Ranjona Banerji: Twitter, Musk and TOI: who do you believe?

20 May,2022

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona BanerjiThe deal between Twitter and Elon Musk hangs in the balance. The controversial billionaire and the social media site appear to be involved in some complicated quadrille, where it’s all two steps forward six steps back and there’s someone treading on someone’s tail.

 

It started with Twitter objecting and coming up with a “poison pill” strategy to halt the buyout.

 

That did not work.

 

Then Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey who has stepped out a while ago jumped back in to applaud Musk’s offer to buy Twitter. But the offer itself appears to be full of contradictions, not least because of Musk’s attempts to organise or disorganise his own funding plans. Tesla stocks took a drubbing. Questions were raised whether Musk can afford the $44 billion needed to buy Twitter without jeopardising his other business interests.

 

And far more seriously for the social media site, Musk’s views on free speech and expression appear to verge on the side of right-wing fascism. He has expressed his desire for Donald Trump’s account to be taken out of suspension. Even though it was Dorsey himself who decided to suspend Trump for spreading misinformation, Dorsey has now said that he made a mistake. A giant question mark hangs over what the old owner and the putative new owner actually feel about purveyors of fake news.

https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/world/elon-musks-twitter-deal-proceeding-not-on-hold-executives-tell-staff-8542711.html

While Musk tries to sort out his money matters, he has taken up Twitter’s problems with bots, spam and fake accounts. And used that as a handle with which to renegotiate his deal. As well as used childish emojis in response to Twitter CEO Parag Agarwal’s long Twitter thread on how they deal with fake accounts and bots.

 

Into this intriguing mess jumps the Times of India.

 

The Grand Old Lady of Bori Bunder has also seen a loss in reputation, not least in the past few years because of its obnoxious TV channel Times Now but also because the opinions in its newspaper tend towards the same rightwing fascism that Musk appears to support.

 

But rather than discuss its awful hate-filled TV channel, TOI has used its newspaper to put forward the notion that people trust newspapers over social media.

 

One can understand TOI’s issue here. Print is a losing medium. Paper is not going to last long given the way subscriptions are falling. As we get more digitised, print is on its way out as it is world over. Most Indian newspapers have not managed to conquer the digital space.

https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/opinion-future-of-news-what-may-save-flailing-print-journalism-in-digital-age/355897

India’s most credible news sites are independent digital platforms, followed by print and TV at the absolute bottom. I do not count propaganda sites here.

 

The Times of India’s edit pages are the absolute worst of most newspapers. Its own editorials are mealymouthed and cowardly when they take on the government. I should rewrite that to “if” they take on the government. And that the venerable Times of India edit page can carry opinion pieces by Rahul Shivshankar whose speciality is Islamophobia and the spread of hatred against minorities, then idea of “media credibility” gets turned totally on its head.

 

It was Bennett Coleman which invented media travesties like Medianet and “private treaties” or “ads for equity”. Some of these dangerous – to media independence and news dependability – have been copied by other media houses as well.

 

All this has only chipped away at media credibility. That means that even if people trust newspapers, they are actually being fooled. If naïve people think that “advertorials” are media lies, then they have no clue at how easily they are manipulated.

 

However, much as many people oppose the Times of India in general, I still find its local reporting comprehensive and reliable – depending of course on the space allowed by the all-powerful advertising department.

 

But for TOI to try and compare itself to Twitter while pushing for its own credibility is a laugh.

 

Especially when it does not mention its own policies to undermine media credibility by selling news space for money as well as the toxic hatred spread by its TV channel Times Now.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/in-print-we-trust-heres-why-newspapers-score-over-social-media/articleshow/91607899.cms

 

For entertainment, since this article mentions Reuters, do read this on the TOI-Reuters deal that fell apart:

https://www.newslaundry.com/2021/07/09/how-the-closely-held-times-group-is-caught-in-a-whirlwind

 

The battle over digital space is to do with free news and availability which media owners think they can win. Paywalls only keep people out, which they will realise sooner or later when their influence shrinks even further. Meanwhile, people will find somewhere to spread their news, views and lies. Right now, they’ve even using The Times of India to do that!

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal

 

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