Why Elon Musk Can’t Fix Twitter
He is a flawed human like the rest of us, and the problems of social media are not technological problems but profoundly human
I have to admit that I’m growing tired of the ‘dopamine hit’ critique of social media (disseminated in the documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’), which gives the impression the human beings are merely sheep being manipulated by big tech like pavlovian dogs; and I’m growing even more tired of the ‘social media is bad because it incentivizes people to behave in stupid ways’ critique (apparently this can still sell a million books); and then (don’t think I forgot it!) there’s the ‘social media has a free speech problem’ critique, which is or should be as obvious as the irrelevance of Johnny Depp’s political opinions to anyone who reads this newsletter.
So, sure to all of that — but it’s unclear to me what new insights any of these critiques really offer.
What are they saying that we don’t already know? And more importantly, what do we do about those problems?
I saw a political pundit say — on national television — today, that it’s concerning that twitter (and big tech in general, he implied) seems to be owned by an oligarchy — but that he’s glad that the oligarch he likes best now owns it, because he’s the free speech guy. It came across as a lesser-of-two-evils argument tinged with unconcealable glee that his political enemies would now (in all likelihood) face retribution for the infamous bans of the past couple of years as the prisoners are freed.
That’s where we’re at.
I thought of this recently because of Jon Haidt’s recent article in the The Atlantic titled ‘Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid’, which has caused such a stir that even former President Barack Obama included it on his ‘Disinformation and Democracy Reading List’.
“When social media changed between 2009 and 2012, it really changed in ways that made it much better for intimidation and harassment. You get likes and retweets, algorithmic citation. It’s that petty intimidation of even a nobody tweeting a nasty slur at you. That seems to really affect people.”