Twitter’s Biggest Problem Isn’t Elon Musk — It’s Advertising

Derek Cressman
3 min readDec 16, 2022
Photo by Steve Jurveston https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meet_the_new_boss..._Same_as_the_News_boss..._The_Elon_Musk_Twitter_Interview_at_TED_2022_%2852004185747%29_%28cropped%29.jpg

Yes, Elon Musk is an arrogant, petulant billionaire who might just run twitter into the ground. Yes, there are serious concerns with how he’s treated employees at both Twitter and Tesla, and with many of his public comments. There are so many problems with Elon Musk that I could not possibly elaborate them here.

But Musk isn’t the only billionaire promoting and profiting from sensationalized misinformation, nor was twitter problem free prior to Musk’s buy-out. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook/Instagram), Jeff Bezos (Washington Post), Rupert Murdoch (Fox, New York Daily News, and the Wall Street Journal), Patrick Soon-Shlong(Los Angeles Times) are but a few other billionaires who promote their preferred worldviews by selling highly selective information that omits (some would wrongly say censors) many speakers and points of views, including those of journalists who do not appeal to the audience. I dare anyone who thinks otherwise to try to get an op-ed published in the Washington Post or Los Angeles Times.

And even if something rises from the ashes of the great TwitterMuskTake (either one of the many competing sites such as Post Social or Mastodon, or a post-Elon twitter 3.0), it will remain flawed if it continues to rely upon advertising as its primary business model.

When a media outlet (social or traditional) earns its revenues through advertising, it seeks eyeballs, not subscribers. You are the product, being sold to advertisers who in turn will recoup their investment through your purchases of their products. In social media, this means that algorithms will promote and boost content that is highly sensational and provocative, whether this content is accurate or not. The same is true of headline writers and editors at traditional media outlets such as the clickbait-fueled Buzzfeed, rumor mongering National Enquirer, or the local network news where the motto has always been “if it bleeds, it ledes.”

When a customer pays for information production, as with books, academic journals, plays, movie theaters, AppleTV+ and until recently Netflix, the editors have an incentive to produce content worth paying for, not content that will keep your eyes glued to a screen for as long as possible by manipulating your brain with “like” or retweet buttons or other…

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Derek Cressman

Hell bent on overturning Citizens United. $$≠free speech. Author, advocate, dad, husband, and very amateur banjo player.