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Expect fireworks at Twitter after Elon Musk takeover, experts warn

Elon Musk has reached an agreement to buy Twitter for £34.5 billion (Patrick Pleul/Pool Photo via AP)
Elon Musk has reached an agreement to buy Twitter for £34.5 billion (Patrick Pleul/Pool Photo via AP)

Elon Musk’s proposed free speech push following his takeover of Twitter means “we can expect fireworks” in the months ahead because of the current social climate, one commentator has said.

The US billionaire’s shock purchase of the social media platform, which was agreed on Monday, is based on Mr Musk’s belief that Twitter is failing to be the platform for free speech it should be, something he called a “societal imperative”.

But one expert said this approach could cause problems for Mr Musk and the platform, at a time when regulators are looking to rein in social media sites amid growing levels of abuse and polarisation online.

Peter Vidlicka, media expert and co-founder of free public relations site Newspage, said that while the Musk deal could help Twitter “get its mojo back”, it could also cause conflict.

“Elon Musk describes himself as a free speech absolutist, so in the current socio-cultural climate, we can expect fireworks in the months ahead,” he said.

“To many, Musk’s purchase of Twitter will be seen as less a hostile takeover than a cultural stand, a reinforcement of free speech and a much-needed authentication of everyday people and their everyday views.

“To others, there is a fine line between free speech and hate speech and many are concerned that Twitter under Musk could become an even wilder West than it already is.

“Describing Twitter as a digital town square is an avuncular metaphor that doesn’t necessarily convey the mayhem that often unfolds there. It’s a digital town square, after kicking-out time.”

Another of Mr Musk’s proposed plans for the site – the open sourcing of its algorithmic code so that it is publicly accessible and could boost transparency around how and why Twitter shows people certain posts – has also raised concerns.

Cybersecurity experts have suggested this approach, while admirable in a transparency sense, could make Twitter more vulnerable to hackers.

Jamie Moles, senior sales engineer at cybersecurity firm ExtraHop, said: “The decision to open-source this code likely means that it will be adopted by other social platforms, advertisers and others who are looking to hone their user targeting.

“Of course, as with any widely adopted open source code, there are significant security implications.

“As we’ve seen with Log4Shell and Spring4Shell, vulnerabilities in widely used open source applications are exponentially more valuable. Making its code open source may increase transparency for Twitter users, but it may also make Twitter a much bigger target for attackers.”

But Mr Moles added that this open source approach could also have a positive impact on another of Mr Musk’s goals.

“Musk has stated that he’s on a mission to eliminate bots on the platform,” he said.

“While this seems like a Sisyphean task, if he’s successful, the methods used by Twitter to eliminate bots from the platform may generate new techniques that improve the detection and identification of spam emails, spam posts and other malicious intrusion attempts.

“If Musk and his team can train AI to be more effective in combating this, it may well be a boon to security practitioners everywhere.”