QOTD: What Does Elon Musk Buying Twitter Mean for the Automotive Industry?
It's official. Tesla boss Elon Musk now owns Twitter, one of the most influential social media platforms.
I've spent a lot of time -- perhaps too much time -- since yesterday thinking about how the head of a car company now owning Twitter will affect those of us in the automotive media -- and the industry as a whole.
Think about it: Musk now owns a platform in which his competitors advertise and promote their own brands. One that his competing executives use.
It's also a platform on which those of us in the automotive media use to promote our own work -- including stories about Tesla or Musk that are factually accurate but critical. Some of us post critical opinion pieces. And many of us post critical opinions of Musk and Twitter on our personal accounts.
The mind boggles at the possible scenarios. Could Musk use content moderation to silence critical voices? My understanding is that he could -- if a private platform is allowed to kick racists out, then it should have the right to control what appears on it, right?
Or could Musk quietly use control of algorithms to quietly bury a negative review of the Model S from Motor Trend? To keep ads from Ford or GM from surfacing?
Does he now have access to the personal data of journalists, academics, high-level car-company executives, and stock-market analysts? Does have now have access to Twitter user data that could help him target Tesla's marketing?
Or is this just all paranoia on my part? Maybe Musk will just delegate all or most of the work to others and focus his time and energy on Tesla and SpaceX and whatever else he's working on.
It's also possible Musk will make changes to Twitter that will actually work to benefit other car companies and/or the media, both in general and in terms of automotive journalism.
I reached out to Mike Masnick, the editor of TechDirt, a blog that covers the collision of technology and free speech, among other things, and asked him a few questions. Our exchange, lightly edited:
Q: We know that Twitter, as a private platform, is free to moderate content without it running afoul of free speech. It has that right. It has the right to moderate content from racists, for example. Does Musk now have the right to say, suppress a car review of a Tesla he doesn't like? Or a Ford ad? Or a journalist who is expressing critical thoughts on his personal account? Legally speaking, as well as morally speaking.
Masnick: Yes, it can moderate however it wants with a few (very minimal) limitations in the US at least. There are more restrictions elsewhere, especially in the EU. But, yes that means he could absolutely suppress a car review he doesn't like, or ban all ads from competing companies. He could even take down competing car company accounts if he wants. In theory, he could even read their DMs (though that begins to push on some legal issues). Legally, all of that is absolutely allowed. I can't comment on moral issues, because those are all individual decisions.
Q: As a follow-up, could Musk quietly silence criticism by pulling algorithmic levers? For example, tweaking the algorithm to hide a bad review of a Model S from Motor Trend? I believe this is called shadowbanning and I've been skeptical that Twitter does this -- but could that change under Musk?
Masnick: He could absolutely do that if he wanted to, though I imagine it's not quite that easy to do, and if he wanted to, he'd find it more difficult than he expected. I'm not convinced he would actually do that, but he absolutely could.
Q: Are there any legal challenges to a CEO of a company -- in this case, multiple companies -- owning a platform in which media coverage of those companies is shared?
Masnick: There's not much that could be done legally. In theory, if Twitter somehow became dominant, then there could be antitrust concerns about him leveraging one business to harm competitors in other businesses, but none of Musk's companies currently come close to the threshold for that to be the case. There certainly have been tons of other media companies owned by individuals or owners with competing interests and it's mostly legal for them to do what they want. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post while still having a strong interest in Amazon (though he's no longer CEO). Comcast owns NBC Universal. And, there are certainly arguments that lots of these conglomerates or billionaire-owned media companies pull their punches on criticizing their own owner or related companies, or that they put extra attention on competitors. But, generally, people call that out. I don't think there's been much evidence that anyone has taken it to extreme levels.
In theory, Musk absolutely could do that, but I imagine it would likely backfire tremendously and make him look quite bad.
Q: Could Musk now have access to Twitter user data that could help him sell Teslas?
Masnick: Sure, absolutely. I'm not quite sure which user data would be that useful here, but he has access to that data. There are certain limitations in how he can use data based on different laws (GDPR in the EU, CCPA/CCPR in California) but, not sure that any of those existing laws would limit him from trying to use the data to sell Teslas. There are some legal proposals that would suggest he can only use data for *necessary* purposes, and in theory, those could limit the "sell Tesla" hypothetical, but I don't think any of those laws are set in stone yet.
Of course, perspective is necessary here -- there are bigger fish to fry, societally speaking, when it comes to Twitter than how the automotive industry and the automotive press will be affected. We're quickly approaching a midterm election in which democracy itself is arguably on the ballot, and we're in an era in which misinformation and disinformation are huge problems. I'm more worried about how Twitter will handle lies about election security (yes, Biden won), misinformation/disinformation about COVID (Musk himself had some problematic positions), and general racism and bigotry than if Musk will throttle our traffic should we call the Cybertruck into question again.
That said, I am not paid to write about those things, at least not at TTAC, and if you want to read about those topics there are plenty of other outlets giving them coverage. I'll let the Masnicks and Charlie Warzels and Ryan Brodericks of the world write about the bigger picture -- for the purposes of this post, I am curious as to how the car world will change on Twitter, if it even changes at all.
I am also curious as to how, the average Twitter user, will be using the platform going forward. Will you use it less? More? The same? Will Weird Car Twitter, which is home not to automotive journalists but plenty of car enthusiasts who aren't members of the media, change?
What say you, B and B? Is this a seismic change for Twitter, or much ado about nothing? Or somewhere in between?
One last thing: I know this is a divisive subject. Please keep the comments civil. You know the Six Rules, obey them or face the banhammer.
[Image: Sergei Elagin/Shutterstock.com]
Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.
FreedMike on Oct 31, 2022
Here's an excellent opportunity for Musk to put his money where his mouth is on an issue that directly affects his pocketbook.
Matt Posky on Oct 31, 2022
Latest Car ReviewsRead more
Latest Product ReviewsRead more
- Master Baiter True self-driving is going to require dedicated roads, and a requirement that all cars on such roads have a minimal suite of self-driving hardware and software. Given that that Washington is incapable of building anything other than bombs and missiles, some other country, probably China, will have to lead the way. Maybe 20 years after they have this in Asia, we'll get self-driving here in the U.S.
- IH_Fever The sales model was neat, especially the delivery part, but other than that, what was carvana besides carmax without a traditional brick and mortar lot? It couldn't keep its finances (or title documents) in order. Let it burn.
- IH_Fever EV charger on a GM lot, probably with a Cummins generator to keep them running. A regular melting pot haha
- Tassos Wake me up when VW (or any other loser "Legacy" automaker comes up with a "BETTER TESLA" BEV AT THE SAME PRICE. SO far, VW has FAILED MISERABLY AND LOST BILLIONS DOING IT. Its models are way underwhelming and inferior, and cost not much less than the model 3. ANd DESPITE the SCANDALOUS $7,500 tax credit, which is an INVERSE ROBIN HOOD, takes from the average household and gives it to the average BEV buying family, which has an income of $170k+, VW STILL FAILED.ALso notice the so-called "Mobility Officers" at FORD AND Renault QUIT. another HUGE SCAM, Autonomous Vehicles, they wasted 100s of billions (all idiot legacy makers together) and predicted billions of profits, but so far they DROWN IN A SEA OF RED INK with NOTHING to show for it. Morons will be morons, and the ones in this forum will cheer for their failures "AWESOME, WV, Indeed"! LOL!!!
- Jwee More range and faster charging cannot be good news for the heavily indebted and distracted Musk.Tesla China is discounting their cars. Apart from the Model 3, no one is much buying Tesla's here in Europe. Other groups have already passed Tesla in Europe, where it was once dominant.Among manufacturers, 2021 EV sales:VW Group 25%, Stellantis at 14.5%,Tesla at 13.9%Hyundai-Kia at 11.2% Renault Group at 10.3%. Just 2 years ago, Tesla had a commanding 31.1% share of the European EV marketOuch. https://carsalesbase.com/european-sales-2021-ev/@lou_BC, carsalebase.com changed their data, so this is slightly different than last time I posted this, but same idea.