Entrepreneur Elon Musk and Twitter’s woke left-leaning users have declared war on one another. Victory for either side would be pyrrhic, as the mutual antagonists have a symbiotic relationship, even if it pains them to admit it. The sooner they learn to play nice and cooperate, the better.
While Twitter has plenty of rightwing nutjobs spouting all sorts of vile rhetoric, it is fair to say that most of the elite users with millions of followers and the coveted blue checkmark lean left. This is due to a combination of formal and informal sanctions against those who use the platform to advance anti-left views: they have their content removed by moderators, with the most famous example being the suspension of Donald Trump’s account; and they are ridiculed and attacked by mobs of left-leaning users should they cross red lines.
While the left’s domination of Twitter is surely to their liking, their problem is that it is not sustainable. Though it has had profitable years, Twitter is generally a loss-making enterprise, and its key revenue model of advertising had a questionable future well in advance of Musk’s acquisition.
Moreover, the moderation that makes Twitter into a generally pleasant experience for Twitter’s left-leaning users is expensive and is growing more expensive by the day. Social media executives continue to search fruitlessly for scalable algorithms that effectively censor offensive content while keeping the inoffensive material. Removing bots without accidentally shutting down human accounts still requires human judgment, and the more successful Twitter becomes, the more effort nefarious actors will exert on circumventing its systems.
What this means is that pre-Musk, the left’s favorite online watering hole was still in need of reforms, and its users could not simply request that things continue like they always have. Investors and creditors would eventually pull the plug unless management demonstrated a fundamental change to either the revenue or cost side of the account book.
Analyzing Musk’s decision calculus is much more difficult since he is capricious and moody. Musk is also a world class troll on social media, possessing an uncanny ability to antagonize liberals for what appears to be no more than sadistic entertainment.
It’s not clear how interested he ever was in buying Twitter, or how keen he is to own it now, but the reality is that he has become the sole principal. If he were to sell it now, it would lose a lot of value, and Musk has no interest in being a philanthropist for either the former owners of Twitter or a potential new group of shareholders. That means that Twitter’s current left-leaning users are stuck with Musk: either he makes it profitable, and they stick around, or they leave (possibly because it goes bust).
Similarly, as Musk is currently seeing as advertisers decrease their commitments to the platform, the South African American entrepreneur needs the existing user base if he wants to keep the company profitable, at least in the short-term. When he described Twitter as the world’s townhall, he intimated that he does not want to lose the woke users; he may wish to bring new ones on board, but he does want it to turn into a rightwing tavern; after all, Reddit already has that corner covered.
Therefore, much as they may despise one another, Twitter’s left-leaning users and Musk are symbiotic, and they need to start communicating more effectively. Musk is right to look for ways of improving profitability since the existing model isn’t sustainable but left-leaning users are right to firmly express their distaste for his policies since – for the time being – their participation is critical to the company’s survival.
The sensible way forward would be for both sides to talk to one another earnestly and as mutual partners who both want Twitter to succeed. Sadly, what we are seeing is the opposite, as each side escalates and scorns the other.
Fans of Musk might interpret his dismissive and heavy-handed approach as a shrewd method of growing the user base: he wants to deliver a key message to the right-leaning users who have been put off by Twitter’s culture that the blue bird is opening its doors to them, too.
However, I fear that may be giving him too much credit, as the more obvious explanation is that he is simply committing errors. He was manifestly cornered into buying Twitter by the threat of legal sanctions after he miscalculated when evaluating the company for purchase, and he also did not imagine that advertisers would cut back their spending on the platform once he riled up so many of its users.
Those calling for a switch to another platform are also kidding themselves, since any scalable proposition will run into the same revenue and cost problems that Twitter is facing at present. Moreover, elite users who have worked hard to develop followings of tens of thousands of users will be inwardly extremely reluctant to start from scratch, even if they might outwardly pound their chests and make Braveheart-inspired war screams.
As the end of 2022 draws closer and critical issues such as the US midterm elections and the Ukraine conflict continue to dominate the headlines, Musk and Twitter’s left-leaning users would do well to heed the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”