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A few weeks ago, a story about Airbnb’s demise started circulating on TikTok.
The idea was that the short-term rental business would collapse in the face of deteriorating economic conditions.
Inman covered the story — which social media users dubbed “Airbnbust” — and found the truth was far more nuanced. But, significantly, so do the experts themselves pushed back on the “bust” idea, and they did it in one place: Twitter. This pushback ultimately helped drive coverage of the issue.
The episode shows how, at best, Twitter functions as a kind of public forum. Users may well find themselves in a bubble on the social network. But the platform has fewer walled gardens than Facebook and isn’t curated via algorithms like TikToks For You Page. Thus, over the years, Twitter has become a digital home for journalists, business leaders, analysts, and other professionals who want to speak directly to the public.
Why is that important?
As anyone who’s been following the news knows, Elon Musk just bought Twitter for $44 billion. The purchase came after months of chatter during which Musk tossed the deal back and forth, and ended Thursday when the CEO of Tesla and Space X showed up at Twitter’s headquarters with a sink — a visual pun he later explained on Twitter meant “let that sink in”.
Enter the Twitter HQ – let it sink in! pic.twitter.com/D68z4K2wq7
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 26, 2022
Companies rotate executives all the time, but Musk is no ordinary executive. And his rise to the top of Twitter has consistently led among Twitter users to question the site’s usefulness or role as a public forum. Musk is an avid Twitter user himself, and predictions about his potential influence on Twitter are mixed. But as the Airbnbust debate shows, some of the most important debates about the housing industry take place on Twitter. And if Musk shakes up the platform, it could ultimately change the way the world understands real estate.
shake things up
Musk has spent years cultivating a public persona as a sort of prominent disruptor, often using Twitter to do so. And he seems to be bringing the same ethos to Twitter. Musk fired Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal and Policy Chief Vijaya Gadde shortly after entering Twitter’s headquarters. News broke Monday that Musk had dissolved Twitter’s board of directors.
The moves came after Musk reportedly threatened to ditch up to 75 percent of Twitter’s workforce before eventually backing down on the idea — though significant layoffs appear to be in the works.
On Sunday the edge also reported that Musk is planning a major restructuring that would directly affect users: he wants to launch a paid subscription service that would cost around $20 a month and allow users to verify. The idea represents a seismic shift for Twitter, which has traditionally been free and offers public figures such as celebrities and journalists verification — denoted by a blue tick next to a user’s name.
Basically, Musk has also presented his Twitter takeover as a step to uphold freedom of expression. Critics have countered that such targeting could jeopardize the platform’s moderation policy or lead to the reinstatement of accounts suspended for abuse or the spread of disinformation. The most famous banned account belonged to former President Donald Trump, although he wasn’t either still musk have hinted at whether Trump will return.
Anyway, the layoffs, verification proposal and stated goals point to the new “Chief Twit”. as Musk calls himselfHe wastes no time stirring up Twitter’s business practices. And he doesn’t seem to be playing around; according to that edgeMusk told Twitter staff they had until November 7 to make the new verification concept a reality or they would be fired.
The real estate debate
The “Airbnbust” situation is not the only time debates on critical housing issues have taken place on Twitter. Case in point: Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman is a frequent Twitter user and has repeatedly used the platform to discuss racial discrimination in housing. Attention to the issue exploded in 2019 thanks to reports of racial discrimination among agents on Long Island, New York, and then again in 2020 following protests over the killing of George Floyd.
Kelman took to Twitter to address the issue head-on, writing in 2019 that “we all have agents who are biased” and urged industry members to “establish a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination.”
This can happen with any broker. We all have agents who are biased, whether the agents know it or not. If you’re a broker, send this study to *every* broker in your business. Highlight the most important results. Establish a zero tolerance policy for discrimination.
— Glenn Kelman (@glennkelman) November 19, 2019
In fact, Kelman has used Twitter to talk about race, discrimination, and real estate even before the industry’s most high-profile incidents, and it was partly via Twitter that Kelman made this one of the crucial causes he is focusing on while leading Redfin.
Kelman isn’t the only industry professional to use Twitter to discuss big housing issues. Daryl Fairweather and taylor mrEconomists working at Redfin debate the market and, in some cases, offer a sober countervote to some of pop culture’s more alarmist views of the housing market.
Among agents, much of the real estate debate takes place elsewhere. Facebook groups like Inman Coast to Coast and Lab Coat Agents have thousands of members and regularly engage in intense discussions on how to complete daily tasks. It’s rare for these types of conversations to spill over to Twitter.
But Twitter is still the go-to place for top executives like Kelman and Barton — both of whom are verified, by the way — to communicate directly with the public. Professional economists rarely join agent Facebook groups, making Twitter the best place to see their insights on the fly. Analysts like Lane can and do do the same on other platforms like LinkedIn, but Twitter allows their comments to spread more easily across industries and disciplines, potentially amplifying their voices and shaping the broader conversation.
In the short term, everything should stay the same. Marr, for example, was silent Tweet insights about the housing market from Monday afternoon. For all the gnashing of teeth over Musk’s acquisition, the average user experience hadn’t changed much.
But if, over time, Twitter begins to follow Myspace’s path — that is, a gradual decline to the point of irrelevance — it’s hard to imagine any other platform offering the same kind of access to executives, economists, journalists, and others . In other words, discussions of some of real estate’s most pressing issues may simply be moved offline or to digital walled gardens, where they reach fewer people and have a harder time changing real-world circumstances for the better.
If Twitter dies out, I’m fine with that. I’ve never tried to be the best at Twitter.
— Daryl Fairweather (@FairweatherPhD) October 30, 2022
Is the future uncertain?
The past few days have seen a flurry of comments about Musk’s Twitter takeover. For example, The Atlantic Reporter Charlie Warzel recently wrote in his newsletter about how Musk could “kill Twitter.” Warzel felt that Musk could “bring the platform to its knees” with inept management.
Not all were so somber and somber, however. slate on Monday argued that Musk is unlikely to “open the Nazi floodgates on Twitter,” and journalist Josh Barro wrote in his newsletter on Friday that Musk could actually reframe Twitter’s biases to be more in line with the general public .
The point here is that there are basically two outcomes that people envision. The first — and this is what many actual Twitter users are talking about — is that Musk is changing the platform so radically that he’s ruining it.
The second scenario, formulated by Barro and a few others, envisions a gentler and potentially useful change that could make Twitter more accessible to everyday users.
However, it’s completely unclear what Musk will do. Monday for example, him tweeted a poll asking if people wanted him to bring back Vine, a now-defunct social network that Twitter acquired in 2012 and shut down in 2016. Given how much time has passed since Vine closed, and the fact that TikTok now occupies a similar niche, it’s hard to read Musk’s question as serious — though axios reported that Twitter engineers were examining Vine’s code on Monday.
In any case, the comment shows how difficult it is to analyze which of Musk’s comments are serious, which are trolling, and which could be both. Is the Vine idea a joke? Maybe. Does that mean it won’t happen? Not necessarily. When Musk is in charge, reality and wit are not mutually exclusive, as with his consumer-oriented flamethrower.
The upshot is that only time will tell what Musk will do, although the Chief Twit himself has hinted it will be a wild and unpredictable ride.
Email to Jim Dalrymple II