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Opinion We’re going to need an alternative to Twitter

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk attends the opening of a Tesla factory in Gruenheide, Germany, on March 22. (Patrick Pleul/Pool via AP)

We need someone to create a new Twitter-like social media service. Starting yesterday.

The Post’s report Thursday that Elon Musk is considering cutting 75 percent of Twitter’s workforce once his purchase of the company is finalized was alarming enough. I’m not exactly sure how many employees Twitter needs, but it’s hard to imagine that the site will improve or even maintain its current functionality with such a massive staffing reduction.

But even if the job cuts don’t turn out to be that severe, a Twitter under Musk’s control presents a huge looming problem for people who value the platform.

Why? Because Twitter has become a hugely important forum for challenging the rich and powerful. Twitter is a gathering place for news junkies, where anyone can post and any post can go viral, and its existence has shifted power in a fundamental way.

Billionaires, politicians and columnists at papers like this once enjoyed virtually one-sided communication — they put out their ideas, and few people had much of a public platform to disagree with them. With Twitter, you can disagree or sharply criticize a powerful person to an audience of millions. And if enough people see it your way, that feedback loop becomes a lever of accountability.

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The powerful don’t like this, and Musk, of course, is part of that powerful set. I would expect a Twitter under Musk’s control to change in ways that make it harder to blast those on high in ways that reach a mass audience.

That’s not the only problem. The Tesla founder, whose personal politics seem to be anti-progressive-left more than anything else, is almost certain to end the Twitter bans on former president Donald Trump and other right-wing people who sometimes encourage violence and speak in racist and sexist ways on the site. I am a bit leery of these bans, because I would like Twitter to be a forum for all kinds of ideas and ideologues. But I suspect Musk will be simply looking to make Twitter more conservative to annoy liberals — not to help it carve out a sweet spot where broad ideas thrive but violence and bigotry are discouraged.

Finally, Musk just doesn’t appear to get the value of the platform for many of those who use it. The thing I like most about Twitter is that it provides me a way to follow writers, academics, activists and others who aren’t regularly published in major outlets, in part because their views break from the White centrist establishment tone of most major U.S. news institutions.

Musk doesn’t seem much interested in the thoughts of anyone besides other wealthy people, conservatives and anti-left-wing Democrats. At best, he won’t be a good steward of the virtues of Twitter. At worst he will severely weaken them.

I need something like Twitter. I don’t need an Elon Musk-infused anything. Watching this story over the past few months, my only question is whether we should wait and see how Musk runs Twitter, or if some tech expert or entrepreneur should just start a new service now. I tend toward the latter.

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