Well, Elon Musk did what he set out to do – the billionaire has successfully purchased Twitter.
This takeover can be thought about in three different categories – this is a positive change and will allow for truly accessible freedom of speech; this is a negative change and Musk will make the platform worse; this will effectively make no change.
On this episode of the Mind Meld PR Breaking News podcast, our host, Jonathan Narvey is joined by PR associates, Kelsey Barnes and Kendall Saretsky. The group discusses this takeover and what it might mean for freedom of speech, cancel culture and media literacy at large.
Read the following transcript of their conversation or watch the video to discover their differing takes as communications experts.
Jonathon Narvey 0:02
Hello and welcome back to the Mind Meld PR Breaking News podcast. It's been a while. I am your host, Jonathon Narvey, the founder of Mind Meld PR. I am joined today by PR associates at Mind Meld PR, Kelsey Barnes and Kendall Saretsky.
So we have a big news item to discuss today. I wasn't expecting to resume the podcast again this quickly. But this kind of dropped in our lap and dropped in the world's lap. Elon Musk has bought Twitter. That's pretty cool. Pretty amazing. Well, maybe some people think it's less cool.
We have some thoughts around this as a PR agency as professional storytellers, as communicators. So we'll just get right into it. I want to say a few words about what I've seen around Twitter in the past, and where I think it's headed, and then we'll just join a discussion.
Number one, what does Elon Musk buying Twitter actually mean? Very superficially, some people might think it makes very little difference. A billionaire is buying a company, which until now has been led by billionaires. If you happen to believe that all elites are pretty much aligned, and just as the rest of us are aligned against them. I'm not a billionaire, so there's really no difference.
But I believe there's a difference here. I think a lot of people are already piping up on Twitter. People who are not fans of Elon would agree that it does make a difference that he is going to change things. So we're going to get into what that means.
Again, we're interested in this because we run a PR agency. We sometimes help our clients with social media, we're interested in communicating. Twitter is a kind of hive mind of hot takes for good or bad. Sometimes you can pick up bits of actually useful signals within the noise.
A bit more historical context, we're based in Vancouver, home of HootSuite. That's one of Canada's few unicorns – a tech company valued at a billion or more. It's arguable in retrospect, but anyways, at the time, I remember HootSuite coming out, it was all about coordinating, monitoring, scheduling, your tweets and other social media apps. We still use it as do some of our clients to manage Twitter and other social media apps.
So as a tool to buttress your centrist sensory apparatus, Twitter has pros and cons. To the extent that it can introduce you to a wider world of opinion and information seems to be more useful. But maybe that's part of the problem with Twitter as it stood in or it has stood in recent days.
You look at Babylon Bee, the satirical site or Libs of TikTok and other you know, famous people effectively gotten canceled on Twitter. You see the Hunter Biden laptop story gets dropped to the bottom of the ocean by Twitter. And this, for those of us who keep John Stuart Mill's philosophy, not necessarily top of mind, but at least back of mind. That is a little disturbing. John Stuart Mill was the guy who said, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” I find Twitter to be a useful insight into the other side are not necessarily people I oppose, but people, I just want to see how other people think.
Before we get into the discussion, and I know I've been rambling for a bit. I'll give you an analogy of how I think about how things have gone on Twitter lately. Why it seems important that Elon Musk seems to be saying that he wants to open up Twitter as a free speech area, a place where you can have a true marketplace of ideas. These seem good to me. But I'll give you an analogy. It's one I've been thinking about for a while.
Imagine you go on off to war. And you are in charge of the radio, free communicating makes sure all the troops are in communication. And you can hear your side's communications, and then one day you turn the dial, and you realize you have access to the other side's communications. Wow. Well, you are astonished and very pleased with yourself at this discovery. In fact, you share the information. Low level officers and others who have seen what you're doing, they begin availing themselves of this opportunity to hear the other side. Learn more about what the enemy is thinking. Surely you are in line for a promotion. And then your commanding officer learns of what you have done. And the orders come down? Nope. No one gets to listen to that, that to the enemy's radio, they surely have nothing useful to say. Besides, if our side listens to them enough, they might be persuaded to join their cause. Because what they're saying is so seductive, so persuasive. It could take an instant, maybe 30 seconds. So nope, our people will not be listening into what the other side is doing, we will not take advantage of this. That sounds a little wacky to me. Maybe my analogy is off, though. Maybe the way I'm thinking about this is maybe there's something wrong with it. So again, Kelsey Barnes and Kendall Saretsky are here to maybe bounce ideas off those ideas, maybe poke holes in them. Whoever wants to take the first swing, please go ahead.
Kendall Saretsky 7:08
Well, I'll kick it off here, Jonathon. Thanks for having me on the show. I just wanted to point out the fact that when you join Twitter, you're signing up for and accepting the terms and conditions.
And so I have an analogy that I have been thinking about too, and I will share. So, when you go to someone's house, and they're having a party, and say, “Come on over.” And you arrive, and they say, “Oh, shoes off, please.” You have to take your shoes off. It's not about the fact that they don't want you there. It's not about the fact that you think shoes are bad indoors. It's just at my house, these are my rules, no shoes.
That's kind of what's happening on Twitter right now. Where people are signing up, you're going in, you're having fun. And then there are some rules that are being assigned to, you have to get with the programme. You're signing these terms and conditions, you might not be reading them in full, they might be written with a lot of jargon – that's intentional. But when you're joining these sites, this is what you're signing up for. And that's the reality of it.
Twitter, before Elon Musk bought it, was marketed as a news app. They have to make sure that they're not spreading misinformation. I'm not saying that they're doing a great job of it. I'm not saying that they're even right 100 percent of the time, or even 50 percent of the time, but these are the rules that they're making. These are the rules that you have to subscribe to when you're joining Twitter. That's just kind of how it works in my opinion.
Jonathon Narvey 8:36
So, by the way, I was gonna say I agreed with you 100 percent. I now agree with you 99 percent, maybe 100. But there was a bit where you talked about disinformation. And we can have a discussion about who is really responsible for that. But actually, I think this gets to the heart of the discussion.
Kendall Saretsky 9:01
Jonathon Narvey 9:02
People are upset that, “Oh, Twitter is enforcing rules arbitrarily, blah, blah, blah.” But whatever. It's a company that can make the rules.
Okay, well, Elon coming in, the rules are going to change. So great. I believe everyone should be following the rules. The rules are about to change. Great. We're all on the same page. We agree.
Kendall Saretsky 9:26
I think that it was an unnecessary takeover, though, because you already have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech isn't exercised in private places. I have freedom of speech and you have freedom of speech in your own home. No one's censoring you.
Jonathan Narvey 9:40
Are you sure about that?
Kendall Saretsky 9:43
I'm not being censored in real life, are you?
Jonathon Narvey 9:48
Yeah. Absolutely. There's both. You know, there's shadow banning, there's throttling of traffic. So…
Kendall Saretsky 10:00
No, I mean, in real life, Jonathon. That's what freedom of speech is applying to. Your everyday, organic face to face encounters.
Jonathon Narvey 10:07
So well, I don't know, I would think that, you know, we spend more and more time online where you know, more and more of the discussion is not in a literal space.
Kendall Saretsky 10:21
But then the conversation changes to what is real life, what do you consider to be real life? What do you consider to be freedom? Everyone has different definitions.
Jonathon Narvey 10:32
Well, I think it would be fairly easy to hit upon a definition we could all agree on of what freedom of speech is. I mean, we don't have to reinvent the wheel actually. But you have some interesting thoughts here.
I wonder if Kelsey has anything to add. Kelsey, where are you at with Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter?
Kelsey Barnes 10:56
So I basically support Kendall 100 percent.
To me, nobody's forcing you to join Twitter, you sign terms and conditions like it's…
Jonathan Narvey 11:00
Great, so we all agree.
Kelsey Barnes 11:03
So basically everything Kendall just said is how I feel 100 percent.
Kendall Saretsky 11:13
It just feels like the takeover is arbitrary. And it feels like it wasn't necessary in my eyes.
Jonathon Narvey 11:20
What do you mean by arbitrary? Maybe I'm not understanding?
Kendall Saretsky 11:25
Well, we already have rules. And so, Elon Musk just was pissed off for lack of a better word about rules that were impeding what he felt was an inviolable right – to say whatever the heck he wanted on Twitter.
Jonathon Narvey 11:38
Well, I don't think he's the only one who thinks that way.
Kendall Saretsky 11:42
But then you look at what he's tweeting, and he's making fun of Bill Gates. It's not like he's saying things, in my opinion, that are revolutionary. And he's like, “Oh, we have to do this and this to make the world a better place.” And Twitter is saying, “You can't say that.” He's just kind of making mean, petty tweets. And he's getting in trouble for it.
Jonathon Narvey 12:03
Kendall Saretsky 12:06
How do you feel about the Bill Gates tweet?
Jonathon Narvey 12:09
Yeah, but the thing is, he sent off the Bill Gates tweet, and it wound up.
Oh, alright, did it get censored? But, yeah, he did not spend whatever it was $43 billion, that he could make sure that his tweets and his tweets alone, were uncensored, I don't think that was his motive.
Kendall Saretsky 12:30
I feel like it's a petty point that he's trying to make. I don't think that it's him being a hero for those who are being silenced. It’s not how it reads to me anyway.
Jonathon Narvey 12:39
I'd like you to Steelman this Elon position just to make sure we are aligned. We, you know, again, this goes back to the whole John Stuart Mill thing, if you don't understand the other side, how they think, then maybe you don't understand how you think. And maybe there are other things that you know, maybe there are other considerations here.
So, either one of you, I was wondering if, you know, if you could lay out what would be a best case rational scenario for why the richest man in the world? You know, again, based off his own comments, he's been very clear about the reasons that he wants people to think that he bought Twitter. So, what would be the most fair, even generous, understanding of why this guy, why is Elon Musk, the SpaceX guy, the Tesla guy, why is he getting involved in social media?
Kelsey Barnes 13:52
I mean, I just feel like he wants a piece of the pie, I don't even know, because to me, it's like, in regards to freedom of speech, as long as you're not being hateful on Twitter, you really can say whatever you want to me. As long as you're not being racist being you know, homophobic. So I really don't understand why he feels the need to buy Twitter, as long as you’re not being awful…
Kendall Saretsky 14:14
He wanted to enable and empower people to more easily make criticisms, and to share alternative, differing points of view, which I think is great. He even tweeted today that he hopes that his critics will continue to be critical of him on Twitter. So I don't think that that's a wrong thing to do.
However, I also think that Twitter is what you make of it. It's all made of algorithms, and people get locked into their own echo chambers. And so the more things that you interact with, and the more things that you're seeing, and the more tweets that you're liking and retweeting, etc, you're going to acquire and accrue a Twitter that's going to only reflect your worldview. Which is when I think it gets dangerous.
But maybe he'll make changes to the algorithms, and maybe he'll make changes to the platform itself. That's something that I can see being a positive. But if he doesn't do that, and he just allows for people to be critical and to share differing points of view, I'm worried that it will spiral into this hate-sharing place where people can just say awful, horrible things about trans people. And the more that you see, and the more that you interact with, the more that you see. And that view becomes your one worldview.
And again, it comes back to media literacy, where people are going on Twitter, and thinking, “Here I am. I'm a voice in the world. And this is empowering, and I can say whatever I want.” And then you start to interact with more people who believe you and then you think, “Yeah, this is the whole world, we're on the same page.” But it's not. It's just a microcosm of individuals that you've interacted with. And it's the algorithm feeding you that.
Jonathon Narvey 15:56
Alright, so you made some very excellent points, which again, I agree with, actually, I think I agreed with all of it. So actually, there's very little that we disagree about here.
I think that was fairly said.
I think it's also fair to say, you know, based off what you just said that, look, Twitter, in some respects, is a toxic place. And it seems like you could improve it. Now, if you want to reduce hateful speech, however, you want to define it, let's say it's, you know, speech that, you know, is critical, it's racist or sexist, misogynistic, whatever. Okay, well, one, it seems to me an obvious improvement Twitter could make that they should have done from the very start, that Elon, I suspect might be thinking this, but maybe not. Why not do what LinkedIn does what Facebook does? And instead of being, you know, SnarkyMouth59, you actually have to list your name with your profile, and that has to be somehow verified. He's talked about getting a, you know, you pay three bucks, and then you get a check mark and you’re official – doing it that way.
Okay, well, now, who in their right mind is going to create a Twitter account, have a verified identity, and then do the one thing that's pretty much guaranteed to get them fired? Or is gonna get their whole family is like, “Oh, man, you shouldn't have said that.” You know, if you say something racist on Twitter, your colleagues know who you are, you're out of that job. If you're running a business, your clients are no longer doing business with you. That kind of thing. What do you think of that? Maybe that would be a positive change that he could make?
Kendall Saretsky 18:36
I think that sounds great in theory, I just don't think that it would actually be actionable.
I think that there's a lot of things that I could say, as a white woman that certain people of other genders or sexual orientations, or different ethnic backgrounds couldn't say and conversely, things that someone else could say, and I couldn't.
We previously had a president who was caught on air talking about how he had grabbed a woman by her genitals and didn't lose his job. I don't know. If that is what we're letting fly these days. I don't know if having your public name and face on Twitter would actually make a difference. If anything, I just see it, it was a way for cancel culture to get even worse.
Kelsey Barnes 19:25
I also don't think that buying a checkmark means anything because then if everybody can just buy a verified check mark, and they really mean nothing.
Kendall Saretsky 19:33
Part of the value of the internet is the anonymity that it affords you.
Jonathon Narvey 19:37
Yeah, well, okay, so two things there. I think the idea I'm not an expert on this, but I think the idea with the buying a checkmark and you know, any move is going to be well, there's positives and there's also negatives two steps forward, one step back. But with the checkmark thing, if there's any costs above one cent? Well, now spammers can't use Twitter because it's impossible to scale.
You know, let's say the Russians can't purchase like 100,000 spammy accounts and you just throw bot driven messages through that. It's just, it becomes more costly. So, that's a benefit.
But I see what you mean, absolutely. In other walks of life, it would be strange. If you could just buy your way into any situation it totally makes sense. But you know, I don't know, like, you could imagine some private club that –
Kendall Saretsky 20:42
Yeah. It's supposed to be egalitarian and Twitter's supposed to be this equal place where everyone can have their voice. The paid-for checkmark would kind of be making it inaccessible, and removing it from the masses.
A lot of people couldn't afford $3 to verify themselves. And then if verification becomes the new cultural currency and it’s about who's authentic and who's not, then that means a lot of people don't get to partake.
Kelsey Barnes 21:06
Well, I mean, on a personal note, I got verified in the fall, and I've seen the way people engage with my content differently now that I've been verified. So…
Jonathon Narvey 21:15
Hold on, you got a blue checkmark?
Kelsey Barnes 21:19
Yeah. Just in November? Yeah. I don't know. It seems like, I didn't even want to bring it up. I'm like, it's so lame. But I've just noticed personally, firsthand how people engage with my content differently based on having a blue check.
Jonathon Narvey 21:34
Alright, so how many followers do you have, by the way?
Kelsey Barnes 21:36
Jonathan Narvey 21:38
See, I've been hovering around the 2000 mark, since I don't know, well years ago. I mean, look, I can't say for sure. Maybe I just put out content that people think sucks. That's possible.
But I keep hearing, you know, shadow banning, algorithmic throttling of opinions that Twitter just does not like, they don't have to show how they're doing it. But you know, guys like Larry Elder, who ran for governor or ran in the recall campaign in California. He was called the Black face of white supremacy, you know, Black Republican. And he was defamed, slandered. And anyways, his numbers had been going up, up, up, up, and then as soon as the recall ended, just down by hundreds of thousands. And it's like, Well, okay, maybe people just stopped following for whatever reason, or something else was going on behind the scenes. There's many, many examples like that.
Kendall Saretsky 22:53
When I hear people talking about being shadow banned, though, it's from extreme leftists. People who are promoting socialist ideals. I don't see that so much with conservatives.
And I am in my echo chamber of Twitter, which is mostly very left wing and also comedians, I still manage to see a tonne of appalling, in my opinion, right wing content.
Jonathon Narvey 23:17
Well, look, yeah. However you want to define it. I think there are a lot of large territories.
Kendall Saretsky 23:25
When I say appalling right wing, I mean hate speech. Talking about inequalities as if it weren’t something that mattered. Not giving people who are of different sexual orientations the time of day, acting as if they're less than, that's what I mean when I refer to appalling right wing stuff.
Jonathon Narvey 23:43
We're in total agreement. Look, Twitter is a cesspool full of toxic talk from, again, anonymous weirdos. So, you know, I feel like that's –
Kendall Saretsky 23:57
But it’s not anonymous. It's Ben Shapiro.
Jonathon Narvey 24:01
Well, Ben Shapiro hasn't said anything hateful. I follow the guy.
Unless your definition. Well, this again, this goes back to definitions of what you consider hate speech. If I say, I hate Joe, Joe Smith, and I link to a particular Twitter handle. Is that hateful? Yeah, some people will say it's hateful. If not, it's like there has to be a group that is defined and you know, we know that we know what the different definitions are.
Ben Shapiro, that dude is the number one target of the alt right in the United States and has been for a number of years that guy gets more anti semitic messages than anyone on Earth as far as I understand. So –
Kendall Saretsky 24:56
My point is not that you can’t experience it. Like, you can be right wing and still experience hate, it's not that. I think that a lot of it comes from having a pundit or a face like Ben Shapiro, or Candace Owens, for example, as a face for these kinds of controversial ideals, emboldens the anonymous people to just say whatever they want, and then that is what spirals into hate speech.
So they're seeing Tucker Carlson talking about something. And he's talking about it in a way that is vetted and verified because he's in traditional news media. And it just kind of emboldens the everyman to say whatever the heck they want, because Tucker Carlson was basically saying that anyway,
Kelsey Barnes 25:41
Yeah, it gives people permission to open those doors, basically.
Kendall Saretsky 25:47
Yeah, which is what I'm worried about with this. I don't want to give people permission to say horrible, awful things.
Jonathon Narvey 25:53
I've gotta say, I have a journalist here. I have a PR pro, well you’re both PR pros. I was expecting a bit more of a pro free speech, kind of –
Kendall Saretsky 26:04
Well you have freedom of speech. You're on Twitter.
Kelsey Barnes 26:08
I’m for freedom of speech, you know, as long as you're not being an asshole to other people.
Kendall Saretsky 26:15
Yeah, and that’s what I’m not here for. You have freedom of speech. Join your groups, meet up with your friends in person, organize IRL. But I don't want to see you on my Twitter feed. I'm sorry.
Jonathon Narvey 26:29
Well, look, I think that’s fair.
I think, probably both of you are echoing sentiments that are, frankly, quite popular on Twitter and off today.
So I think we've had a good discussion sort of rounding up, you know, the pros and cons of Elon Musk owning Twitter. There's going to be people who think it's awesome. There's going to be people who, you know, think it's well, at best, a neutral change of condition.
I think we're agreeing that Twitter needs improving. I think we're disagreeing on maybe the solution. How could Elon or anyone else iImprove what's happening on Twitter? Is that fair to say?
Kendall Saretsky 27:24
Yeah, I just, I guess I just don't see social media as a valuable vehicle to have these kinds of conversations. You only have so many characters. How can you talk about a point that is maybe controversial, and maybe you are coming from a really great place, and you're coming from a point where you want everyone to be better for this thing. And you can't convey a nuanced opinion. In so few characters it’s not really a place for conversation. It's a place for a hot take, it’s a place for a joke, it's a place to share a meme. But it's not somewhere where you're going to necessarily have a valuable life changing, worldview altering, engaging discourse.
Jonathon Narvey 28:05
Absolutely. And if you want to tell your story in the long form, if maybe you're looking for blog posts, case studies, white papers. We've got content marketing, pros who can handle whatever you throw at us. And of course, our media relations. We will tell your story in the long form, because Twitter, as Kendall has said, is not the place to share big ideas. We’ve got to get your story out there, press releases, pitches we will get – okay. I'm gonna stop. Alright. I think this has been a fun discussion, folks, Kendall and Kelsey and I again, I'm your host, Jonathon Narvey, founder of Mind Meld PR. You've been listening or maybe watching an episode of my Mind Meld PR Breaking News. And I guess we'll see you next time.
What's my outro? That's my outro? Anybody got any?
Kendall Saretsky 29:07
We need a little jingle. We need a jingle that's for sure.
Jonathon Narvey 29:11
Alright. See you next time on Mind Meld PR Breaking News.
We hope that this conversation has offered some different takes than those that have been swirling about the rest of the internet. The ability to have these kinds of discussions is the bedrock of what freedom of speech is all about.
If you’re looking for help you share your hot take and get you into the news, reach out our tech PR agency today