Nothing beats getting to witness internet history by just showing up.

Twitter user June Findlay, reflecting on Elon Musk's pending takeover

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“A double-edged sword”: 4 women of color on Elon’s Twitter takeover

On Twitter, you’re never supposed to be the main character of the day. It seems Elon Musk either never got or completely disregarded that message. On Monday, the announcement of Musk’s $44 billion acquisition of Twitter made him the main character of the week. While Musk’s ownership of Twitter isn’t 100% final yet, the potential regime change has many women of color on the app debating if it’s worth sticking around any longer.

There’s a lot to hate about Twitter already. As a Black Muslim woman with a relative level of visibility, I’ve dealt with the harassment that shapes the experiences of many women on the platform. Following Donald Trump’s presidency and the 2020 elections, there has been increased discussion about Twitter’s proliferation of dis- and misinformation.

Musk isn’t a person I would count on to solve any of that.

When filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission for his initial bid to buy the site, Musk stated, “I invested in Twitter as I believe in its potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe, and I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy.” He added that Twitter “will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company.”

So what exactly does that mean for Twitter’s future under Musk? Who knows. He’s talked about wanting to improve Twitter by “making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans.” But as Vox outlined, Musk’s plans have a lot of contradictions. And when it comes to free speech, Musk’s record has been questionable at best.

No matter how much there is to hate about Twitter, the app has been incredibly useful for many women of color. As concerns surrounding Musk’s potential control of Twitter grows, Mic spoke to four women of color about their future on the social media giant. (Responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)

June Findlay, Toronto

Courtesy of June Findlay

I've been on Twitter for 10 years now — I originally signed up because I needed a Twitter account to conduct research for my masters’ thesis that I wrote in 2012 about the effects of social media in non-profit marketing/messaging. This work ended up winning a national award (in Sweden, where I was going to school at the time) and led to my first byline in a national publication (in Canada) based on a Twitter thread I haphazardly wrote in 2020 after a significant political event happened in Canada that had direct relevance to my work. The story went viral.

That’s been Twitter in a nutshell for me — over the last 10 years, it’s provided me with many job opportunities, both full-time and freelance (of the eight jobs I've had in content marketing, half of them have come through tweets), connected me with many internet friends who have become IRL friends, especially fellow outspoken opinionated Black women, and has provided me with many opportunities to learn and participate in meaningful discussion about issues I needed/wanted to know more about (Indigenous rights, disability rights, food justice). Not to mention, it’s a daily part of my work to be present on the app; some days I’m merely observing, and others I’m right in the thick of the conversation.

When I found out about Musk’s acquisition, I was a little surprised. The rumors had been getting louder and louder and it seemed almost inevitable, but he was able to do it mostly by borrowing other people’s money and against his own company ... which, in my opinion, isn’t the most financially sound decision. Mostly though, it left me a little worried, mostly because nobody knows what this means. It’s got the main markers of a major tech decision — break things fast and ask questions later (i.e. Meta, NFTs, etc.). But unlike many recent events, this one is monumental because Twitter is so entrenched in society and has real consequences beyond the 280 characters that will happen quickly.

It’s important for journalists, marketers, business people. But most of all, regular people that hop on and off, observe or engage, are also the ones that feel the real/offline consequences of what happens online. I can understand why people would leave — but as it’s a core part of what I do for a living (research, content creation, strategy, etc) I can’t. Even if I had the opportunity, I’d remain, mostly to see what happens firsthand with the new owner/changes/reactions. Nothing beats getting to witness internet history by just showing up, even if you don’t actively participate.

This moment has once again brought up the conversation around “free speech” and what it means after decades of living, working, and playing online. Even though there have been many platforms that have come, gone, and grown, I find that one thing persists: “Free speech” to some (i.e. white men) is the “right” to say whatever you want and benefit from it, with few if any consequences. Unfortunately, the rest of us — especially Black folks — tend to be affected by that to some degree, whether we’re online or not. We’ll see what that means in the context of Twitter’s new owner (and probably new leadership, too).

Shabana Mir, Chicago

Courtesy of Shabana Mir

For the past few years, [Twitter has been] a home for my professional, social, political, religious, and cultural lives.

My reaction to Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter was deep dismay and fury. I’ve contemplated [leaving]. But I really don’t have a replacement. I used to do a lot of Facebook but have been slowly cutting back. It’s very intrusive as a platform. I felt I had more freedom of mobility and connection on Twitter, and benefited a lot from network-building. Some argue that most of our platforms are already owned by rich folks, and this may be true.

I would’ve liked very much to leave because I regard Musk as a singular danger to humanity and billionaires should not exist. But where do I go? I’m waiting for folks to figure out a way to heave-ho Elon Musk out of Twitter. I’ve heard rumblings from Elizabeth Warren and others re: tech companies, but it remains to be seen whether any action will take place. And given Biden's history, it likely won't. So I’m waiting for — [I don’t know], Anonymous?

Dashundra Wilson, Greenville, Texas

Courtesy of Dashundra Wilson

I’ve been using Twitter since about 2009/2010, a.k.a. since it was illegal for my age to be on the app. Using Twitter over the years, for me as a woman, let alone a Black woman, has been a roller coaster. Though the highs and lows, however, there has been sunshine such as viral tweets, new friends, new understandings, new bonds, new languages. In addition, there have been negative experiences from racism during political events to backlash from just being a woman have an opinion on a social media platform. However, I didn’t let those minor setbacks keep me from using the app — hence me being banned for about three months because I finally put my real age on my profile!

One thing I can truly say that has kept me on the app is Black Twitter. Talk about a community, from the laughs, to the overall agreement on certain situations, to the generalized fun we bring to the app! Overall, despite follower count, or going incognito every once in a while, I can truly say the good has outweighed the bad.

When I first heard of Elon’s offer to buy Twitter, my initial thought was, “Why?” Out of all the other things this man could be doing with his money, he chose Twitter? I’ve learned there’s always a reason behind things, and whatever his is … Please Elon, keep it cute.

I believe as of right now, there is no major reason to leave Twitter. There isn’t any real threat going on. Now if Elon starts charging for this blue bird app, I will follow the train with leaving. Nobody like me is going to stay and pay just to have our four mutuals like and retweet our internet diaries. But otherwise I definitely do not plan on leaving Twitter anytime soon!

I believe Twitter is a fun and free space. I don’t think anyone should be leaving just because of a little change in management! Besides the internet trolls, irate fan bases, burner accounts, and every real world update just as soon as you can blink, it is truly one of the most enjoyable apps I have on my phone. I’ve always said: It’s basically our generation’s Facebook, but more gritty (… and hilarious!).

Roslyn Talusan, Toronto

Courtesy of Roslyn Talusan

Twitter is a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, as an ethnic minority who’s also disabled and a woman, it’s been a great tool for finding community and having my voice heard. Without Twitter, I wouldn’t have found people who cared about my stories, nor people whose stories I care about. On the other hand, those marginalized identities are seen as the perfect targets for peoples’ worst impulses. Twitter’s business relies on its users to generate profitability, and we all know that outrage is what really drives activity on the app.

The day of the announcement, I woke up to a text from my friend announcing that Musk buying Twitter was official. “No, I’m going back to sleep,” I replied with one eye open. My feelings about it are a mixture of apathy, disgust, annoyance, and exhaustion. The memes have been hilarious though even though I’m worried to see how this shakes out in politics.

I’m a Taurus and stubborn as hell, and I’m known to run my mouth regardless of who gets pissed off. I’m unfortunately staying on Twitter for now, though I really need to teach myself to log off (famous last words) and spend time away from there as much as possible. There just isn’t an equivalent — while I wish Musk wouldn’t refer to Twitter as “the internet’s town square,” that’s a really good way to capture what makes it so useful. The problem is how the app rewards and enables people who walk around the square jeering and throwing rocks at complete strangers, shrieking slurs at minorities, while trying to incite a mob. I’m leaning towards nothing fundamentally changing under Musk’s potential ownership, but I’m wary because the platform will get worse regardless.

According to a report from NBC News, it was mostly “apolitical” users who deactivated en masse following the announcement, while a similar number of right-wingers joined. The unchecked harassment, lack of content moderation, and how the algorithm amplifies and awards outrage create an environment that’s purposefully unsafe for marginalized users, but particularly those of us in the media/journalism industry. My career has progressed in a way that I rely on Twitter as a source of information and a way of connecting with people, but I also risk taking immense psychic damage if I word a tweet the wrong way, and if it manages to make it outside of my audience.