Elon Musk, the Metaverse and the Online Safety Bill

It’s been a year of sweeping change in the tech industry, with Elon Musk taking over Twitter as an economic downturn has triggered major upheaval and downsizing across the industry.

In the UK, scrutiny from social media platforms has intensified as the inquest into Molly Russell’s death examines whether the sites played a role in her death, and the debate around the online security, still delayed, also continued.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest tech stories of the year.

– Takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk

The big tech story of the year began in April when documents filed by the company Twitter revealed that billionaire Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk had quietly accumulated a substantial percentage of stock in the company.

A frequent tweeter, Mr Musk had begun expressing interest in how the platform was run earlier this year as he debated Twitter’s purpose online with his followers as part of the global discourse. .

Things quickly accelerated and Twitter announced that its new largest shareholder had been offered a place on the board, but a few days later the Tesla boss reversed his decision to join and instead submitted an offer to buy the company and privatize it.

After months of public battle with Twitter executives and a brief withdrawal from the deal, Mr. Musk struck the deal in late October and celebrated with a tweet that included a bad pun.

The chaos that many pundits and commentators had predicted with a Musk-led Twitter then began to unfold quickly – around half of the company’s global workforce was laid off, content moderation was been released and Musk himself has engaged in conspiracy theories and right-wing personalities. on the site.

Some experts and analysts have reported drastic spikes in hate speech on the site.

Meanwhile, nervous advertisers have begun to suspend ad spending on the platform, diminishing a vital revenue stream for the company.

The Tesla boss’ remedy was to launch a new subscription service that allowed any user to be verified on the site simply by paying a monthly fee, but that system had a chaotic rollout that saw some using the system to impersonate public figures and spread abuse and misinformation, which saw the launch halted and pushed back several weeks later.

The ongoing controversies sparked debate over Twitter’s place in public discourse and even its future as users began to move to a handful of rival sites.

As questions swirled over Musk’s direction of the company, he toyed with the idea of ​​stepping down as chief executive – he held a poll where Twitter users told him he should quit, but he seemed to ignore this result for several days before finally confirming that he would step down as soon as he found someone “dumb enough” to take on the role.

Result of Elon Musk’s Twitter poll (Yui Mok/PA)

As 2022 draws to a close, the reputational damage to Twitter and Mr. Musk remains extensive after a messy few months, with no clarity and only uncertainty about what lies ahead in 2023 for what is a vital online tool for many.

– The slowdown in the technology sector

It was a tough year across the board for the tech industry as the global economic downturn hit businesses hard after the pandemic years when many had seen substantial growth as millions more people moved online during the closures.

As the world slowly moved closer to normality, online revenue also fell, particularly in advertising, and as the global economy also began to struggle, spending in general, but ad spending in particular, fell further, leaving some of the biggest tech companies with deficits. that had to be settled.

The result has been major job cuts at some of the biggest companies.

Along with Elon Musk’s halving of Twitter’s global workforce of more than 7,000 people, Facebook’s parent company Meta cut 11,000 jobs globally, while Snapchat and Microsoft also made job cuts. jobs during the year.

The slowdown has shaken the confidence of investors, who for a time had felt that the biggest names in the tech sector were almost above the impact of headwinds in the general global economy.

– Problems at Meta

For one company in particular, the economic difficulties of 2022 have brought to light broader issues within the company.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta is currently investing billions of dollars a year in the idea of ​​the metaverse – the 3D virtual world that the Facebook founder says will become the next version of the internet, where people meet, socialize, work and visit. for fun.

Accessible via virtual reality headsets, the metaverse is envisioned as a way for people to go anywhere and see anything, as well as interact with others via virtual avatars of themselves. .

Meta says the possibilities could involve things like hosting a virtual business meeting on the International Space Station or taking an elementary school history class in ancient Rome.

Basically, it doesn’t yet exist in any substantial form, and the technology behind it – VR – still hasn’t become a mainstream product nearly a decade after it was brought to consumers.

Moreover, many experts are skeptical about whether the scale idea Mr. Zuckerberg dreamed up is even remotely possible or likely.

In short, many believe the Facebook founder is taking a very risky and costly gamble on the future of his business, just at a time when economic conditions are deteriorating.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg pushes the metaverse (Niall Carson/PA)

Meta’s financial results have shown a steady decline this year – how long will investors allow this to continue before they demand a redesign of the Metaverse?

– The Molly Russell Investigation

In a historic moment for social media, an inquest has concluded that schoolgirl Molly Russell died while suffering from the ‘negative effects of online content’.

Coroner Andrew Walker said online material viewed by the teenager on sites such as Instagram and Pinterest “was not safe” and “should not have been available to a 14-year-old”.

Molly ended her life in November 2017 after viewing suicide and self-harm online.

The decision has been called a “world’s first” by online safety campaigners and identified as a watershed moment for potential regulation of the sector.

As new rules around internet safety – particularly around children – are being considered in a number of countries and parts of the world, Molly’s father Ian, who is now campaigning for safer online , said he hoped the conclusion would be a “significant step in making much-needed change” and asked Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg to “just listen…and then do something about it.”

In the UK, the Online Safety Bill is still going through Parliament after repeated delays, but it is hoped that this historic decision will help focus minds and ensure the bill is passed. strong law to protect children.

– The wait for the online safety bill continues

The repeatedly delayed online safety legislation has yet to become law and has now undergone multiple reframes, leaving many supporters of the bill frustrated and worried about its future.

After starting the year seemingly on the verge of entering the law books, the political drama within the Conservative Party has seen the return of the Online Safety Bill to Parliament pushed back to autumn – only to further delay and further cropping.

Now some see it as too much of a waste to be effective as regulation.

The bill has become controversial due to debate over the need to curb the spread of offensive material online while protecting freedom of expression.

The bill’s “legal and harmful” obligations were seen by some as a necessary step to prevent people from being exposed to potentially harmful content, such as that promoting eating disorders, which currently lies below any illegal threshold.

However, free speech campaigners have said it could lead to the surveillance of legal speech and new Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan scrapped those measures last month.

Some activists have argued that this waters down the bill too much and will not adequately protect people, as debate over the scope of the bill continues.

Will 2023 finally see it come into force?

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