what they discover…May 14, 2022
The problem? Musk went on to give more details in a reply to another userwriting: “Any sensible random sampling process is fine. If many people get similar results independently for % fake/spam/duplicate accounts, that will be telling. I chose 100 as the sample size number because that’s what Twitter uses to calculate <5% false/spam/duplicate."
Shortly afterward, with a degree of false disbelief, Musk revealed that Twitter’s legal department called and complained that he had violated an NDA by revealing Twitter’s sample size number.
Twitter’s legal department just called to complain that I violated their NDA revealing that the bot’s verification sample size is 100! It really happened.May 14, 2022
But the billionaire troll was just warming up. He went on to comment that “bots are angry to be counted” with a ROFL emojireferred to himself as a member of the “Illuminated”, fire emojis tweeted at Snoop Doggand jokes told such as: “Whoever thought owning the libs would be cheap has never tried to acquire a social media company!”
Then he got into an argument with co-founder and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Musk took a swipe at Twitter’s algorithm, declaring to his 93.4 million followers that “You’re being manipulated by the algorithm in ways you don’t realize” and so on. This being Twitter, he soon joined a bunch of people making various claims about how it works or doesn’t work.
Dorsey put in the oar and answered: “They simply try to put the tweets you are *most likely* to engage with at the top. That’s it. Predictive based on what you like, retweet, reply, poll, pause, etc. be a convenience, nothing more. Again, the most important thing is to be able to turn it off.”
In response to the specific charge of manipulation, Dorsey added: “no, it’s not designed to manipulate. it’s designed to reach you and work with what you get involved with. This can have unintended consequences, which is why one should be able to choose whether to use an algorithm or not, and which simple solution to all this.”
In sequence, Musk slightly backed off his original claims without withdrawing them.. “I’m not suggesting malice in the algorithm, but rather that it’s trying to guess what you might want to read, and in doing so, inadvertently manipulate/amplify your views without you realizing it’s happening.”
First of all, Musk is right. Whatever the intentions behind these algorithms, they can have, as Dorsey put it, “unintended consequences”. Dorsey also has a point, which is that Twitter allows users to choose whether they want the algorithm or a chronological view.
But this isn’t really about the algorithm, not all the bot stuff was really about bots. Musk is making a lot of noise at the moment and, as someone who got into trouble for affecting stock prices with their past social media usehe clearly knows the effect his public pronouncements will have – which is to create uncertainty, a cloud of confusion and possible cover for a U-turn.
Twitter’s stock price isn’t worth reading too much because, unsurprisingly, it’s currently on something of a wild ups and downs roller coaster as shareholders wonder if they’ll get a nice check from Musk or get high – e-dry. It’s all relative, of course: if Musk backs out of the deal, he’ll have to pay Twitter a $1 billion ‘cancellation fee’ – which is payback for him, but still a billion dollars.
Poor old Parag Agrawal, the current CEO of Twitter, has understandably been somewhat muted over the past few weeks. He posted a thread on Friday, however, which suggests that Twitter’s superiors are wondering what’s up with this business too: “While I’m hoping the deal will close, we need to be prepared for every scenario and always do what’s right for Twitter.”
Musk is clearly a remarkable and unusual individual with a long list of accomplishments. So it’s easy to forget that he can also occasionally be a weapons-level troll and loves internet humor. The Twitter takeover seemed like one of the biggest tech stories of the year: but now we’re not the only ones wondering if Musk is just taking everyone for a ride.