Twitter’s plummet in value highlights social network governance challenge; expert explains
June 2, 2023
Investors, advertisers, and everyday users with any kind of interest in social media platform Twitter have received sobering news, with the revelation that the company is now worth about $15 billion. That’s a 66% reduction in value since tech mogul Elon Musk paid $44 billion last year to assume ownership.
“The decline illustrates not just the consequences of Musk’s stewardship, but the myriad challenges that exist for anyone managing a social media platform,” said Virginia Tech media expert Megan Duncan. “Buying a social media platform might be easy, but governing it is hard.”
“There are a lot of stakeholders in a social media platform — each with their own interests and expectations. Advertisers, users, and investors of social media today have high expectations and established norms. Anyone in charge would be pulled in lots of directions,” said Duncan.
“However, it’s not just anyone in charge of Twitter. It’s Elon Musk,” Duncan said. “He bought it while publicly saying he was prioritizing two concepts: technology and free speech. He has hit rough spots on both fronts. The technology innovations he’s introduced have been eclipsed by the problems, from poor adoption rates on Twitter Blue to the delays to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Twitter Spaces campaign announcement. He’s also run into issues implementing his free speech ideology because that clashes with the interests of advertisers and users. Brands do not want to be advertising near videos of animal abuse, for example.”
In Duncan’s social media course at Virginia Tech, part of the class discussion includes talking about governing a social media platform. “Students in groups start the class by writing their version of a terms of service for an imaginary platform,” she said. “I introduce students to complication after complication — the need to keep child exploitation material from spreading, complying with U.S. and world government laws, demands by authoritarian governments to remove disparaging material, concerns about keeping data safe and private, determining whether and which videos depicting violence will be shown, the extreme task of moderation in 100 different languages.”
“The days of moving fast, breaking things, and still seeing ever-increasing valuations might be over for social media,” Duncan said.
Megan Duncan is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on how partisans judge the credibility of and engage with the news. Using survey-embedded experiments, surveys, and other quantitative methods, she’s interested in knowing more about audiences, their perceptions of the news, how they form opinions, and how to use this knowledge to make democracy stronger.
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