Feeling the Pivot
Meta and Twitter are changing and we can all sense it
If you ever get the grand idea that in addition to remodeling your primary bath you should also re-organize your entire house including putting in five new closet systems call me so I can talk you out of it.
This week’s newsletter is late because I’ve been spending the weekend putting in the final two closet systems. Of course, some things don’t fit and one of my walls is quite warped. I finally got the hardest part done, which I had to finish by today as I don’t have any free weekends until the Home Edit comes right before Thanksgiving to organize my office. AND my contractor/designer are hustling to get my bathroom done by my birthday on the 12th so fingers crossed.
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Anywho, doing all that manual labor gave me time to think about what I wanted to write about this week. Obviously, everyone is obsessed with Elon finally taking over Twitter. If that hadn’t happened I think we would be talking more about the drop in Meta stock following their earnings call where people realized just how much money Mark is spending on the Metaverse.
The two stories are intertwined and a lot of people this week had the feeling that things were truly starting to change. Back in February, I wrote about how the winds were starting to change and you could hear that in the 2021 Q4 earnings calls. I think this week we’re finally starting to feel the pivot of those companies.
So what should we expect over the next few months? Here are some of my hot takes that I’ve been sharing with people:
Don’t expect Mark or Elon to change: Mark and Elon seem to be similar in that it’s very hard to change their minds once they decide they want to do something. Pressuring them to change just makes them dig their heels in even more. People will write open letters, there will be op-eds and plenty of punditry about how they should do things differently. Won’t make a difference. Maybe - MAYBE - if advertisers really do start to leave and stay gone might some things change. But, to be honest, I haven’t seen advertiser boycotts do a ton in the past so let’s just accept our new realities. We’re not going to go back to the way anything used to be.
Trump will be let back on, but he will drag out returning: There was so much breathless speculation as to if Elon would let Trump back on the platform as one of his first acts. Trump said he was going to stay on Truth Social and Elon said he was going to form a “content moderation council” before any major account reinstatements happened. I don’t think Elon moves fast on Trump and even when Twitter, Facebook, and I assume YouTube say they’ll let him back on I think Trump will drag it out. He’ll want the spectacle of will he or won’t he. He’ll relish in having that sort of power and the attention it will get. And we’ll all fall for it. I do think Trump eventually returns in some fashion - even if just to run ads - but I don’t expect it before the end of the year. I think it’ll be timed with some sort of campaign announcement.
Brazil might test both companies sooner: We should know the winner of the Brazil election any minute now. As I’m writing this we don’t yet, but if it’s close and trending towards a Bolsonaro loss I wouldn’t be surprised if the platforms face the question of booting him off should he stoke violence.
Elon is like working for Trump: Based on just the last few days seems like even Twitter employees are learning about Musk’s thoughts from his Twitter feed versus in meetings. I don’t have any insider knowledge so I could be wrong here, but it does remind me of how Trump would just Tweet new policies out or fire people via the platform. Just because Elon tweets something we shouldn’t assume that’s going to be what happens. He’s been contradicting himself with various tweets and clearly trying to figure it all out.
You can’t engineer solutions to political problems: Nilay Patel has an absolutely fabulous piece on Musk and Twitter on the Verge where he makes the extremely good point that Twitter’s problems are not engineering problems but political ones. I’d argue Meta is in somewhat the same boat. And what drives me absolutely bonkers about so many in Silicon Valley is this assumption that they have all the answers - especially to political/policy problems. These problems don’t have clear solutions. They are messy. You can’t write code to fix it. If this rumor from Elizabeth Dwoskin at the Post is true that the first round of layoffs will hit the trust and safety and legal teams that is really bad as these are the people that understand just how messy these things can get and how to navigate them.
Elon can’t change the content rules THAT quickly: As soon as Elon officially became in charge people started reporting an uptick in hate speech. Turns out it was a group of people who wanted to test the rules now that there was a new sheriff in town. Twitter’s policies hadn’t changed. Now that’s not to say that they won’t, but unless Elon is just going to start shutting whole systems down it takes time to make changes to content moderation operations. Classifiers have to be retrained or rebuilt. Content moderators also need to be retrained. Even if he announces some changes, it will take time to implement.
Remember the rank-and-file employees: The drama and discussion about these platforms tend to focus just on those in charge. People have plenty of opinions about both Mark and Elon. However, don’t forget that there are a ton of really good and talented employees at these companies trying to keep the platforms safe. Continuing to try to do your job when you never know if you might be walked out the door any second adds even more stress to a very stressful job. Especially as many of them are working on Brazil, the U.S., and other elections happening. They deserve better than what they are getting - both from their leaders and from those outside the company badgering them.
Republicans shouldn’t assume Musk is their friend: A lot of Republicans celebrated Musk’s takeover of Twitter because they assume that it means less moderation of their content. That might end up being the case, but they shouldn’t assume that Musk is going to do their bidding. I think this is going to be a very short-lived honeymoon the minute that he makes a call they don’t like.
Can you believe that tomorrow - October 31 - is the five-year anniversary of the tech companies testifying about the Russian interference that happened on their platforms during the 2016 election? It was the first of what has now become many hearings featuring tech executives. And, here we are five years later and at least Facebook/Meta and Twitter are starting to look very different. I’m nervous about what all these changes mean for the work that these platforms have done around integrity overall - but especially election integrity. Decisions being made now are going to have huge ramifications for the 2024 elections and what our world looks like in 2025. I hope folks like Mark, Elon, and others are thinking about that - but I’m afraid they aren’t. In fact, it didn’t even come up in their earnings calls.
What I’m Reading
ProPublica: How Google’s Ad Business Funds Disinformation
Evergreen Podcasts: Disinformation
Washington Post: How Elon Musk's Twitter could influence the 2022 midterm elections
Washington Post: Inside Democrats' elaborate attempt to woo TikTok influencers
Financial Times: How Bolsonaro built a rightwing movement bigger than his presidency
New York Times: How Bolsonaro Built the Myth of Stolen Elections in Brazil
Election Integrity Project: Platform Policy Analysis 2022
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Perspectives for Influence Operations Investigators
Microsoft: Microsoft Annual Report 2022
US Digital Response: Chief Executive Officer
Topics to keep an eye on:
Facebook 2020 election research
Oversight Board opinion on cross-check
Senate & House hearings, markups, and potential votes
Second Summit of Democracy
November 1 - 2: Frontiers of Digital Development Forum
November 1: Israel Election
November 1: Denmark Election
November 4: Workshop on technology, trust, and coordination
November 8: United States Midterms
November 12, 2022 - Bahrain
November 17: Obama Foundation Democracy Forum
November 19, 2022 - Malaysia Election
November 20, 2022 - Equatorial Guinea Election
November 20, 2022 - Kazakhstan Election
November 20, 2022 - Nepal Election
November 2022 - Fiji Election
December 6, 2022 - BPC 2022 Election Summit
December 17, 2022 - Tunisia Election
2022 TBD - Libya Election
January 2023 - Czech Republic Election
January 7: Meta/Trump Decision
February 5, 2023 - Cyprus Election
February 16, 2023 - Platforms have to announce EU numbers to comply with DSA
February 23, 2023 - Nigeria Election
February 2023 - Djibouti Election
February 2023 - Monaco Election
March 5, 2023 - Estonia Election
March 10 - 19: SXSW
March 20 - 24, 2023: Mozilla Fest
March 2023 - Antigua and Barbuda Election
March 2023 - Federated States of Micronesia Election
March 2023 - Guinea Bissau Election
March 2023 - Sierra Leone Election
April 30, 2023 - Benin Election
April 30, 2023 - Paraguay Election
April 2023 - Andorra Election
April 2023 - Finland Election
April 2023 - Montenegro Election
May 7, 2023 - Thailand Election
May 15-16: Copenhagen Democracy Summit
June 5-9: RightsCon
June 25, 2023 - Guatemala Election
June 25, 2023 -Turkey Election
July 2023 - Cambodia Election
July 2023 - Timor-Leste Election
July 2023 - Zimbabwe Election
August 6, 2023 - Greece Election
August 2023 - Eswatini Election
September 2023 - Mauritania Election
October 10, 2023 - Liberia Election
October 12, 2023 - Pakistan Election
October 22, 2023 - Switzerland Election
October 2023 - Argentina Election
October 2023 - Luxembourg Election
October 2023 - Oman Election
November 12, 2023 - Poland Election
November 20, 2023 - Marshall Islands Election
November 29, 2023 - Ukraine Election
November 2023 - Bhutan Election
November 2023 - Gabon Election
November 2023 - Rwanda Election
December 10, 2023 - Spain Election
December 2023 - Bangladesh Election
December 2023 - Democratic Republic of the Congo Election
December 2023 - Togo Election
TBD - Belarus Election
TBD - Cuba Election
TBD - Equatorial Guinea Election
TBD - Gabon Election
TBD - Guinea Election
TBD - Madagascar Election
TBD - Maldives Election
TBD - Myanmar Election
TBD - Singapore Election
TBD - South Sudan Election - (Unlikely to happen)
TBD - Turkmenistan Election
TBD - Tuvalu
TBD - Haiti
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