Ten tweets on Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.
Because why would I write more than 280 characters?
Okay, maybe not Tweets… But you know I had to write on a story that combines two things I have a lot of opinions about, and why each could make the other that much worse.
1. Communications platforms are the new sports franchise for billionaires.
Bezos bought the Post. Zuckerberg… well, we all know about Zuckerberg. And now Musk. Narcissism is all about attention – and it follows that narcissist billionaires should pedal in the attention economy.
2. The deal could collapse — and this would just be the PR stunt we thought it was.
Since the deal was announced, Tesla stock, in which the bulk of Elon’s billions are tied up, has tumbled. Twitter is trading well below the value of the deal he reached. And Elon is a master at getting his name in the headlines. Is it possible that it was all just a big PR stunt? Probably not… but possibly.
3. Elon Musk didn’t invent the products you know him for. He just made them a lot more popular (and raked in the cash).
Contrary to his preferred and curated narrative, Elon didn’t single-handedly start Tesla. He was just its first investor. The company with which his name is synonymous was the brainchild of Mark Tarpening and Martin Eberhard, its first CEO. Musk’s combination of ruthless business practices, PR savvy, and a whole lot of money from the federal government are what catapulted Tesla to its recent trillion dollar valuation – and what made Musk, but not its original founders, an ultra-billionaire.
4. Twitter matters. Even if you’re not on Twitter.
Bring up Twitter, and perfectly well-meaning folks will remind you that the vast majority of Americans aren’t on Twitter. Indeed, there are only about 38 million Americans on Twitter, slightly more than 10% of the US population. Their implicit point is that Twitter doesn’t matter.
Oh, but it does. Twitter, like it or not, is the assignment editor of our national public discussion. Those 38 million are disproportionately likely to be politicians, journalists, activists, and business leaders. That combination of users has made it the single most important news platform in the world. Tweets drive the conversation well outside platforms virtual walls, driving coverage on TV news, in print, and over the radio. There’s a reason it was the former president’s platform of choice.
While Twitter is a decontextualization machine – limiting your output to a mere 280 characters – the irony is that the ultimate decontextualization happens when tweets are taken off the platform. While Twitter users are privy to the conversation that generated a given tweet, everyone else is exposed to it without its discursive context – where it takes on a power all its own.
5. Elon Musk doesn’t care about free speech for people like you. He cares about free speech for people like him.
Every once in a while, I get a follow recommendation on Twitter for some CEO of some company I’ve never heard of or care about. Right under their name, there is a small arrow with the italicized word “promoted.”
The irony of social media is that while it promises to “democratize” public discourse by offering a platform to everyone, the potential for scale offers those with influence, money, and power far bigger platforms than they might have had prior. It extends the logic of capitalism – the tradeoff between access and scale – into our public discourse.
The median Twitter user has 707 followers. Elon Musk has 88 million followers. It’d be one thing if that was the only advantage that Musk had over the median user. But money buys you access to digital amplification tools that the median user couldn’t afford or even dream of – like getting your profile promoted to large accounts.
When Musk talks about free speech, I worry that his vision for the company isn’t about promoting the free speech of that 707 follower median account – it’s about promoting the free speech amplification of that 88 million follower account.
6. Elon’s Twitter takeover may be the move that causes Tech workers to unionize.
The Silicon Valley employment ethos – for engineers, at least – is a “race to the top” in the hunt for talent. Valley behemoth’s have continuously upgraded their perks, from lavish gourmet cafeterias to on-campus to “sleep pods.” Google set the standard in the early 2010s for workplace creature comforts. Others have followed suit. In that respect, there has been relatively little effort to unionize tech companies.
But Musk is notorious for treating his employees like dirt, whether completely neglecting their workplace safety or just micro-managing their work. Couple that with worries over the direction of the company and the general workplace ennui that has helped drive unionization efforts across the economy and this may become the moment that unionzies tech. And that would be a big deal for the union movement – and holding tech companies accountable.
7. Musk buying twitter is the best thing that could have happened to Zuckerberg.
Tech company CEOs are regularly hauled up before Congress. And the contrast between Jack Dorsey, former Twitter CEO, and Mark Zuckerberg has always left Zuckerberg’s awkward “eye of Sauron” presentation all the more striking. To be sure, the harm that Facebook has done – from election disinformation to accosting the mental health of teen girls – is profound. But Twitter has never been blameless. And yet the lightning rod of Mark Zuckerberg has always protected other social media CEOs.
The idea of Elon Musk having to testify over Twitter’s misdeeds is probably giving Zuckerberg some relief.
And all of this should remind us that the work Congress does to stop and heal the damage social media corporations do every day should be bigger than showdowns with their CEOs.
8. Elon’s purchase of Twitter could hurt global human rights.
For all of its failures, Twitter has created a space for human rights activists to hold their governments accountable. But if Twitter becomes a private company owned by one man – one man with a number of global business interests to protect – what happens when his interests and human rights collide?
9. I lost a thousand followers on the day the Musk Twitter was announced. Here’s why.
The day Musk’s purchase of Twitter was announced, hundreds of accounts I follow began describing a significant drop in Twitter followers. Many of us had assumed that it was a purge of bots – fake accounts created to boost messages.
But it turns out that other accounts – like Marjorie Taylor Greene’s – saw their followers jump. Twitter later announced that there had been massive “organic” changes in Twitter accounts. ‘
So what happened? My followers simply left the platform while thousands of people who support Greene signed on. It was a one-day rightward transition.
And that was just day one.
10. An edit button really would be nice.
Look, I get the idea that bad actors could rack up thousands of retweets and then change the text to make it look like all of those people supported a message they didn’t intend. But I feel adjudicating meaningful vs. grammatical changes is an engineering challenge the Twitter team could solve.