Elon Musk isn’t social media’s biggest problem

If you had to fabricate a hot-take contest topic, Elon Musk offering to buy Twitter would do just fine. Twitter thrives on disagreement, and few people are as divisive as Musk.

In this way, it mirrors Twitter itself – even people who use it religiously spend half their time complaining about how awful it is. (And Twitter reportedly fought off Musk’s proposed takeover with a strategy aptly known as a “poison pill.”)

In another way, the conversation is more important symbolically than specifically. Twitter is to social media what Musk is to capitalism – just a small piece of a much bigger problem.

In fact, it’s not quite fair to Musk. He is, in fact, the richest person on the planet, while Twitter is one of the least used social media platforms. Only 22% of Americans have Twitter accounts (fewer than LinkedIn!), and most of those users don’t tweet very often.

But, like Musk, Twitter gets a disproportionate share of the press because it’s built for provocation. Subtlety has no place on Twitter, where everything is its own title.

Given Musk’s history on Twitter, which he’s used to lie about COVID-19, attack critics and get in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission, concerns about his handling of the show seem justified. His vow to ease constraints on the platform goes against growing alarm over the role Twitter played in, among other things, manipulating social media during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, the spread of extremist views and hate speech and the January 6 attack. on the Capitol.

But it’s not just Twitter, or even primarily Twitter, that’s the problem. With or without Musk, social media has created a gray area between public and private, between politics and personal, to become the most pervasive and least monitored force in American culture.

It raises all sorts of questions about privacy, free speech, criminality and consequences – which no one, including the people who earn billions on the various social media sites, seem willing or able to answer.

Facebook has connected family, friends, and lovers while being a prime gathering place for all manner of terrorists, white supremacists, COVID-19 deniers, and insurgents. Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok have boosted businesses, made careers and entertained and informed visitors, while causing anxiety and depression among many of their users, especially young women.

So while I don’t think Musk is a good fit for Twitter at this point, he’s not social media’s biggest problem.

The biggest problem is that we all know the downsides of social media and we all continue to use it anyway.

You can call it a brilliant business model or you can call it an addiction, but social media has made itself so indispensable to millions of Americans that they’re willing to ignore issues that would be considered outrageous in any other industry. .

This would normally be the part of the column where I offer concrete solutions, but I’m not sure I have any.

This is not a call to “get off social media” – I will be tweeting and posting this column and, no doubt, photos of my adorable pup in the near future. But let’s be aware of the industry we support, aware of what they do or enable, in places we may not see. Many of us already avoid certain companies because of where they invest or how they treat their employees or what their CEOs say.

So make them aware of what the term “social media” can mean. Advertisers and their money go where the people are, and that choice is literally in your hands.

Mary McNamara is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. ©2022 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by content agency Tribune.

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