What if Elon Musk’s control of Twitter scared the media?

“Given the uncertainty surrounding Twitter and out of an abundance of caution, CBS News is suspending activity on the social media site as it continues to monitor the platform”, CBS News National Correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti said Saturday, Nov. 19, after reporting on further quits at Twitter. These are so massive that they raise fears of a potential disappearance of the company to the 436 million users.

This statement was immediately shared by leaders of local stations affiliated with the American news channel, owned by the Paramount group (resulting from the merger of CBC and Viacom) created in 1971 by billionaire Sumner Redstone, a longtime financier of the Democratic Party, and now controlled by his daughter Shari Redstone.

Fear of technical or political chaos

Concerns are at their highest regarding the secure operation of the platform, and even its technical and economic survival, with a workforce reduced from 7,500 to 2,500 people since the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk at the end of October.

In the process, the whimsical billionaire restored the account of former President Donald Trump, suspended since the attack of January 6, 2021 against the American Capitol. Elon Musk cleared himself of political responsibility for this decision by launching a poll on Twitter: 15 million subscribers participated and voted overwhelmingly in favor of Donald Trump’s “reintegration”.

Towards a snowball effect of other media?

Twitter’s departure from CBS News is a “interesting signal” to be continued “to see if it becomes a more massive movement in the coming weeks”, notes researcher Asma Mhalla, specialist in the geopolitics of social networks. For now, it is“epiphenomena” according to her, even if the American press wonders about the treatment of news relating to Donald Trump and the use of Twitter by journalists.

For his part, the specialist in digital cultures Tristan Mendès-France “doubt that many media follow” for the moment. “Twitter’s exit barrier comes at a huge cost, he explained in mid-November. A social network is measured by the critical mass of its users. And no other has acquired this audience capital. » Few media have yet invested in alternatives like Mastodon, a decentralized and independent social network that does not have the speed and ergonomics of Twitter.

What Twitter brings to information

In the United States, Twitter is even more important for the media than in France where the social network only drains “3 to 5%” of their total traffic, according to digital transformation expert Cyrille Frank. The debate on Twitter’s contribution to journalism is all the more lively.

His disappearance “would be appalling for journalism”, believes Karen North, professor at USC Annenberg University, interviewed by Agence France-Presse. Twitter is “a network of news and information, the meeting point where journalists go to get up to date, find an idea for a subject, a source or a quote”. Due to the reductions in staff and budgets suffered by the sector, “there are no longer sufficient resources to seek out sources in the field”, according to her.

Twitter is alsobecome a vital source of information, advice, mutual aid during hurricanes, forest fires, wars, terrorist attacks or epidemics.tweeted Caroline Orr, researcher at the University of Maryland. “It’s not something that can be replaced by existing platforms. » The social network also gives everyone the opportunity to tell what is happening on the ground or their experience, which highlights phenomena like #MeToo which the media have been able to seize.

Disinformation but a field of observation

Used to disseminate propaganda and false information, Twitter had developed moderation tools, even ones that could be improved. All these social phenomena are easily observable in real time by journalists, but also researchers, as the American academic Anjana Susarla explains in this article by The Conversation.

“Twitter’s archive provides instant and complete access to any public tweet which allows events to be recorded and makes it a de facto tool to verifywhat really happenedunderlines the researcher. It is therefore crucial to understand how Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, or more generally the private control of social media platforms, affects collective well-being. »


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