Software Development / Technology

Elon Musk, Twitter, and the Weaponization of Open Source

16 Apr 2022 6:00am, by
programming diagram

When I first sat down to write about this topic this week, my first instinct was for the entire intro to just say something along the lines of “Ugh, can we just NOT?” and then skip right into the weekly news summary. But then I heard the part about open sourcing Twitter, and my interest was piqued.

In case the news somehow hasn’t made it to you yet, the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, has offered to buy Twitter outright, after previously becoming the largest shareholder, almost joining the board, but then deciding not to.

It’s been a dramatic week.

Anyways, when asked why he wanted to buy Twitter during a TED talk this week, Musk responded that he wanted to open source Twitter.

Now, it’s not like there aren’t open source Twitter alternatives. They’ve been out there for a decade or so now.

When we talk about “open sourcing” something, that’s a big part of it, right? We want to be able to run it ourselves. We want to be able to take the code and adapt it and tweak it to our needs, on our own servers. We want to collectively help out, fixing bugs and contributing to that codebase.

But that’s not what this is about.

We’re not talking about open sourcing Twitter so that we can transfer it to a foundation, ensure its proper governance, and make sure that no singular entity has too much power over its direction. It’s not so much that Musk suddenly became a leader in moving everything to open source, but rather that Musk wants to open source Twitter to throw back the curtain and expose what he sees as Twitter’s nefarious, anti-free-speech leanings inside its algorithms.

My immediate, knee-jerk reaction to the idea of open sourcing Twitter is a resounding “hell yeah!” If open source is good enough for the fundamental infrastructure running our internet, it’s good enough for Twitter, right? Regardless of the intent behind it, we would still get all those aforementioned benefits, right?

I don’t know about that.

First off, Musk has specifically mentioned open sourcing the Twitter “algorithm” and not the entire functionality, so it may be a big step from having an open source project to then running your own instance… but we could get there. Second, what about, as many ask, the potential flood of spam and gaming that would come with making an algorithm such as Twitter’s completely open source? If you tell everyone exactly how all the ranking works, wouldn’t that serve as a tutorial for how to create the perfect spambots?

The most intriguing part of it all for me is that, in this scenario, the idea of open sourcing something, because of the perceived and stated intent, is not seen as a good thing. Instead, the idea of open sourcing proprietary software is seen as a weapon yielded that many fear will simply empower hate speech, not free us from the bonds of corporate greed.

This Week in Programming

  • Visual Studio “Supercharges” Git: Visual Studio has seen the addition of a “relatively new Git feature” that the team says will supercharge your Git experience in VS. The commit graph improves Git performance issues that are due to size, by offering a sort of cache in the form of a commit-graph file that helps to parse and sort commits. (If you really want to know how it works, check out this blog post.) The feature is available on the latest preview version of Visual Studio (17.2 Preview 3 or later), and will automatically show a notification where you can choose to enable the commit graph, or otherwise you can manually enable it in the settings. As far as performance improvements go, Microsoft says it has seen “an average of 25% performance improvement in loading branch history in the Git repository window for a repository with 332k commits”.
  • GitHub Discussions Gets Polls, Chat Integrations & More: GitHub Discussions got a bunch of new features this week, including organization discussions, polls, integrations for both Slack and Microsoft Teams, and a quicker way to get to the answers you need. Organization discussions expand the scope of discussions beyond the repository level to the organization level, which you can see in action in the Homebrew community. Polls, a “highly-requested feature”, is just what it sounds like; as is the integration with Slack and Teams, which provides a notification every time a Discussion is created or answered. Finally, Q&A answers are made easier to find by giving “a preview of the response the original poster marked as an answer at the top of the thread with a link that will take you to the full answer for more details.”

  • Visual Studio 2022 Drops Mac Preview 9: While we’re talking about Visual Studio, Visual Studio 2022 for Mac Preview 9 just came out this week, with a focus on “addressing top reported issues from prior preview releases,” such as the inability to move files, unresponsive horizontal and vertical splitters, the inability to debug unit tests, XAML files that refuse to save, and the inability to load Apple certificates. If none of those issues were on your wishlist, good news, you can vote on the top issues affecting you right in the Visual Studio “Help” menu or by searching for existing issues and voting for issues affecting you.
  • GitLab’s Next Container Registry: The “next generation” of the GitLab Container Registry is set to roll out in the coming weeks on GitLab.com, and the details are now available. The feature was first launched in 2016 and there have been a number of changes since, including introducing a new PostgreSQL backend to store metadata and an automatic online garbage collector to remove untagged images and recover storage space. These features were migrated in January of this year, and GitLab says that “nearly 20% of Container Registry traffic is already routed to the new version.” Now the company is ready to begin Phase 2 of the migration, which will “migrate image repositories created before January 22, 2022, to the new Container Registry” and “unblock many of the features that you’ve been asking for”. GitLab offers a detailed timeline of what to expect and when, according to what tier of GitLab.com you pay for (or don’t). The company also notes that the migration will only target tagged images (untagged and unreferenced manifests will be left behind) and “once migrated to the new registry, repositories will be subject to continuous online garbage collection, deleting any untagged and unreferenced manifests and layers that remain as such for longer than 24 hours.” For all the further details, either head on over to the blog post or check out the epic.