Elon Musk became the new CEO of Twitter on October 27th 2022. The unfolding commotion suggests a company at the brink. To list the most recent, telling staff to work long hours or to leave, firing of employees (former Chief Executive and Advertising and Marketing Chief Executives, amongst other top management), a payment for users who require a ‘verification status’ (in lament terms, the ‘blue tick’) and Twitter Chiefs of ‘Trust and Safety’, ‘Privacy’, ‘Security Officer’ and ‘Compliance Officer’ stepping down (BBCa, 2022, BBCb, 2022, The Guardian, 2022a). The latter heightens concern towards Twitter’s attitudes towards privacy rules and resurfaces Twitter’s data violation in May 2022 for selling Twitter data, which led to a fine of $150mil (BBCa, 2022). As tension rises at Twitter’s headquarters amongst staff, stakeholders question Twitter’s volatile position – raising uncertainties towards data protection. Employees fear potential bankruptcy. From an academic’s perspective, as a social science researcher who is fascinated by online consumer behaviour, who collects data online and advocates Twitter as a rich source of data due to the public nature and quantity of data available,what will Musk’s Twitter takeover mean for online data collection?
Benefits of Online Data Collection for Social Science Researchers
Due to the ubiquitous growth of consumer content creation and social interaction, which has evolved into social movements in online communities and social media platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, for example), as well as review websites (Reddit, Trip Advisor, Mumsnet, to name a few) and Apps (WhatsApp), there has been a rise in consumer empowerment online which accentuates how the consumer voice is ‘king’. Consumer empowerment is evidenced via consumers sharing views and opinions about topics and interests that they are passionate about. The accumulation of consumer behaviour online has steered recent Marketing and Business Management academics to undertake online data collection (also known as internet mediated research). Research ethics at Higher Education institutions further evidence the warrant to collect online consumer behaviour insights via their stringent ethics and protocols available. The huge benefits for academics and students who wish to explore consumer behaviour online, entail online data collection providing them with rich insights and a large quantity of data. Data is often free and open to the public, in particular on the social media platform Twitter. Twitter does not consist of closed off groups which require gatekeepers, unlike Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and Instagram, which means that Twitter data is open to the public and reduces researcher bias when contacting the gatekeeper to enter a closed community to collect data. To quantify the vast availability of data, Twitter streams more than 500 million tweet posts every day (The Guardian, 2022b).
What are the Impacts of Musk’s Takeover on Online Data Collection?
Elon Musk evidences his agenda of privatising Twitter via the recent cost of users paying for the verification symbol. This may also lead to asking users to pay for subscriptions when creating a Twitter account and eventually charging academics who want to collect data. To note, The Guardian (2022b) and the Washington Post (2022) reveal that some companies do already pay for some access to data e.g. devices used by users, account information and real-time record of tweets. Through the eye of a social science researcher, alarm bells start ringing… online data collection was a free data collection tool which supported researchers both financially and practically. If Musk starts charging to collect data, this may lead to further strains on a research funding budget and/or dissuade social science researchers from collecting data at all.
Additionally, reports have highlighted Musk’s ideas towards ‘free speech’ as grey (Real Business, 2022), as insights show that Musk may permit fake or false news and misinformation being spread on Twitter, which impacts the genuine nature of information shared and may also lead to users leaving the site to collect or share data due to their motivation to collect factual data. Users are motivated to gather knowledge which is factual, driven by a functional participatory benefit. This impacts social science researchers who depend on a platform to gather public data that is not hidden in closed off communities and guarded by a gate keeper, by approaching a gate keeper to gain access this may bias findings.
The future of Twitter looks bleak with the introduction of extreme changes, lack of integrity in information shared due to a lack of interest towards misinformation and towards GDPR protocols. What this means for social science researchers is still uncertain, in particular for researchers with a desire to explore knowledge exchange, online communities and consumer reciprocation with consumers and/or organisations. If the above were to happen (charging users to create an account, charging academics to collect data and a surge in misinformation), the question arises as to what social media will look like by next year and will users start to use other social media platforms differently to enable their usual Twitter-like- posts? For now, all we can do is sit back and watch as Musk’s plans for Twitter emerge and perhaps unravel… stay tuned folks.
BBC (2022a) Twitter Boss Elon Musk ‘not above law’, warns US regulator. Online [available from] <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-63593242> [11/11/2022]
BBC (2022b) Elon tells Twitter staff to work long hours or leave. Online [available from] <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-63648505 > [18/11/2022]
The Guardian (2022a) Exodus continues at Twitter as Elon Musk hints at possible bankruptcy. Online <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/nov/10/exodus-twitter-elon-musk-possible-bankruptcy> [11/11/2022]
The Guardian (2022b) Twitter set to comply with Elon Musk demand for data on fake accounts. Online [available from] <Twitter set to comply with Elon Musk demand for data on fake accounts | Twitter | The Guardian > [11/11/2022]
The Washington Post (2022) In reversal, Twitter plans to comply with Musk’s demands for data. Online [available from] <Twitter to provide spam data to Elon Musk as part of deal – The Washington Post> [11/11/2022]
Through understanding the impact of organisations’ activities, behaviours and policies, the Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University seeks to promote responsibility, to change behaviours, and to achieve better outcomes for economies, societies and the individual.
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