Intent on throwing more paraffin on the dumpster fire that Twitter has become, new owner Elon Musk has recently announced an amnesty on accounts that were deemed so dangerous that even the ban-averse social network had to do something.
There are all kinds of reasons this is objectively a mad policy from advertiser panic to making Twitter a horrible place to be, but an underrated one is that it may cause other gatekeepers to take issue with the business.
Apple and Google — the two companies with a monopoly on the smartphone OS market — have previously blocked the likes of Parler and Donald Trump’s ironically named Truth Social for their lackadaisical approach to content moderation. Both were ultimately admitted when they conceded that absolute free speech wasn’t worth losing their apps over.
So what happens if Apple and Google boot Twitter off their respective app stores? Elon Musk isn’t phased: he’ll just make his own phone, apparently.
The pledge unsurprisingly came on Twitter, with Musk replying to one of the quirky characters who fill up his mentions these days — in this instance, someone previously fact checked by Facebook for spreading vaccine misinformation. “Half the country would happily ditch the biased, snooping iPhone & Android,” wrote Liz Wheeler without a hint of exaggeration. “The man builds rockets to Mars, a silly little smartphone should be easy, right?”
SpaceX, of course, employs roughly 11,000 people making Musk around 0.009% of those responsible for building rockets. But Musk wasn’t going to correct little details like that, instead replying that “if there is no other choice, I will make an alternative phone.”
As the richest man in the world, there’s nothing stopping Musk paying people to build an alternative phone running neither iOS or Android, possibly with Tesla or Starlink branding. But it’s almost as big a waste of money as, say, buying a basket case social network and instantly alienating your advertisers.
Let’s not forget that the last decade has seen both BlackBerry and Microsoft shunted out of the smartphone space. The former used to be rich and the latter still is: both decided they couldn’t compete.
Oh, and big players like Sony, LG and HTC have either given up or may as well have, too.
And the history of super-rich tech entrepreneurs trying to get a foothold in the world of smartphones isn’t a happy one either. Facebook tried a couple of dreadful collaborations with HTC, while Amazon made its own Fire Phone — a device that made a US$170 million loss before being discontinued after a single generation.
Despite this, the curious oddball sycophants that instantly reply to anything Musk tweets were thrilled at the idea, with on-site polls showing everyone eager to throw money at this fictional smartphone.
Of course, despite Musk himself using Twitter polls to decide company policy — presumably, an interactive art exhibition to show the limitations of universal suffrage — these most certainly do not meet even the minimum standards of polling methodology. You may as well ask the Elon Musk fanclub to vote on who their favourite person called Elon is.
It’s not clear how serious Musk is being, of course. It might just be a gentle warning to Apple and Google to back off, but if so it feels badly misjudged. They’ve crushed bigger brands than Tesla and Starlink before, and they’d probably relish the chance to do so again.