An Open Letter to Elon Musk
How to Fix Twitter, Repair Institutional Trust, and Save the Future
Thank you so much for buying Twitter. Whether intentionally or not, step by step, Twitter had descended into a censorious dystopian nightmare. Left unchecked, I sincerely believe such a regime would have caused a Civil War in my lifetime. As with so many of the vital concerns effecting the long-term health of humanity you came in and saved the day.
The danger, however, has not yet passed.
I am writing this letter in hopes that by some miracle I am able to attract your attention. Since the birth of my son, I have worked to try to establish connections to raise a credible signal. You see, I know how to fix Twitter. More, I believe I know how to fix the strange sickness infesting the heart of American Democracy.
If you do not take this advice, I believe you will fail, as everyone before you has failed. Not in spite of your genius, which is far greater than mine, but precisely because you are a genius. You will proceed as if human nature is a solvable problem, even though you are wise enough to know it is not, and like the proverbial child with their finger stuck in a dam quickly exhaust yourself plugging holes while the flood builds, unabated. It is not enough to establish a space for free speech, if we cannot also simultaneously establish institutional trust and economically apportion humanity’s attention toward matters of importance in a shared reality. Free speech is a necessary but not sufficient component of this system. This system will not happen on its own without you taking certain specific steps.
I read the thread from Reddit’s cofounder as I saw you did as well. I was struck by a repeated piece of missing wisdom in his recollections. He was wise enough to see that removing illegal content, moderation, and censorship were all closely connected and difficult to distinguish at scale. However, he never once questioned whether or not a company had the requisite power to make good decisions about content moderation. He never questioned the insertion of himself into the problem. Because of this specific blindness, he could not see the answer.
To effectively wield the power of social media, you must give it up.
Verify Twitter users, collect fees from them for the service, and transform them into the Digital Citizens of a new of Republic. No more “users,” no more invisible policy decisions made out of sight of public view, no more punishment without transparent charges and trial. Transform Twitter into a Digital nation. Let its Citizens vote on their own moderation policies, elect their own moderators, and grant them a right of appeal before a jury of their fellow Citizens. Pay the civil servants of Twitter from the revenues collected from the Citizens. Strip the moderation team at Twitter to bare bones and give their power to the people. In doing so you will find that Twitter will suddenly acquire a decentralized, distributed, and spontaneous order. Trust will blossom where it was previously destroyed.
In doing so, you not only absolve yourself of the outcome of any specific moderation decision —you can always say you wanted otherwise, but had to abide by the will of the governed— but I believe transform Twitter into a company more valuable than both SpaceX and Tesla combined. You will establish the most trustworthy news source in human history.
I have long feared that we will soon have more Starships than Martians to fill them. In taking these steps you will not only move the physical architecture of humanity further toward the future, but you will move its spirit
More than that, you will have established an institution capable of saving humanity.
The Algorithmic Republic and the Problem of Mike Cernovich
I have seen you reply to Mike Cernovich several times, so I know you must see what I do. For all the brashness, hype, and noise, he has a nearly uncanny facility to develop sources and point toward matters of public importance several months before the mainstream press. I knew about COVID long before my peers because I make it a point to consume a varied media diet which includes his Twitter feed.
Your commitment to free speech will ensure he is always able to share such important truths.
Yet I know another truth, which simple adherence to free speech will not solve. In a game where the only prize is attention, if Mike Cernovich says a thing is true —no matter how true and important it may be— I will immediately become politically toxic because it will be read as lacking institutional authority and supportive of dissident positions. I say this with great regret, but I believe the US response to COVID was clumsy and uncoordinated precisely because no political faction could be seen to be appeasing the views of another faction. In other words, if Mike Cernovich or those like him said a thing was true then Anthony Fauci or those like him were obliged to act as though it was false.
The specific actors in these interactions change but the pattern is the same. In a race to be flashy and grab attention, complicated truths are butchered to make the meat of simple propaganda. Even our most respected institutions have failed in this game, and I regret to say I now think of even the New York Times with an eye roll and a sense of wary trepidation. A civilization with no trusted voices cannot endure.
Let me now describe a game with a reward metric other than attention. This is a game where you are rewarded for being accurate and sharing information that is important in a way that most people can understand. This is the game that saves the future.
In late 2019, Mike Cernovich begins to discuss rising COVID cases in Wuhan. In the Republic of Twitter, any Citizen is able to challenge this for accuracy. A random jury of Citizens is assembled. The tweet is labeled under the subject of “COVID-19” and Mike Cernovich presents his best case as to why this is a concern. A chosen representative from the opposing faction explains why he is wrong. The jury votes.
Mike Cernovich loses. It’s too new and people have a hard time following his logic. He is given an opportunity to retract and explain his error to earn back some of his credibility. He refuses. The tweet is now indexed as evidence that Mike Cernovich is not a credible person.
And this is good. This is the first step in driving COVID into extinction.
Only a few months later COVID becomes undeniable. Mike Cernovich appeals the original decision. It costs him a modest sum of money but the rewards are potentially enormous.
He not only wins but he is publicly proven to have been correct before everyone else, and to have stuck by what was true despite public pressure. His credibility on COVID grows exponentially. He’s suddenly near the top of Twitter’s ranking algorithm because COVID is important and his credibility is high.
As the ranking works by topic you don’t have to care that one of your political rivals is going to gain clout in an unconnected area. All that matters is being correct over long time scales. Like a prediction market, Twitter’s credibility algorithms find truth, but also leaves behind explanatory artifacts.
A pay scheme established by the Citizenry rewards Mike Cernovich for his reporting, and especially for having stuck by his guns. In this world, people are financially incentivized to accurately report the news in a way that most people can understand.
Mike Cernovich then promotes the views of Balaji Srinivasan. Under Balaji’s influence the mask guidance on Twitter becomes more nuanced than what is originally released by the CDC and under public pressure they change footing to recommend N95s instead of simple cloth masks. Government guidance overall becomes much more educated and nuanced for fear that they will be embarrassed on Twitter, where their Credibility scores are also ranked.
More, Mike Cernovich promotes an episode of the Lex Fridman podcast about rapid testing. Found to be credible, the President is pressured into invoking War Powers in order to produce cheap tests at scale to distribute to the American public. People test at home, unsupervised, and wear effective masks in public. Cases plummet. Other nations quickly follow suit.
Within a single year, by the power of the most well coordinated effort humanity as a whole has ever conducted, COVID is driven into extinction. It seems impossible, but in this world of high trust, with clear explanations and accountability, it happens.
It’s not that there are no detractors. There are plenty. It’s that there exists a record of their public speech and a score of their accuracy. At any time you can tell if someone actually knows what they’re taking about. You have the ultimate filter to see through bullshit.
This may sound like a social credit system, but if it is, then it’s a social credit system in the same way that communism is a democratic republic. This isn’t one person scoring another. This isn’t a mob attacking a single person. This isn’t the state deciding winners and losers. This is due process and public accountability from the body politic for their own direct choices, by specific topic. No one can be labeled bad overall, but you could be labeled to not know what you’re talking about on a given subject. And if you lose one battle, you have the right of appeal. Reality gains the supreme throne as the ultimate judge.
Distributing money through this system fixes reporting. It fixes the collapse of institutional authority. All granted by surrendering the powers you rightly hold as Twitter’s owner back to the people.
You’ll collect transaction fees on every trial and appeal. Hell, you could even have the most trusted advertising scheme ever under this system. Twitter could become another trillion dollar enterprise to add to your holdings.
And when you die, hopefully many years from now, I believe Twitter will have evolved to the point that you will want to leave your holdings to its Citizens to continue directing the work of building the first Martian Civilization. In this world, there will be plenty of Martians to board the rockets you have built, and a government wide enough to secure the future of humanity.