As tick follows tock, the reaction to Musk’s $44bn takeover of Twitter has, predictably, been very Twitter-like. The left and the right immediately scurried to their trenches, cocked their weapons, and unleashed the usual memes, crybullies, trolls, and digital foot soldiers.

For the silent majority, the middle ground, the centrists in no-man’s Tweetland, and for those of us who couldn’t think of anything worse than writing a vacuous tweet about ‘this thing I’m outraged about right now’, it is all rather perplexing. Quite why Musk, the world’s richest man, would voluntarily spend a vast fortune on a non-profitable, and toxic social network has confused everyone. And of course, many of the loudest on the platform are terrified of what shall become of it.

Musk, however, sees it all rather simply. Twitter is the world’s ‘de-facto town square’. He believes that because the board and programmers of Twitter proved themselves incapable of protecting free speech, fairly, equally, for all people, for all sides, well, someone bloody well had to do something about it. At least, no one can accuse Musk of not putting his money where his mouth is: buying Twitter outright is probably the boldest, bravest, and craziest corporate move of recent times.

Musk genuinely seems to believe he’s saving humanity. Perhaps he is. But the problem with Musk’s town square analogy is that, in the metaphorical town square, where anyone can stand on a soapbox and announce their latest conspiracy theory, a few locals might stop, point, laugh, and then go about the rest of their day. On Twitter, though, these theories have global reach. There is almost certainly a direct correlation between the outrageousness of a tweet, and its viral coefficiency (how far a post spreads). Say something utterly ridiculous and offensive; watch the world burn. This is why on Twitter, political, cultural, and social extremities thrive. It’s also why Twitter is a goldmine for clickbait.

So, what is the consequence of Musk’s new ownership for the rest of us, for brands, and for businesses? Well, despite Twitter having experienced a steady decline in popularity over the past decade, as other more intuitive social networks like TikTok have ballooned in scale, the fact remains that the chattering classes are the Twittering classes. Like it or loathe it, Twitter is where politicians, media types, celebrities, brands, journalists, and academics go to express themselves, “debate” cultural events, and share inane, irrelevant, and, occasionally, insightful thought. Twitter is probably the closest thing the world has ever seen to public consciousness.

Therein lies the rub. Public consciousness is messy, quick to react, and often ill conceived. But for democracy to thrive, Musk thinks, free speech must be protected at all costs. That will mean allowing the great unwashed to tweet, warts, and all. The challenge for Musk – indeed for all societies underpinned by unfettered digital communications - is how to simultaneously protect free speech on Twitter, without it becoming even-more of a cesspit of offence, misinformation, and bullying.

Musk is thinking about a few new features that might just help. One is an edit button. This would allow anyone to re-edit a badly conceived tweet, written in haste. Haven’t all of us, at some point, woken up (perhaps with a hangover), checked social media and cringed at what we posted the night before? The edit button would save a million and one faces, and potentially, thousands of embarrassing CEO gaffes too. It should also, finally, hopefully, bring about an end to offence archaeology – the ability of anyone with an axe to grind to dig through someone’s historical tweets from decades ago to find something they’re offended by today.

Another Musk change for Twitter that businesses, brands, policy makers, and politicians will surely welcome is the end of bots. For too long bots have thrived on Twitter, and have been allowed to push divisive rhetoric for nefarious and sometimes commercial reasons. Russia, certainly, has engaged in bot misinformation campaigns at scale, and whether or not the strategy directly affected the results of the 2016 US presidential election is impossible to know. Division across society, however, they did - and continue - to sow.

In the end, Musk’s extraordinary takeover of Twitter will be seen as a tentpole moment in the era of rampant technological advancement of digital communications. Governments have endlessly spoken, debated, yet failed to break up big tech, and private owners of social networks have equally struggled with the responsibility that comes from monitoring billions of human conversations every day. This is a moment where one man decided to take matters into his own hands, for the supposed good of democracy, and like him or hate him, left or right, there’s no denying Musk has incredibly big cahones.