This piece was originally published in Tech Policy Press.
Elon Musk owns Twitter. Or rather, whatever is left of it after today’s massive layoffs. It’s hard to see any future for the company at this point, particularly as its twin challenges of content moderation and revenue sustainability are deeply intertwined. As a business, Twitter is facing substantial financial obstacles, which won’t be helped as advertisers pause spending as a result of the leadership change. No publisher wants to run ads on a toxic platform, yet Musk’s other instant legacy is gutting the team at the heart of trying to make Twitter a safe place. Will Musk and his new council have to “speed run the content moderation learning curve”? Even if they can, a shrinking employee base and steep economic headwinds seem ill-suited to support the product development needed for not only survival, but growth.
Today, the layoffs are the most important story, and it’s not fully played out yet. Some employees will bring lawsuits, particularly those in California. It’s a tough job market, but some truly excellent talent is now available for hire, so hopefully some of the smaller companies who haven’t yet frozen hiring until 2023 will reap the benefits.
Some have already written Twitter’s eulogy – many on Twitter, ironically. Twitter’s most valuable creators may seek to decamp, yet there’s no quite comparable alternative. Twitter is not quite a public square, but it’s unique. And without it, as Allegra Rosenberg writes for Garbage Day: “How do we find each other again?” While the future may indeed lie in a collection of more specialized interconnected communities served by Mastodon, Discord, and others, Twitter will retain one great advantage: centralized discovery and sharing are still very powerful services, and difficult to replicate in a more distributed system.
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