Doctor and activist

The Twitter Story- and the bigger subtext

5 November 2022
Elon Musk likes to play in every game. His car company existed on hope for many years, but has at last ramped up production. He is in software, AI, batteries, cars infrastructure with tunnelling and trains, space rockets, investments, and now politics.

Twitter has established itself as the world’s political events exchange platform. A new concept like Twitter, which allows direct person to person contact was a good idea. Naturally if there is to be a conversation, everyone has to be in it, so a monopoly system is favoured if the system is new and is seen to work. So Twitter has become unique and immensely powerful. But the technologies that have everyone able to have an equal voice enable radical and socially damaging perspectives to be aired and publicised, legitimised by their ubiquity. Radical groups can link up with others anywhere, adding strength to isolated opinions and tending to lead to discussions that become even more radical and may lead to action.

So the social effects of the new technologies have created new and effectively unaccountable power structures. The regulation of these can be by government edict, as in China, or left to the corporate owners as in the West. Both these regulatory actions and the lack of them are controversial and many have long term political and social effects.

Now Elon Musk seems to have offered to pay too much for Twitter. He tried to withdraw his offer, but was forced to honour it. Having paid too much, he now wants to cut staff numbers radically. I was under the impression that social and political pressure was making Twitter more responsive to concerns about its social and political effect and its staff were part of an effort to minimise any harm it might do. If this is so, it is likely to be, no staff = no action.

So looking at Twitter as purely a financial entity verges on the absurd, but that is what is happening. And a financial mistake by Musk, and his corrective action in sacking people may have considerable effects. Commentators are already talking about the polarisation of US politics and the rise of violence with the storming of the US Capitol and the easy and unsophisticated attack on Paul Pelosi.

So the subtext of the situation is that an unregulated world market allows the immense concentration of power such that when the world’s richest man corrects what is for him a relatively minor financial error a major world information system is significantly disrupted and may become dysfunctional. (Whether it was considered dysfunctional before is a matter of opinion- it is hard to get an exact understanding of how much power the Twitter information model has).

One of the more ridiculous features of our society is that those with money, or who know about it are assumed to know about everything. They know about money, and have usually specialised in making it to the exclusion of other concerns. Often, it is dubious that they have the faintest idea about the implications of their actions.

Because the world’s economy advisers have allowed the world to become just a market we have the equivalent of elephants in China shops and we wait and wonder which way they will turn. A more cynical view would be that we have a situation where the playthings of the rich can have massive uncontrolled consequences and there are no regulatory mechanisms that have either the will or the power to influence the situation in the public interest.

The jobs of the Twitter employees are the tip of a very large iceberg, and the stories of Twitter’s share price have a much larger subtext. Here is an article from today’s SMH:

Twitter staff shut out as global purge starts
Zoe Samios, Nick Bonyhady

Twitter Australia staff were being locked out of their company accounts yesterday as billionaire Elon Musk’s job cuts hit the local office in Sydney, which employs about 40 people.
Musk told confidants he planned to eliminate half of Twitter’s workforce to slash costs at the social media platform he acquired for $US44 billion ($70 billion) last month.
Local staff in marketing and news curation were shut out of Twitter’s systems after receiving an email signalling layoffs but without any official confirmation that their jobs were being axed. Others were waiting to see if they would still have a job come Monday.
One employee said there was a sense of relief. ‘‘It’s not the company that we joined, and it’s not the app that we all love any more,’’ they said.
Others familiar with the company said the news team, which selects articles on topical moments in the national discourse, is among the largest local units and had about 10 staff. Some communications staff for the Asia-Pacific region have also been locked out.
Twitter’s local public relations representative declined to comment.
Australian staff received an email yesterday morning saying Twitter would ‘‘go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce’’. Staff were to be told whether they still had a job via email by 9am Pacific Standard Time, or 3am AEDT yesterday, but the lockouts started early.
‘‘We recognise that this will impact a number of individuals who have made valuable contributions to Twitter, but this action is unfortunately necessary to ensure the company’s success moving forward,’’ the email, which was obtained by the Herald, said.
The Herald revealed in July that Twitter was closing its Australian office in Sydney, with staff to work from home.
All told, Musk wants to cut about 3700 jobs at San Francisco-based Twitter, people with knowledge of the matter said this week. The entrepreneur had begun dropping hints about his staffing priorities before the deal closed, saying he wants to focus on the core product.
‘‘Software engineering, server operations & design will rule the roost,’’ he tweeted in early October.
Twitter was sued over Musk’s plan to eliminate the jobs, with workers saying the company is doing without enough notice in violation of federal and California law. A class-action lawsuit was filed on Thursday in San Francisco federal court. The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act restricts large companies from mounting mass layoffs without at least 60 days’ notice.
Security staff at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters carried out preparations for layoffs, while an internal directory used to look up colleagues was taken offline on Thursday afternoon, people with knowledge of the matter said.
Employees have been girding for firings for weeks. In recent days, they raced to connect via LinkedIn and other non-Twitter avenues, offering each other advice on how to weather losing one’s job, the people said. with Bloomberg

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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