Design by Arunika Shee. Buy this photo.

On Oct. 27, Elon Musk officially bought Twitter. The long process ending with Musk’s ownership was shrouded in controversy. Aside from the buildup that led to Musk finally buying Twitter, there have been Musk’s comments on how he was going to change the social media platform once he took control. Musk’s control over Twitter now ushers in a new age of social media, where his policies can impact those of other social media sites and the people who use them.

Because Musk’s takeover of Twitter is still in its early stages, knowing how exactly the site will change is still being debated. However, Musk has commented extensively on how he wants to change the site, from pushing to unban banned accounts to easing up on content moderation. Musk’s potential plans for the site are a lead-up to making Twitter into what he claims is “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” Central to Musk’s goal to make Twitter a public forum is a commitment to freedom of speech.

Musk’s push for free speech absolutism has not been immune from criticism. Some believe that absolute freedom of speech on Twitter would result in the silencing of marginalized voices. Alongside marginalization, there are also fears of increased harassment and disinformation. These possible developments could change how people use Twitter, and social media more broadly as their effects spread.

Under Musk’s ownership, there have already been some changes to the policies at Twitter. The most notable is the new $8 per month fee to retain or gain a verified status on the website. A status originally created to verify the identity of certain users on the social media site has turned into a status symbol and a sign of power for some. This change has already come under scrutiny by the likes of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who argued with Musk over it on Twitter. She tweeted that “‘free speech’ actually is a $8/mo subscription plan.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s reaction to this change resulted in Musk jokingly appreciating her feedback and asking her to pay the $8. With verification now being available for $8, fears of misinformation have risen as well due to users now being able to purchase their verification. Musk’s commitment to deregulating Twitter may lead to more false sources of information throughout the site with no repercussions.

Musk’s implementation of mass verification through payment, however, did not go as initially planned. On Nov. 9 mass verification on Twitter ensued and resultingly ended in chaos. The rollout of the new verification status on Twitter was different than what was expected originally, letting those who held verified status keep it while letting others buy the status, and only denoting the difference between the two by visiting the user’s page and clicking the verified icon to find out if their status was paid for. Despite threats from Musk to ban all accounts that impersonate others while not specifically stating they are a parody, various parody accounts that held verification status were created. 

These parody accounts created problems on the website before they were banned. Impersonations of major companies such as PepsiCo, Nintendo and most notably Eli Lilly, who lost stock value as a result of a parody tweet claiming insulin was free. Facing retaliation from these companies and advertisers who feared financial consequences from parody tweets, Musk soon shut down the ability for users to buy the status postponing it to Nov. 29.

Days after the rollout of mass verification and it soon being put on hold, some users who originally held verified status began to get gray check marks under their account name calling them official. This change in status counteracts Musk’s original plan to make verification available to all and not denote any difference.

With Musk’s first major implantation of one of his original major policies falling flat on its face, this could be a sign of what may be to come. As Musk works to implement more new policies on Twitter, this major failure has set a standard that he has to exceed greatly to succeed in implementing any of the plans he has for the company. This is a task that looks more improbable as there has been a mass exodus of employees from the company, a sign for the trust that twitter employees have in their owner.

While the future of Twitter under Musk still remains to be seen, users should expect to see some changes to Twitter in the coming months. Students should look out for increasing hate speech and misinformation on the platform as new rules are created and subsequently abused. Although Musk remains unpredictable as the owner of Twitter, using the social media website with caution is best advised as new policies could enable greater problems for those who use the site.

Although Musk’s ownership of Twitter has been off to a shaky start, it still presents a new age of social media where speech can be decided by those who own the means of expression more so than ever. Although Musk’s commitment to bringing free speech to Twitter is new, a past record of silencing his own workers for his own benefit could easily be carried over to Twitter if he is left unchecked.

Musk has put Twitter and its users in a position where he is the user that truly matters; while others face abuse and harassment, he has the ability to avoid criticism and dissenting opinions with the push of a button. Musk’s ownership should not be taken lightly. While we do not control what he can and cannot do, holding him accountable to his own ideas is important in order to establish a social media platform that benefits all. 

Tom Muha is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at tmuha@umich.edu.