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The truth about Musk’s X app His vision for Twitter is plucked from China's playbook

What could possibly go wrong? (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

What could possibly go wrong? (STR/AFP via Getty Images)


May 18, 2023   5 mins

Perhaps Elon Musk has no idea what he’s doing. That is the possibility that has dawned on many, since the angel investor took the reins of Twitter (including the platform’s founder Jack Dorsey). Musk’s $44 billion acquisition was greeted with outsized expectations, of course. But the prevailing view is that his tenure as CEO has amounted to nothing more than a series of slapdash executive decisions.

But amid widespread ridicule of his monetisation schemes, plummeting ad revenue, and declining investor confidence, Musk decided (wisely) to change course, announcing that he would hand over day-to-day operations to new CEO Linda Yaccarino; the news came just after Tucker Carlson announced that he was restarting his show on Twitter. These dramatic moves signal a prospective turnaround in the fortunes of the struggling social media giant. Musk will stay on as executive chair and CTO, continuing to set the platform’s overall course.

Throughout all the arbitrary changes in company policy so far, it is important to remember that Musk has, in fact, been working from a larger vision — one that he had stated plainly in October, just as he took the helm at Twitter. “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app,” he declared. Last month, it was revealed that Musk had merged Twitter into a shell company bearing the enigmatic name “X Corp”. It is part of a set of holding entities in Delaware, each with a variation on the brand name,“X Holdings”. But what exactly is “X”?

Quite simply, an everything app integrates a much larger range of functions than are usually found in a single app, and in doing so become absolutely essential to everyday life. It may enable messaging, social networking, peer-to-peer payment, shopping, ordering meals, ridesharing, exchanging QR business cards. Tencent’s WeChat, which is used by Chinese citizens for all these purposes and more, comes closest to the ideal of a “Swiss army knife” app. It is the model that Musk wishes to emulate.

If a Chinese citizen picks up his phone to interact with others online or undertake a commercial transaction of any kind, chances are he is doing it through an interface provided by WeChat. It goes without saying that the Chinese surveillance state therefore has an easier time monitoring information. Indeed, in 2018, WeChat was enlisted by the Chinese government as the vessel for its electronic identification system. And where most Americans might recoil at such an extreme concentration of unaccountable economic and technological power in the hands of a single firm, Musk apparently sees it as a positive development that could and should be replicated in the West. “If you’re in China, you kind of live on WeChat,” he has commented. “It’s really an excellent app, and we don’t have anything like that outside of China.”

Few have reckoned with the significance of Musk’s ambition to turn Twitter into something like Tencent. He may yet prove too undisciplined to pull it off; but Twitter probably has enough institutional weight, and Musk enough wealth and time, to survive multiple false starts. Indeed, the appointment of Yaccarino as CEO may be the stabiliser needed after nearly seven erratic months of Musk’s direct rule, while Tucker’s migration to Twitter places the platform in the novel position of being able to compete with cable news for the attention of its many millions of older viewers (who may now be enticed to join Twitter at last). He is also said to be considering more big moves, such as introducing stocks and crypto trading, as well as a new dating app on the social media site. If successful, such initiatives would bring Twitter a few steps closer to becoming the omni-functional platform of Musk’s dreams.

Yet even as Musk generates headlines, his ultimate goal of an everything app remains opaque. The lack of critical attention paid to it — relative to the rest of his overexposed public persona — is a failing among the political forces that claim to be opposed to the pernicious influence of Big Tech. The same conservative and libertarian Musk fanboys who oppose government domination over individual lives seem to have no problem with the thought of one’s whole existence being mediated by a single app — or with Musk’s open admiration for an innovation pioneered in a totalitarian state that many on the Right (including Tucker Carlson) claim to fear and despise.

Across the spectrum, concerns around social media mostly revolve around either content or terms of access — too many racist and sexist posts, according to the Left; not enough viewpoint diversity, according to the Right. But neither side seems able to grasp the broader problem: the inescapable ubiquity and hegemony of social media itself. And yet, it is a problem that may get a lot worse, with the integration of powerful new AI.

Rather than representing a break with the old Twitter, Elon Musk’s takeover is perhaps better understood as a continuation and intensification of the trajectory the tech giant has always been on. From the moment it exploded into mainstream awareness in the early 2010s, Twitter has all but conquered politics and culture in America, deforming the terms of democratic debate. But if Musk gets his way, Americans would be forced to “kind of live on Twitter”, just as the Chinese do on WeChat. What could possibly go wrong?

“Twitter has all but conquered politics and culture in America”

The real “mind virus”, to use to use Musk’s evocative phrase, is not so much being woke as being “Twitter-brained” — that is, mistaking the petty, supercharged, hyper-reactive atmosphere of the platform for real life. So far, this bleak condition remains largely confined to the closed world of political and cultural insiders. Twitter is not exactly an everyman’s app — about 69% of journalists and commentators regularly turn to Twitter for news and networking, while the figure is only at 13% among the general public — meaning that the very particular kinds of neuroses and pathologies that being on Twitter breeds recur only in a small, self-referential sliver of society. Transforming it into a WeChat-style everything app would spread this atomising, anti-social mind virus to the wider public — and wreak further damage to the health and cohesion of the body politic.

For all Musk’s pseudo-revolutionary “lords and peasants” talk about wanting to democratise the accursed medium, it may just be better if the “peasants” are spared from the Twitter-induced cognitive rot that’s afflicted the “lords” of the media and political establishment. American society needs far less Twitter, not more. And the same goes for the other major apps, like Chinese-owned TikTok and Mark Zuckerberg’s no less megalomaniacal and soul-sucking Meta, which — surprise! — is also developing its own version of the everything app.

That the so-called “techlash” mainly manifests as squabbles over privileged content — rather than pushing against total technological saturation — is a sign of its limitations. Yes, some long-overdue ideas have gained traction: proposals to ban infinite scroll, laws to remove TikTok from government-owned communication devices, and, most notably, Utah’s move to regulate children’s access to social media. (If Tucker were serious about carrying on the populist fight against big tech, he’d argue on behalf of policies like these — even at the risk of angering his friend Elon.) But given the scale and depth of the damage wrought by these apps to the social fabric, these measures are too little, too late.

Of course, there is another option. Many users, great and small, have come to acknowledge the demoralising, hellish quality of life on Twitter. If they abandoned the platform en masse, they would trigger a social media revolution. The costs of leaving the platform might, at least initially, be high — in terms of diminished “clout” and visibility — but they would be outweighed by the psychological benefits of disconnecting. Such an exodus would pre-empt the emergence of an everything app and maybe even lay the foundations for the return of more civilised public discourse.

But we’ve known for a long time that Twitter is toxic. If there were going to be a grassroots protest, it would surely have happened by now. With their worshipful attitude toward technology and novelty, Americans aren’t well placed to drive the techlash. In fact, they’ll probably crash the internet, in their rush to download the everything app.


Michael Cuenco is a writer on policy and politics. He is Associate Editor at American Affairs.

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Peter Johnson
PJ
Peter Johnson
11 months ago

I am really tired of Musk bashing. If Twitter collapsed tomorrow we would all still owe Musk an enormous debt for pulling back the curtain on the Orwellian interplay between Big Tech, the US three letter agencies and the Democrats. The same scenario that is playing out in all our countries. I also don’t think Twitter is going to fail. The man decided he wanted a rocket company and 10 years later he was sending the worlds most sophisticated rockets into space. I don’t think a phone app will break him. Musk has figured out that freedom and trust are commodities that are in very short supply these days. If he starts a bank – I will bank there – if he sells cell phones I will use them. He may be imperfect but he is a much better bet for your trust than the titans running the other large tech companies who have already amply demonstrated how morally bankrupt they are.

Peter Johnson
PJ
Peter Johnson
11 months ago

I am really tired of Musk bashing. If Twitter collapsed tomorrow we would all still owe Musk an enormous debt for pulling back the curtain on the Orwellian interplay between Big Tech, the US three letter agencies and the Democrats. The same scenario that is playing out in all our countries. I also don’t think Twitter is going to fail. The man decided he wanted a rocket company and 10 years later he was sending the worlds most sophisticated rockets into space. I don’t think a phone app will break him. Musk has figured out that freedom and trust are commodities that are in very short supply these days. If he starts a bank – I will bank there – if he sells cell phones I will use them. He may be imperfect but he is a much better bet for your trust than the titans running the other large tech companies who have already amply demonstrated how morally bankrupt they are.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago

Amazing how one of the most intelligent, successful and visionary men in the history of the world ‘doesn’t know what he is doing’. Maybe he got his money from the non-existent emerald mine in South Africa? Maybe he isn’t smart enough? Maybe he didn’t work hard enough? Maybe he just lucked it?
He is continually battered by mediocre people, because he is his own man, he is charting new territory, is a maverick who is not afraid to make mistakes and he doesn’t give two effs what Michael thinks. Somehow in all of this he does have some principles too, one of which I am enjoying on Twitter.

laurence scaduto
LS
laurence scaduto
11 months ago

Agreed. There’s wonderful comedy in the thought that the same people who would immediately endorse a “be all you can be/Just be yourself” attitude, are the ones hating Musk for doing just that.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
11 months ago

And maybe he’s not a leftist? That’s the real reason for being pummeled by the chattering classes.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

He is a centrist and finding his values and beliefs are now putting him somewhere on the right.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

He is a centrist and finding his values and beliefs are now putting him somewhere on the right.

Ian S
US
Ian S
8 months ago

“He is continually battered by mediocre people” – agree, and Cuenco leads the pack in both mediocrity and battering.

Robert Kaplan
RK
Robert Kaplan
8 months ago

No. He is being criticized for some stupid mistakes. He may know widgets, but he doesn’t really understand human beings and their communications.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
11 months ago

Agreed. There’s wonderful comedy in the thought that the same people who would immediately endorse a “be all you can be/Just be yourself” attitude, are the ones hating Musk for doing just that.

Warren Trees
WT
Warren Trees
11 months ago

And maybe he’s not a leftist? That’s the real reason for being pummeled by the chattering classes.

Ian S
US
Ian S
8 months ago

“He is continually battered by mediocre people” – agree, and Cuenco leads the pack in both mediocrity and battering.

Robert Kaplan
RK
Robert Kaplan
8 months ago

No. He is being criticized for some stupid mistakes. He may know widgets, but he doesn’t really understand human beings and their communications.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago

Amazing how one of the most intelligent, successful and visionary men in the history of the world ‘doesn’t know what he is doing’. Maybe he got his money from the non-existent emerald mine in South Africa? Maybe he isn’t smart enough? Maybe he didn’t work hard enough? Maybe he just lucked it?
He is continually battered by mediocre people, because he is his own man, he is charting new territory, is a maverick who is not afraid to make mistakes and he doesn’t give two effs what Michael thinks. Somehow in all of this he does have some principles too, one of which I am enjoying on Twitter.

David Lawrence
DL
David Lawrence
11 months ago

I’m finding myself frequently bemused by the chorus of “Twitter chaos” reports. I’m a casual but frequent user and my experience is, quite simply, that Twitter is now better than it was before Musk. It’s easier to structure the experience with tabs, context notes are a superb idea, I’m finding content suggestions more useful, curated lists of relevant articles in the media are genuinely informative, plus I like the idea that individuals can monetize their content.
I understand the frustration of those who regret that they have lost control of the narrative that the old Twitter used to enforce but chaos it isn’t.

David Lawrence
DL
David Lawrence
11 months ago

I’m finding myself frequently bemused by the chorus of “Twitter chaos” reports. I’m a casual but frequent user and my experience is, quite simply, that Twitter is now better than it was before Musk. It’s easier to structure the experience with tabs, context notes are a superb idea, I’m finding content suggestions more useful, curated lists of relevant articles in the media are genuinely informative, plus I like the idea that individuals can monetize their content.
I understand the frustration of those who regret that they have lost control of the narrative that the old Twitter used to enforce but chaos it isn’t.

Jim Veenbaas
JV
Jim Veenbaas
11 months ago

Not sure what to think of this essay. Kinda reads like a Musk smear job. Musk has every right to improve his product and make it so compelling that everyone wants to use it all the time. Whether it is good for society, or if the state should regulate it, is a completely separate question – maybe one that deserves closer scrutiny. I have no idea actually.

Frankly, I don’t get the whole Musk good or bad thing. He’s just another businessman looking to make a buck. I happen to think he’s a much better alternative than the other jokers who used to run the show, but he’s still a self-interested businessman who will ultimately do what he wants.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

This is just a smear job. Musk explains in the most recent interview he did with CNBC what he thinks about money. He believes in a vision and accomplishing that vision. He isn’t interested in money per se and spends little on himself. The part about doing what he wants is correct, but he is interested in far more than just self.
This is my takeaway. Listen to the interview. It is good value.

Last edited 11 months ago by Lesley van Reenen
Ian Barton
IB
Ian Barton
11 months ago

The first half was just unreadable – full of prejudice without any meaningful attempt at providing evidence.
Not good enough for UnHerd – but ideal for the Grauniad.

Andy Moore
Andy Moore
11 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I gave up after the first couple of paragraphs. My experience, is that virtually all companies, will try and make their product/service as sticky as possible for their customers.

Ian S
US
Ian S
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Cuenco’s MDS (Musk Derangement Syndrome) rivals his TDS.

Andy Moore
Andy Moore
11 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I gave up after the first couple of paragraphs. My experience, is that virtually all companies, will try and make their product/service as sticky as possible for their customers.

Ian S
Ian S
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Cuenco’s MDS (Musk Derangement Syndrome) rivals his TDS.

Ian Barton
IB
Ian Barton
11 months ago

The first half was just unreadable – full of prejudice without any meaningful attempt at providing evidence.
Not good enough for UnHerd – but ideal for the Grauniad.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
11 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Good or bad? That is the only factor worth considering for the left. This author dreams of the day where the left can replicate the Chinese model and finally purge all “wrong thinkers” from society.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

This is just a smear job. Musk explains in the most recent interview he did with CNBC what he thinks about money. He believes in a vision and accomplishing that vision. He isn’t interested in money per se and spends little on himself. The part about doing what he wants is correct, but he is interested in far more than just self.
This is my takeaway. Listen to the interview. It is good value.

Last edited 11 months ago by Lesley van Reenen
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
11 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Good or bad? That is the only factor worth considering for the left. This author dreams of the day where the left can replicate the Chinese model and finally purge all “wrong thinkers” from society.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
11 months ago

Not sure what to think of this essay. Kinda reads like a Musk smear job. Musk has every right to improve his product and make it so compelling that everyone wants to use it all the time. Whether it is good for society, or if the state should regulate it, is a completely separate question – maybe one that deserves closer scrutiny. I have no idea actually.

Frankly, I don’t get the whole Musk good or bad thing. He’s just another businessman looking to make a buck. I happen to think he’s a much better alternative than the other jokers who used to run the show, but he’s still a self-interested businessman who will ultimately do what he wants.

AC Harper
AH
AC Harper
11 months ago

But we’ve known for a long time that Twitter is toxic.”
Quite. But Musk (boo! hiss!) is flailing around to make Twitter of more use to the general public than the “about 69% of journalists and commentators regularly turn to Twitter for news and networking”. Which perhaps explains the vitriol directed against Musk (boo! hiss!) – the media, mostly lackeys to The Powers that Be, want their sand pit back.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
11 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Few things have been more entertaining than watching the meltdowns of legacy media journos about their loss of automatic privilege. Some of the most passionate on the topic have been doyens of the identitarian left, happy to show their anti-egalitarianism and contempt for the ‘ignorant’ masses.

Peter Johnson
PJ
Peter Johnson
11 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Or watching progressives get ratioed and called out for their nonsense now that the views of regular people are no longer being suppressed.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
11 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Or watching progressives get ratioed and called out for their nonsense now that the views of regular people are no longer being suppressed.

Nik Jewell
NJ
Nik Jewell
11 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Few things have been more entertaining than watching the meltdowns of legacy media journos about their loss of automatic privilege. Some of the most passionate on the topic have been doyens of the identitarian left, happy to show their anti-egalitarianism and contempt for the ‘ignorant’ masses.

AC Harper
AC Harper
11 months ago

But we’ve known for a long time that Twitter is toxic.”
Quite. But Musk (boo! hiss!) is flailing around to make Twitter of more use to the general public than the “about 69% of journalists and commentators regularly turn to Twitter for news and networking”. Which perhaps explains the vitriol directed against Musk (boo! hiss!) – the media, mostly lackeys to The Powers that Be, want their sand pit back.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
11 months ago

Musk says there is no deal with Tucker Carlson. He’ll be another Twitter user like anybody else, just one with considerable reach. Is there some new information here that I am not up to date with?
To those who bemoan the rise of ‘hate speech’ since he took over (really a complaint that you don’t get kicked off for ‘misgendering’ people any more) I say there is no such thing as hate speech. It is an artificial concept. There is only speech. I objected when it was enshrined in legislation and have objected to it ever since.
I post about the WEF a fair bit. I’m probably one of the few sad people who has read Schwab’s books. When he appointed Yaccarino, many people of my persuasion on their evils threw their toys out of the pram, but I have cautioned ‘wait and see’. Yaccarino is his employee, and I do not doubt that he will sack her if she attempts to limit free speech on the platform. His interview yesterday with CNBC was typical; he is repeatedly berated for tweeting that “Soros hates humanity” as putting off his advertisers and states that he will carry on saying whatever he believes to be true, even if it loses him money.
I am unconcerned about Musk’s “totalitarian” plans because I’ll believe them when I see them. Zuckerberg is failing utterly with his attempts. I don’t have to use Twitter – I didn’t even have an account until late 2021. I’m on Substack and have never detected even one iota of censorship there. Then there are the new distributed blockchain-based social networks such as Minds and Dorsey’s new project. They are resilient, and there is no central control over them.
All this matters not because your government will ultimately decide what you can and can’t see on the internet, not Elon Musk. They’ll be coming for your VPN soon (and are doing so already in the US).
I am not fooled by Musk himself. I do believe he actually cares about the future of humanity, but like many messianic billionaires, he could well turn out to be another philanthrofascist – I just coined that portmanteau here 🙂 I’ve always thought that covering the planet in a web of satellites is pure Bond villain. In reality, he is another stakeholder capitalist, maybe just one that has watched The Matrix and taken on board the message about why the first version the machines built failed.
Lay in a supply of popcorn.

Last edited 11 months ago by Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
NJ
Nik Jewell
11 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Better late than never. Thanks for restoring it.

Peter Johnson
PJ
Peter Johnson
11 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

You are right that the real threat comes from our government. You know that when Trump announced Truth Social they immediately started plotting new ways to pass suppression laws. In Canada our federal regulator is proposing to ban Fox News due to a complaint from a rainbow organization. They already banned Russian News. Most Canadians are too stupid / indifferent / corrupt to understand the implications of this. Do minority groups really think they will be safer if we destroy individual liberties.

Last edited 11 months ago by Peter Johnson
Nik Jewell
NJ
Nik Jewell
11 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Better late than never. Thanks for restoring it.

Peter Johnson
PJ
Peter Johnson
11 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

You are right that the real threat comes from our government. You know that when Trump announced Truth Social they immediately started plotting new ways to pass suppression laws. In Canada our federal regulator is proposing to ban Fox News due to a complaint from a rainbow organization. They already banned Russian News. Most Canadians are too stupid / indifferent / corrupt to understand the implications of this. Do minority groups really think they will be safer if we destroy individual liberties.

Last edited 11 months ago by Peter Johnson
Nik Jewell
NJ
Nik Jewell
11 months ago

Musk says there is no deal with Tucker Carlson. He’ll be another Twitter user like anybody else, just one with considerable reach. Is there some new information here that I am not up to date with?
To those who bemoan the rise of ‘hate speech’ since he took over (really a complaint that you don’t get kicked off for ‘misgendering’ people any more) I say there is no such thing as hate speech. It is an artificial concept. There is only speech. I objected when it was enshrined in legislation and have objected to it ever since.
I post about the WEF a fair bit. I’m probably one of the few sad people who has read Schwab’s books. When he appointed Yaccarino, many people of my persuasion on their evils threw their toys out of the pram, but I have cautioned ‘wait and see’. Yaccarino is his employee, and I do not doubt that he will sack her if she attempts to limit free speech on the platform. His interview yesterday with CNBC was typical; he is repeatedly berated for tweeting that “Soros hates humanity” as putting off his advertisers and states that he will carry on saying whatever he believes to be true, even if it loses him money.
I am unconcerned about Musk’s “totalitarian” plans because I’ll believe them when I see them. Zuckerberg is failing utterly with his attempts. I don’t have to use Twitter – I didn’t even have an account until late 2021. I’m on Substack and have never detected even one iota of censorship there. Then there are the new distributed blockchain-based social networks such as Minds and Dorsey’s new project. They are resilient, and there is no central control over them.
All this matters not because your government will ultimately decide what you can and can’t see on the internet, not Elon Musk. They’ll be coming for your VPN soon (and are doing so already in the US).
I am not fooled by Musk himself. I do believe he actually cares about the future of humanity, but like many messianic billionaires, he could well turn out to be another philanthrofascist – I just coined that portmanteau here 🙂 I’ve always thought that covering the planet in a web of satellites is pure Bond villain. In reality, he is another stakeholder capitalist, maybe just one that has watched The Matrix and taken on board the message about why the first version the machines built failed.
Lay in a supply of popcorn.

Last edited 11 months ago by Nik Jewell
Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
11 months ago

Important topic but, for me, this article conveys more angst than coherent analysis let alone appealing solutions to the issues raised. I have yet to read a sensible plan for how we should shape and regulate social media. I suspect that it is almost inevitable that we will end up with 1) a single “public square” for most political discussion and 2) a single “everything” application. Instead of ranting about these developments we need to think how they are adapted and reformed, amongst other things, to 1) encourage a single well informed and constructive public debate rather than the exchange of terse slogans in polarised bubbles and 2) place strict limits on surveillance by either the state or corporates. Musk is no doubt as much a businessman as a visionary but at least he shows some awareness of the issues.

Last edited 11 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Saul D
SD
Saul D
11 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

You’re right that we need a bigger discussion here. The potential is for combined services under a single log-in – banking, utilities, shopping, entertainment, internet use, phone use, insurance, home security, location services, healthcare etc etc.
This has huge implications if one company has an end-to-end view of all your transactions and behaviour and is also selling and advertising to you. Privacy doesn’t help because they become your service provider and so have legitimate interest/contractual relationship to have your data (and leverage over the terms and conditions) and to join it up, process it through AI, and sell/advise/censor directly at a personal level – GDPR just prevents competition.
One approach legislatively would be hard walls and rules to fence off the different types of service and data. Banking and third-party transaction information should be exclusively private for instance – imagine a healthcare provider who knows how much money is in your bank account. Or alternatively that companies should have a duty of care that information they hold is never used to harm the interests of their customers.
However, you might also take the converse that the power of data is too big to be behind closed doors, so you flip it that personal and customer data held by corporations should be open to the public, and so available for other suppliers to use to increase competition.

Saul D
SD
Saul D
11 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

You’re right that we need a bigger discussion here. The potential is for combined services under a single log-in – banking, utilities, shopping, entertainment, internet use, phone use, insurance, home security, location services, healthcare etc etc.
This has huge implications if one company has an end-to-end view of all your transactions and behaviour and is also selling and advertising to you. Privacy doesn’t help because they become your service provider and so have legitimate interest/contractual relationship to have your data (and leverage over the terms and conditions) and to join it up, process it through AI, and sell/advise/censor directly at a personal level – GDPR just prevents competition.
One approach legislatively would be hard walls and rules to fence off the different types of service and data. Banking and third-party transaction information should be exclusively private for instance – imagine a healthcare provider who knows how much money is in your bank account. Or alternatively that companies should have a duty of care that information they hold is never used to harm the interests of their customers.
However, you might also take the converse that the power of data is too big to be behind closed doors, so you flip it that personal and customer data held by corporations should be open to the public, and so available for other suppliers to use to increase competition.

Alex Carnegie
AC
Alex Carnegie
11 months ago

Important topic but, for me, this article conveys more angst than coherent analysis let alone appealing solutions to the issues raised. I have yet to read a sensible plan for how we should shape and regulate social media. I suspect that it is almost inevitable that we will end up with 1) a single “public square” for most political discussion and 2) a single “everything” application. Instead of ranting about these developments we need to think how they are adapted and reformed, amongst other things, to 1) encourage a single well informed and constructive public debate rather than the exchange of terse slogans in polarised bubbles and 2) place strict limits on surveillance by either the state or corporates. Musk is no doubt as much a businessman as a visionary but at least he shows some awareness of the issues.

Last edited 11 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Michael Butcher
Michael Butcher
11 months ago

An underwhelming and poor analysis of what Musk is doing and has done. For example, to describe as “undisciplined” the man who has, inter alia, created Tesla and Space X shows no comprehension of what self-discipline those achievements required.This is not to say that he is without flaws.

Michael Butcher
MB
Michael Butcher
11 months ago

An underwhelming and poor analysis of what Musk is doing and has done. For example, to describe as “undisciplined” the man who has, inter alia, created Tesla and Space X shows no comprehension of what self-discipline those achievements required.This is not to say that he is without flaws.

Nik Jewell
NJ
Nik Jewell
11 months ago

I am a huge supporter of Unherd but why is it that many of my comments get flagged for moderation, or simply disappear? Every single one of them has been eventually approved for publication, so it is not because I am guilty of some offence.

Peter Johnson
PJ
Peter Johnson
11 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

I have a similar experience – although occasionally my comments don’t get posted.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Because some stupid little pr*ck objects to your comments and thus they are delayed.
Flash to bang so to speak!

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
11 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

I have a similar experience – although occasionally my comments don’t get posted.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Because some stupid little pr*ck objects to your comments and thus they are delayed.
Flash to bang so to speak!

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
11 months ago

I am a huge supporter of Unherd but why is it that many of my comments get flagged for moderation, or simply disappear? Every single one of them has been eventually approved for publication, so it is not because I am guilty of some offence.

Saul D
Saul D
11 months ago

Although Twitter has a high profile among the media class, it’s not particularly widely used outside those who thirst for politics. The main everywhere apps are Google, Facebook and Microsoft, with Apple and Amazon in their own walled gardens. All of them have membership and accounts, payment systems, messaging systems, advertising and trackers, and then some form of entertainment or interactive services. Third party sites already expect you to be able to sign up with Google or Facebook log-ins, creating trackers across the sites you use, and even corporations are using their collaboration tools and placing data on the big sites’ servers.
What happens when those sites also manage your subscriptions to things like unherd, or become the billing provider for utility companies ‘because it’s easier’, and then provide credit scores or even social-credit scores, and then add banking, financial products – say a marketplace for insurance, education services etc in addition to their moves into entertainment.
Musk sees Twitter as a potential player, but it’s a long way back in the pecking order currently. But I have no doubt that others in the big five are also heading in the same general direction.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

I follow a lot of content besides political content.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

I follow a lot of content besides political content.

Saul D
Saul D
11 months ago

Although Twitter has a high profile among the media class, it’s not particularly widely used outside those who thirst for politics. The main everywhere apps are Google, Facebook and Microsoft, with Apple and Amazon in their own walled gardens. All of them have membership and accounts, payment systems, messaging systems, advertising and trackers, and then some form of entertainment or interactive services. Third party sites already expect you to be able to sign up with Google or Facebook log-ins, creating trackers across the sites you use, and even corporations are using their collaboration tools and placing data on the big sites’ servers.
What happens when those sites also manage your subscriptions to things like unherd, or become the billing provider for utility companies ‘because it’s easier’, and then provide credit scores or even social-credit scores, and then add banking, financial products – say a marketplace for insurance, education services etc in addition to their moves into entertainment.
Musk sees Twitter as a potential player, but it’s a long way back in the pecking order currently. But I have no doubt that others in the big five are also heading in the same general direction.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
11 months ago

What I don’t get is this: 44 BILLION dollars! 44 Billion dollars! Not millions, billions! Any yet nothing is created or manufactured, there is nothing added to society in any meaningful way by Twitter’s existence, there are no great works of art springing from its loins. So what is going on? I’m not very good at economics or maths, so maybe someone can enlighten me, but it’s not land or property or ideas or products – I find it utterly baffling.

Warren Trees
WT
Warren Trees
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Well, the same could be said about pornography. Yet it remains as one of the top destinations on the web. These days, it’s all about eyeballs mate. Nothing else.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Because Twitter is the best social media app (I’ve been on a lot) and under Musk is being improved daily. Well it was moribund before a he took it over. As far as he is concerned it is a values based purchase. He seldom does things purely for money, though he does watch the bottom line obviously.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Well, the same could be said about pornography. Yet it remains as one of the top destinations on the web. These days, it’s all about eyeballs mate. Nothing else.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Because Twitter is the best social media app (I’ve been on a lot) and under Musk is being improved daily. Well it was moribund before a he took it over. As far as he is concerned it is a values based purchase. He seldom does things purely for money, though he does watch the bottom line obviously.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
11 months ago

What I don’t get is this: 44 BILLION dollars! 44 Billion dollars! Not millions, billions! Any yet nothing is created or manufactured, there is nothing added to society in any meaningful way by Twitter’s existence, there are no great works of art springing from its loins. So what is going on? I’m not very good at economics or maths, so maybe someone can enlighten me, but it’s not land or property or ideas or products – I find it utterly baffling.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
11 months ago

the news came, just after, that he had signed on Tucker Carlson

I’m surprised no one has picked up on this – or am I out of date? I read that there is no deal between Twitter and Tucker – he’s just another user. Reading this in one of the opening senetences blighted the rest of the article for me. I also don’t find Twitter toxic but it can be a great waste of time. There are some good points raised about control of the information sphere.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
11 months ago

Remember, truth is relative these days.

Warren Trees
WT
Warren Trees
11 months ago

Remember, truth is relative these days.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
11 months ago

the news came, just after, that he had signed on Tucker Carlson

I’m surprised no one has picked up on this – or am I out of date? I read that there is no deal between Twitter and Tucker – he’s just another user. Reading this in one of the opening senetences blighted the rest of the article for me. I also don’t find Twitter toxic but it can be a great waste of time. There are some good points raised about control of the information sphere.

Christopher Chantrill
CC
Christopher Chantrill
11 months ago

Note to Michael Cuenco.
Of course “Elon Musk has no idea what he’s doing.”
Neither do you, sir. Neither does any of us.
But, by God, Elon’s putting on a great show. And that, experts agree, is half the battle.

Christopher Chantrill
CC
Christopher Chantrill
11 months ago

Note to Michael Cuenco.
Of course “Elon Musk has no idea what he’s doing.”
Neither do you, sir. Neither does any of us.
But, by God, Elon’s putting on a great show. And that, experts agree, is half the battle.

Allison Barrows
AB
Allison Barrows
11 months ago

If only 13% of the general public even bother with an app largely utilized by media and celebrity neurotics, what’s the point of calling for them to “abandon it en masse”? As Bari Weiss said to her former employer, the New York Times, Twitter isn’t real life. Normies never interacted with it from the get go.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago

Plenty ‘normies’ on Twitter. Unherd isn’t real life either, but here you are.

Allison Barrows
AB
Allison Barrows
11 months ago

I’m here but not claiming to speak for others. Opinion is quite different from Twitter Consensus.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago

Some accuse Unherd as having too much consensus, but here you are. Anyhoo, Twitter like anywhere else is just chock full of people of people with their own different opinions. It also has a facility (like Unherd) of liking someone else’s opinion.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago

Some accuse Unherd as having too much consensus, but here you are. Anyhoo, Twitter like anywhere else is just chock full of people of people with their own different opinions. It also has a facility (like Unherd) of liking someone else’s opinion.

Allison Barrows
AB
Allison Barrows
11 months ago

I’m here but not claiming to speak for others. Opinion is quite different from Twitter Consensus.

Ed Newman
Ed Newman
11 months ago

Most people do not see Twitter as a “demoralizing, hellish quality of life”… if they did, then why would they stick around.
Most journalists are on Twitter because it is a great source of information on what is happening and how people with alternate points of views perceive it. It’s an excellent way to get a pulse on what moves people.. and it’s direct, unlike news media which has to take tiime to figure out how to spin events so they get properly “interpreted” to fit their narratives.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago

Plenty ‘normies’ on Twitter. Unherd isn’t real life either, but here you are.

Ed Newman
EN
Ed Newman
11 months ago

Most people do not see Twitter as a “demoralizing, hellish quality of life”… if they did, then why would they stick around.
Most journalists are on Twitter because it is a great source of information on what is happening and how people with alternate points of views perceive it. It’s an excellent way to get a pulse on what moves people.. and it’s direct, unlike news media which has to take tiime to figure out how to spin events so they get properly “interpreted” to fit their narratives.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
11 months ago

If only 13% of the general public even bother with an app largely utilized by media and celebrity neurotics, what’s the point of calling for them to “abandon it en masse”? As Bari Weiss said to her former employer, the New York Times, Twitter isn’t real life. Normies never interacted with it from the get go.