News this week of Elon Musk’s $44 billion deal to takeover Twitter signals big changes ahead for the social media landscape, says Virginia Tech expert Mike Horning.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how Twitter evolves. It’s easy to criticize social media companies for their decisions from the outside. Now we will see how Musk deals with them as an owner,” says Horning.

Quoting Horning

“Musk has stated publicly that he wants to see a more open and transparent social media,” says Horning. “In Musk’s view, Twitter's current practices stifle free speech, and the company isn’t very transparent about how decisions in terms of what is and isn't acceptable speech.”

Horning says that Musk feels that a lot of important political speech is currently stifled on Twitter, and he argues that the social platform is a 21st Century public forum that it should encourage healthy political debate.

“These changes, if they are made, could give the platform some degree of credibility in the eyes of conservatives, but it may also be seen as a place that fosters misinformation and that increases political polarization,” says Horning.   

“Musk will also have to addresses some of the concerns raised about how social media can impact political discontent, how it can be a place of bullying and harassment, and how it can impact the mental health of individuals.”

Horning says that Musk has already suggested some positive changes such as providing more transparency to the public, open sourcing algorithms and verifying that individuals are real.

“It may be that this move leads to some real innovation among social media companies that are afraid to tinker with changes that impact their revenue. Then again, these changes could create other challenges for our democracy. We will have to wait and see.”

Horning says that Twitter employees could also see a shift in the internal culture of the company.

“Twitter attracts a lot of talent from the technology industry, and some of those individuals have expressed concerns that opening up Twitter could lead to real world harm. We will have to wait and see if such changes lead people to leave the company for other platforms that they feel take a more measured approach to issues like hate speech, harassment, and discrimination.” 

About Horning

Mike Horning is an associate professor of multimedia journalism in the Virginia Tech School of Communication and associate director of social informatics research in the Center for Human Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech. His research examines how communication technologies impact social attitudes and behaviors, with a current focus on the impact of “fake news” and misinformation on our democratic processes. His expertise has been featured in The Hill, on Sinclair Broadcast Group, and in a number of other media outlets.  

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