Opinion: Elon Musk is not social media’s biggest problem – The Mercury News

Today's E Edition
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Today's E Edition
If you had to manufacture 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 that way, he mirrors Twitter itself — even people who use it religiously spend half their time complaining about how awful it is. (And Twitter is reportedly fighting Musk’s proposed takeover with a strategy known, fittingly enough, 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 one small piece of a much bigger issue.
Actually, that’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 press because it is built for provocation. Subtlety has no home on Twitter, where everything is its own headline.
Given Musk’s history on Twitter, which he has used to lie about COVID-19, attack critics and get in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission , the concerns about him running the show seem justified. His vow to loosen constraints on the platform runs contrary to growing alarm about the role Twitter has played in, among other things, social media manipulation during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, the spread of extremist views and hate speech and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
But it isn’t just Twitter, or even mainly Twitter, that’s the concern. With or without Musk, social media has created a gray zone between public and private, between political and personal, to become the most pervasive and least-monitored force in American culture.
That raises all manner of questions about privacy, free speech, crime and consequences — none of which anyone, including the people making billions off the various social media sites, seem willing or able to answer.
Facebook has connected family, friends and lovers while also being being a favored gathering place for all manner of terrorists, white supremacists, COVID-19 deniers and insurrectionists. Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok have boosted businesses, made careers and kept visitors entertained and informed, while also causing anxiety and depression among many of their users, particularly young women.
So while I don’t think Musk would be a good choice for Twitter, at this point he is not social media’s biggest problem.
The biggest problem is that we all know all the downsides of social media and we all keep using 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 are willing to shrug away problems that would be seen as outrageous in any other industry.
This would normally be the part of the column in which I offer concrete solutions, but I’m not certain I have any.
This is not a call to “get off social media” — I will be tweeting and posting this column and, without a doubt, pictures of my adorable puppy in the near future. But let’s be mindful of the industry we are supporting, aware of what they are doing, or allowing to happen, in the places we may not see. Many of us already avoid certain companies because of where they invest or how they treat their workers or statements their chief executives have made.
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 Los Angeles Times columnist. ©2022 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.
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