Elon Musk is not the tech-bro messiah. Full stop.
Twitter is Imploding by the Whims of an Idiot
First there was the mass layoff. Then the Blue Check Saga. Then the readmission of Donald Trump and the wave of racists and NAZIs. After which we saw the banning of Jack Sweeny and ElonsJet. And then the banning of published journalists across the media landscape. Now it’s against the Twitter rules to post a link to or otherwise discuss your non-Twitter social media account(s).
Elon Musk does not want to build Twitter into a commercially successful company by any measure. He’s burning it to the ground in a plausibly schizophrenic fashion that he can disavow later on.
Let us not forget that, for a time, major advertisers had pulled their campaigns from the platform due to Musk’s inconsistencies and the inhospitable atmosphere that developed over night after the purchase was made whole. With incidences of the N-word increasing 300%, companies like Apple, CBS, and Disney pulled their marketing dollars out of Twitter very quickly. (Whether or not they’ve restarted their ad campaigns on the platform as of this writing, I don’t honestly know.) And the Musky Husky was furious, especially at Apple, who he personally called out in public tweets.
We’re witnessing the pernicious decline of a once global “town-square” host of discussion and the exchange of ideas, the dissemination of timely information, and gathering place for freedom fighters in real time. Users are fleeing to Mastodon, Post, CoHost, and a litany of other services across the internet. Advertisers and investors are castigating the “Chief Twit” openly. And the far-right is emboldened and empowered by the rhetoric being parroted by Musk’s cadre of personally-endorsed advisors like Bari Weiss.
This Outcome Was Predictable
So much so, in fact, that it was predicted en masse. When Musk announced his offer to purchase all public shares of Twitter on 14 April 2022, it was after deliberately inflating the price of the stock through securities filings and declining an offer from then-CEO Parag Agrawal to join the Board of Directors at the company. It’s obvious now that his $54/share offer, which inflated the value of the company even further, was a bluff. He never expected the Twitter BoD to accept the offer and sign an agreement. But they would, and Elon would—foolishly—agree as well, in time.
At first, however, responding to the platform’s user base, the Board of Directors at Twitter launched an effort to resist Elon’s buyout. On 15 April 2022, they BoD adopted a “poison pill” provision to dilute Elon’s share percentage and massively inflate the cost for Musk to purchase the company outright. This resistance effort lasts a paltry ten days and on 25 April 2022, Twitter announces that Elon Musk will acquire Twitter at “$54.20 in cash,” for a total of approximately $44 billion.
In text messages preceding the April buyout offer, on 24 March 2022, Musk’s ex-wife, Talulah Riley, urged Musk to buy the company and “delete it,” according to discovery documents which came to light in a lawsuit filed by Twitter against Musk after he attempted to pull out of the buyout deal in May. Musk’s bad-faith arguments levied against Twitter to cancel the buyout deal were centred around the “bot activity” on the platform, which Musk alleged was not truthfully disclosed to him by the company prior to the agreement being reached in late April.
So obvious was Musk’s bad faith that even Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey took to—where else?—Twitter to laud and elevate Elon’s buyout of the company as a good thing. Damage control was in full effect because the users on Twitter were in full revolt.
Who is this man? How did he make his billions? Why is he so successful?
Elon Musk is a business magnate and investor. He is the founder, CEO and chief engineer of SpaceX; angel investor, CEO and product architect of Tesla, Inc.; owner and CEO of Twitter, Inc.; founder of The Boring Company; co-founder of Neuralink and OpenAI; and president of the philanthropic Musk Foundation.
Note that that pull quote says he’s an investor not an inventor of all of his companies and products. While Musk has garnered following and fame for Tesla and SpaceX, he neither invented nor founded anything at Tesla and didn’t invent anything at SpaceX. In fact, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning were the progenitors of Tesla Motors after GM discontinued its revolutionary EV1 project—which you can watch a film about here. And over at SpaceX, while Musk did found the company (with In-Q-Tel CIA investment), it was engineer and SpaceX’s first CTO, Tom Mueller who was instrumental in the development of the Falcon9, not Musk.
Elon Musk is the son of an electromechanical engineer and one-time emerald mine owner, Errol Musk, and model, Maye Musk. Like so many modern “rags to riches” stories, Musk started life wealthy in late-apartheid era South Africa. He attended the best schools, received financial support from his family, and did relatively little worthy of note until luck and good timing paid off for him with the founding, and eventual sale, of X.com, which merged with Coinfinity’s more popular online payment service, PayPal, in 2000—a year after X.com investors removed Musk as CEO.
Throughout his business career, Musk seems to be consistent about two things: 1) making bad and confusing decisions, and 2) having good luck with investments.
It is now against the rules to post your alternate social media links on Twitter, but harassing someone because of their race or ethnicity is, apparently, okay. It is now against the rules to link to, discuss, or otherwise share public information on Twitter, but inciting violence is, apparently, okay if you’re “just asking questions.” Journalists are being banned without explanation while Musk tries to redefine “doxxing” in real time. The EU is considering sanctions against Musk for these and other developments on the platform since October, and it’s just going to get worse.
Last night, 18 December 2022, Elon Musk posted a Twitter poll asking whether he should step down as the CEO of Twitter, stating he would abide by the results of the poll. With over 17 million responses, more than 10 million accounts voted “Yes.” So far Elon has not stepped down.
But if Musk wants to “turn Twitter around” and make it profitable, as he claimed earlier in the year, he’s only dug a deeper hole for himself. With ad revenue down—turned off by his own behaviour and the readmission of the alt-right crowd—and users fleeing the platform—for much the same reasons—it’s hard to see how Twitter can recover and turn profitable in the near term. Musk has betrayed the fundamental element of a centralised social media product: content moderation. His erratic and unpredictable behaviour, policy shifts, and embrace of the QAnon alt-right paired with his wholesale gutting of the staff at Twitter means that not only has the platform lost the public trust, but it doesn’t seem able to regain or rebuild that trust without massive reinvestment from outside sources… which sort of defeats the “benefits” of being a privately held company Musk had implied and insinuated.
Public vs Private
Here’s the thing about public companies versus private companies and public trust… Private companies are black boxes with no accountability and relatively little public trust. There’s a reason companies in black ops are private, why you couldn’t buy stock in Palantir until 2020, for example. Public accountability, public scrutiny often disinfects corruption. Now, as a privately held company, Twitter is no longer accountable to a diversity of share holders, a board of directors, or outside advisors. It’s accountable to Elon Musk, period.
But is that really what you want from a global social media platform where people from all over the world go to find out the latest, most up-to-date news and information as it is happening? Or would you want to be able to hold that platform/company to certain journalistic standards of integrity and objectivity, to hold them accountable to policies for combating things like child pornography, hate speech, and incitement of violence?
That’s the magic here. And that’s what Musk did that broke Twitter. Public trading isn’t really the answer for every business, but in the instance of centralised social media it goes a long way to making the business side of the company more trustworthy. And now, instead of having a diversity of views and opinions behind the content moderation on the platform, we have a “free speech absolutist” with a penchant for throwing tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants, when he wants, how he wants it.