Having recently had a weekend off, I had the great fortune to sit in a coffee house on an early, misty Cambridge morning, overlooking the slow meanderings of life across the river and the university college banks. As I tried to figure out which type of milk to have in my coffee - anything except pure cow milk it seems, I heard the constant tweets of people tapping away on their digital devices.
No, this was not the crows or robins in the distance but rather the brigade of microbloggers and social networkers on their early morning tweeting frenzy over the new acquisition of the mega social media company Twitter.
The popular 280-character (previously 140) or 140-second audio or video SMS system known as tweets has grown to be more than the pariah of the American libertarian. It is a fast, real-time and at times effective social media communications methodology used by stars, fans, common users and landed gentry alike with a global 300 million user base.
Just ask the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, who had made tweeting an art form by maximising and disrupting the traditional political messaging systems. He commanded an enviable following of 88.7 million users before being kicked off the platform in January 2021 following the US Capitol Hill attacks.
President Trump's tweets regarding both his domestic and foreign policy views became the official channel for correspondence for the White House. During his presidency, he tweeted approximately 25,000 times.
Yet, with all the speed and interconnectivity of the underlying predictive inference algorithms Twitter uses to keep the user engaged on their favourite topic base, its Achilles heel has long been its ability to regulate authenticity and maintain a grip on the spread of misinformation.
Yet, it was another Twitter aficionado who decided to put his money where his tweets were by completing a well-hilted and financed takeover bid for a poultry $44 billion.
So why would this California-based multinational social media provider be of interest to the electric car-making and space-hopping billionaire, Elon Musk?
As Elon Musk mentions, he was doing what all billionaires do which is to sincerely think of humanity when he acquired this vehicle of free speech. The whole of global democracy, it seems, needed someone with some sensitivity, someone who could preserve our free speech and save us from cancel culture. Were it not for a do-gooder billionaire such as Musk, humanity would have otherwise crumbled.
Say anything you want to whoever you want with some exceptions but do it in the allotted characters as we do not care about your table manners and we seem not to be able to verify if you are a bot or a genuine human being.
The nefarious agenda would be how Twitter would now showcase itself under the new management. I can hear and see the clapping and nodding of heads from every inspired STEM and BCom and business student who has watched an Elon Musk video on their Twitter feed.
No doubt Musk is a superhuman with the eccentric, industrious, adventurous genius of an engineering entrepreneur, but unless the Vatican is trying to give him sainthood status I think it is safe to say he is also a master strategist and visionary who can see the dots and join them up in the horizon scanning of tech for his many followers to propagate and emulate to.
He runs some of the world's most exciting and ambitious for-profit companies (Tesla, Space X, Neuralink and now Twitter) which has helped his own wealth and stock options lift him to become the world's richest person.
It's not about the money though, as every reputable billionaire knows, especially given that the difference between your first and tenth billion is likely to have a negligible impact on your life. I have never experienced this so I cannot say but if anyone should want me to give this a go I am more than happy to try this experiment for the sake of science and look after their long-lost billions.
Musk is a great businessman and in the business of science and tech, he is a visionary risk-taker who never gives up. Great if you are running a start-up with agile intuitions, not so great if you want to be the self-professing police of human free speech.
Businessmen or businesswomen for that matter always have an agenda when they come to a meeting or a party, especially if it involves acquiring something. They either have a plan as they come into the meeting or they are trying to make a pitch when they see you in the elevator.
Unfortunately, for the rest of us mere mortals, by the time you have left the meeting chances are you have bought that car you can't afford and are now paying monthly instalments only to realise you don't even have the space to keep them all. So why do it? Well because it sounds like a great idea at the time; the genuine human fallibility we possess is what keeps marketing students in their jobs.
So the fact that Twitter has one of the most sophisticated backend algorithms designed to promote companies trying to see their next big item ticket and an annual $5 billion revenue just from its advertising arm makes this a great tool to promote your brands, ideas, concepts and beliefs.
This makes Twitter more than just a messaging system for people who can't write an essay or have a limited attention span.
I know I am being facetious here but if you have such a poignant marketing tool in your arsenal, you should be laughing all the way to the bank. That is if you own a bank and it's your own bank! You would need the whole operation to be more efficient especially if you had a $1 billion annual interest payment flowing through such an acquisition and this is where Musk's trademark agile work, a great anthem for all budding entrepreneurs, is interesting and much needed.
Twitter will require a rapid adjustment in staff numbers and work culture. More organisational changes are expected in the coming weeks to months. They will require more attention in the validation framework and methods to attempt to police a number of different viewpoints from the more fractious areas of our society.
However, it's worthwhile to remember that not all views reflect the general consensus for that country and in a marathon, it doesn't matter where we start from as long as we finally get to the finish in one piece without being force-fed unnecessary information along the way. That's why they say always read the small print.
Now, where is the biscuit I ordered with my coffee!?
Professor Rameen Shakur MD PhD(Cantab) FRSA FIBMS FRSPH FRSB is a Professor of Genomics and cardiovascular medicine and Director of the precision health and translational medicine centre. Cambridge, UK
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.