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About a year or so ago, I started to sense that Elon Musk was thinking about launching a social media platform. Then the signs started to become more frequent, and finally last weekend, he announced that he is, in fact, strongly considering it. And I couldn’t think of a better person to launch a new social media platform. The world desperately needs it.
Personally, I’m always torn when it comes to social media. On one hand, it has created tremendous opportunities for me and countless other people. It played a huge role when I had to rebuild my own business after a health crisis nearly killed me and left me on my deathbed for two years. Had it not existed, that would have taken significantly more time, money and effort. But on the other hand, social media has also created an incalculable level of division — and not just in the obvious ways that we all can see.
Sure, we’ve all seen the arguments that come from immature and toxic people who can’t handle differing opinions. The “OMG! You’re a [insert the insult of your choice”] because you don’t agree with 100% of what I believe!” types of comments that start almost as soon as anything is posted. But there’s another, less apparent, way that social media creates division, and it’s caused directly by the social media companies themselves. They do that by arbitrarily enforcing their terms of service, censoring opinions they don’t agree with and shadowbanning those with views they don’t like.
We’ve all seen plenty of real-world examples. One user will get banned for posting something while another user can post the exact same type of thing with no consequences. Or a user will be retroactively punished for a post from several years ago that was not a violation of the terms of service at the time. Or a user will be banned from a platform for supposedly sharing “misinformation,” which while a genuine issue in our discourse, can often be as a catchy buzzword used to discredit someone.
Often, these social media platforms claim they’re penalizing certain users in an effort to fight misinformation, but that’s nothing more than a PR spin. Facebook has publicly admitted under oath that its fact checkers are not actually publishing documented facts, but instead, their own personal opinions. And it’s also worth noting the most prominent stories that have been deemed “misinformation” by social media platforms, which they banned many users for sharing, turned out to be true. This is something Musk has criticized social media platforms about for quite some time now.
Now, it could be argued that these are private companies so they can do whatever they want, including censoring any content on their platform for any reason they want. I generally agree with that principle. The problem is that the words and behavior of these companies simply don’t align. I consider that to be false advertising. A company shouldn’t be able to provide a social media platform claiming it’s fair and unbiased, and then censor opposing views. And it shouldn’t be able to selectively enforce its terms of service. It should have to either truly be unbiased or admit that it’s not, and it should have to enforce its terms of service equally and consistently for everyone. Otherwise, it’s not really the company’s “terms of service,” is it?
As a result of this biased behaviour, several new social media platforms have been launched over the last several years to offer an environment that supports free and open dialogue, including Parler, Gab, Gettr and Truth Social, to name just a few. But none have been particularly successful yet. That’s because there are three factors that are essential to successfully launching a social media platform, which no recent platform has got right. Musk, on the other hand, appears uniquely positioned to change that pattern.
A powerful purpose driving the platform
Clubhouse It became insanely popular at the height of the pandemic because it enabled large groups of users to engage with each other in real time — an activity that had essentially been taken from them during the lockdowns. That powerful purpose helped build the kind of early momentum critical to any platform’s success. Many of the other platforms I mentioned earlier that were recently launched also had a powerful purpose behind them — free and open dialogue — but they failed to really take off for a different reason, which we’ll talk about later.
Free and open dialogue is also the same purpose behind the platform Musk appears to be preparing to launch. And since there’s already a tremendous demand for this, evident both in posts and comments in general from users on popular platforms, and more specifically in the responses to Musk’s recent poll that generated more than two million votes, this won’t be just another platform looking for a reason to exist.
Positive growth trajectory of its user base
Any new social media platform needs to acquire enough new users in a short period of time to create the momentum necessary for success. Then it needs to keep those users while continuing to consistently acquire more. This is easier said than done.
Clubhouse got it right by quickly growing its user base when it started to become popular in late 2021, but failed at continuing to acquire new users, and because of that, never quite reached that critical mass to become a successful platform. The company made numerous mistake,s which led to existing users leaving. Those same mistakes also discouraged new users from joining.
Because he has a globally recognized and generally respected personal brand that spans people across a wide range of political and social ideologies, I don’t think Musk will have a problem acquiring enough new users to create the necessary momentum, nor will he have a problem keeping them or continuing to acquire new users.
A diverse pool of viewpoints
Part of the reason many of these recently launched platforms haven’t taken off is because they have a largely homogenous user base. While this can be a comfortable environment for some, it quickly becomes an echo chamber.
I blame Facebook for this trend because its algorithm tails our feeds to show us what we agree with. As a result of this, people become convinced that most other people agree with them and anyone who disagrees must be stupid or crazy, which any rational person knows is simply not true. That mindset is also damaging to society. But in an effort to build a community where like minded people can freely communicate, several social media platforms have merely doubled down on that exact mindset. We had a saying for that in the Marine Corps: “Good initiative, bad judgment.”
What Musk appears to be preparing to launch, however, isn’t based on a particular political or social doctrine. Instead, it’s based on one simple principle: Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. And since it appeals to people across a wide range of demographics, the platform will attract a diverse pool of viewpoints.
Yes, this means there will be disagreements, and many likely will become quite contentious. But the fact that people can have these conversations without fear of being censored means greater engagement, and that engagement can lead to more and better opportunities for entrepreneurs. It can also help create a better society because people are actually communicating with those who have opposing views.
So is now the time for Elon Musk to launch a new social media platform? I emphatically say yes. The current platforms have done an abysmal job of creating an environment where everyone can feel safe speaking their minds, so the market is eagerly looking for something better, and Musk is uniquely positioned to deliver on that demand.