That Whole Twitter Thing: Further Thoughts
Posted on November 2, 2022 Posted by John Scalzi 65 Comments
Now that we’re several days into the Elon Musk era of Twitter, some additional musings on how we got here and where we’re going. In no particular order:
1. Elon Musk did this to himself. There’s an old quip about how to make a small fortune in publishing: Start with a large fortune. Well, certainly Musk has a large fortune — the largest in the world, if we’re talking valuation rather than actual liquidity — and he’s about to make it smaller, because Twitter is worth nowhere near the $44 billion or so that he paid for it. Certainly Musk realized that almost immediately, which is why he tried to back out of the deal as soon as he made it.
The (former) board and shareholders realized it, too, which is why they absolutely, positively would not let him back out. From their point of view, Musk was their patsy, their stooge, their pigeon in a confidence game that let them cash out while Musk was left holding the bag. Twitter hardly ever made money as it was; now with the debt Musk has to service on an annual basis, it’ll probably be underwater for a long, long time.
But, look, no one made Musk do this. No one made him decide to become Twitter’s largest stockholder, no one made him make a ridiculous offer for the service, no one made him make that offer at what was basically a locked-in high price with little to no way of backing out gracefully if the financials did not add up. Musk, high on his own presumed genius and fashy-flirting worldview (and possibly also just high, period), was playing to his right-wing cheering squad of simpering fanboys when he decided to buy the place, and didn’t think through the consequences. So now he’s got himself a social media service and no clue what to do with it. Which is actually a thing we should underscore:
2. Elon Musk has no idea what he’s doing with Twitter. Both Musk’s frothy bootlickers and ardent haters think the dude has some sort of master plan for the service and that he’s bought the place to turn it into a fascist-friendly sinkhole that he can push democracy into (this being a bug or feature, depending on one’s own tendencies). And maybe, left to his own rich-white-dude-libertarian tendencies, he would have done. But the thing is, there’s no money in social media that way. Elon Musk may be an authoritarian-frotteuring bore, but the majority of the heavy users of Twitter (i.e., the ones generating content) are vaguely-to-solidly lefty, and the companies who advertise on the service don’t want to have their ads served next to an orgy of bigoted utterances by shitty people. Musk’s deal for the service has left him with something like a billion dollars in debt to service on an annual basis. He’s not going to do that with an exodus of high-profile users and no ads.
And this is before the various governments all over the world weigh in on what’s acceptable content on social media platforms. The EU has already made it clear to Musk they will take a dim view of him turning the service into a Nazi clubhouse, US politicians are looking to revisit Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (which largely immunizes platforms from the legal repercussions of the speech of their users), and other countries will have their own bones to pick on this score. Thanks to Musk owning other companies that are vulnerable to government pressure and punishment (Tesla, SpaceX and Starlink among them), anything he does with Twitter that displeases governments can also have an effect on his other businesses.
Remember what I said earlier about Musk being left holding the bag? This is the bag! He’s got to find a way to make incredibly disparate constituencies — users, advertisers, governments — happy, and still make enough annually to service his debt. Doing all this was hard enough for the previous Twitter regime, and they didn’t have either the amount of debt servicing Musk has, or the additional business vulnerabilities he does.
How will Musk do this all? He doesn’t know! Neither does anyone else! But of course it’s no one else’s problem, now; he’s the sole director of the place. At the moment, he’s trying to suggest that raising the price of the Twitter Blue subscription scheme and tying verification to that is going to do something useful for him, which it probably won’t, since tying verification to payment is not a great idea, and Twitter Blue is — and I can say this as a subscriber — a benefit for a niche audience at best. He’s also going to lay off staff, which will save some money but is likely to make the service worse. Which brings us to the next point:
3. No matter what Musk does, he’ll probably make the service worse in the short run. Minimizing moderation on the site, allowing creeps and trolls more latitude, will make the service worse. Fiddling with how verification works and opening it up without an actual plan other than to have it as a bonus for subscribing to Twitter Blue, will make the service worse. Cutting staff hastily on sketchy criteria, will make the service worse. And making the service worse is bad for Musk, because everyone is watching him, and these first few days and weeks are very likely to seal the service’s overall fate.
Celebrities and other heavy users are already leaving or making plans to leave or curtail their use of the service. Advertisers can go elsewhere. What and who is left will not necessarily be inclined to participate in a subscription scheme. The snowball of collapse is likely to start rolling downhill, picking up momentum as it goes, hurtling toward the cliff.
Mind you, it doesn’t have to go this way — Musk could just say, hey, in the short term, I’m going to keep things as they are while I and my crew figure this thing out. But he won’t, because that’s not who he is. He’s the sort of guy who decides to buy a social media service in a fit of pique, and then panic when he realize he’s overpaid and is now in charge of a money pit. So he’s going to do things, and just doing things quickly isn’t going to be great. Beyond this:
4. Musk picked a really bad time to jump into social media. Aside from Twitter’s already-existing money and user woes — it is the smallest of the major social media outlets, by a considerable margin — all the social media giants seem to be doing a faceplant these days. Meta/Facebook has seen its value slashed by hundreds of billions of dollars as Zuckerberg frantically tries to make VR happen; the formerly trillion-dollar company was famously recently valuated less than Home Depot. TikTok really does seem to be Chinese government spyware, and an FCC commissioner thinks it should be banned. More widely, Google is thinking about layoffs, and even Amazon’s valuation dropped below a trillion for the first time in a couple of years. Just about the only major social media that doesn’t seem to be about to implode is LinkedIn, i.e., PleaseHireMeIJustGotLaidOffFromTwitter.com.
The best time for Musk to have bought Twitter was never, but last Friday was definitely not the second-best time. The whole concept of what social media is seems to be undergoing scrutiny, and not just on an existential basis. It would not entirely surprise me to see the social media giants of today sold at fire sale prices tomorrow. It’s happened before! Which, hey, dovetails right into this:
5. I don’t expect Musk to keep Twitter for long. Or at the very least I don’t expect him to have it be his focus for very long. Right now Musk is in the “oh, shit, how do I make money from this” phase of things, and once he figures out he can’t (or alternately, realizes what he’s doing will just make things worse), I think his attention will drift to the other companies of his that actually do make money and will need his attention. At which point he’ll either foist the service off to someone at a substantially reduced price (Google could take it on and happily mine it for all the ad data it’s worth), or hire a caretaker CEO, whose job is to keep the bleeding to a minimum as the service deflates like a sad balloon, and then go back to his previous role on Twitter, which is stoned billionaire iconoclast occasionally posting an outrageous opinion for lulz.
Which is to say: Musk is gonna lose money on this! Like, a lot! But it’s his money to lose, and also, he has the money to lose. If the other parts of his empire do well (and they might!), he might not even miss that money as his overall net worth continues to expand.
Of course, I could be wrong about all of this. It’s possible that Musk will unlock heretofore-unrealized value from the service, shepherd it to wild profitability, and make all the services’ constituencies happy. In which case: Swell. I’ve liked Twitter, a lot, and would be happy for it to survive and thrive. Prove me wrong, Elon Musk! I will be happy to be wrong!
I don’t suspect I will be wrong, however. Musk overpaid, there’s not that much value to unlock, and he’s gonna take a bath on this purchase before he gives up the ghost and cuts his losses. Musk will survive his Twitter foolishness. We’ll see if Twitter survives it as well.
Frothy Bootlickers is a great band name!
Elon’s bit about blue checkmarks, no blue checkmarks, twenty dollars, eight dollars, sounds like someone with no sense of humor and a worse memory trying to replicate the Marx Brothers’ routine about orchestra rehearsals.
“How much not to play?”
“You couldn’t afford us!”
One thing that I saw in an article recently (I don’t remember where or I’d link it) was that journalists, reputable pundits, and almost all politicians rely on Twitter. Pew says that nearly 70% of journalists rely on Twitter to promote their coverage and close to 31% of adults get some or all of their news from Twitter.
As far as I know there isn’t an alternative service for those folks to go to, so I’m wondering how that’s going to mesh with a more “free for all” version of the service.
The only part I disagree with is the idea that the government might punish SpaceX. Not going to happen, the government is way too dependent on them at this point.
Twitter always struck me as more Center-Right than anything else – which I guess makes some form of financial sense because that’s where advertisers want to be. So long as you don’t threaten their profits, they don’t care HOW you identify or what you believe in….
I know they’re a business, but there’s not much “Left” in taking money from Big Oil, Big Insurance, Big Telco and Big Pharma. Still, watching Elon Musk flail around while pretending he’s the real-life Tony Stark is going to be good for many MANY big laughs.
So Musk loses a shit-ton of money and looks like an even bigger fool and Twitter goes under. Sounds win-win to me.
I think that the major ‘irony’ here is that the money wasn’t and isn’t his. A good deal of it came from “other sources” – leaving it at that (just in case)
As a member of a profession, one of the most insulting tropes to me, is, “Hi. I’m someone who knows everything about nothing & I’m going to take over & solve all your problems. Hold my beer.”
“OK, Sparky. I’ll be over here making popcorn.”
PayPal was standing in the right place at the right time with the right IP for Elon.
SpaceX was hooking up with & funding the right partners.
Tesla was a genuine bit of good work & good marketing, compounded by an ossified auto industry as competitors. Plus lying about a few things.
Now Elon has taken on the Augean stables, without knowing much about hydrology or animal husbandry. And he’s fired the professional cowherds.
Wow, Scalzi! You certainly nailed this whole, perplexing, eyebrow raising, what the heck situation. Kudos to you. Thanks for providing great insight and analysis. I will follow you here and anywhere you go. I’m already an avid reader of your books. Enjoy your day.
Musk’s biggest problem is he overpaid for the company. The debt service will eat into his Tesla stock holdings which are way overpriced. Tesla’s price to earnings ration is 70/1 while the mainstream automakers hover around 6/1. That sky high PE ratio is bound to come down.
Unless Twitter starts to make gobs of money, Musk will have to sell his Tesla stock to cover the debt service plus the operating losses and he could eventually lose his majority interest in Tesla.
My own hope is Twitter will just go away and if Musk accelerates its demise all the better.
The US Government, sure. But a healthy part of each Tesla is made in China and sold under the watchful gaze of over 200 individual government regimes, many of which, including China, censor social media content aggressively.
Did you read about the US citizen jailed in Saudi Arabia over tweets he made while in US? What do you think Musk will do when other governments (possibly Trump or DeSantis) start demanding user data to punish dissent and hold Tesla, SpaceX, and other Musk companies hostage?
John, you are a remarkably aware and clued in guy, but you are missing the forest for the trees here in a huge way.
Let’s leave aside the political us vs them nature of social media and how the right and the left have spent the last few days in their own universe for what this means for Twitter itself. And you have, here, done that exact thing — seeing Twitter as the end of what Musk hopes to accomplish. “There’s not much value to unlock.”
I believe that is a shortsighted view. But understandable if you think that Twitter is the final stage of itself.
The last few days, whenever I see any essay about this, I instantly do a CTRL-F and look for two terms. If I don’t see them, I know that the author isn’t looking far enough. Those two terms are “x.com” and “WeChat.”
Musk has said that his ultimate goal is to create a version of WeChat in the west under X.com. Buying Twitter was an expensive way to skip way ahead in phase one of that plan.
So imagine Twitter, but including it’s own YouTube, so that content providers don’t have to send people to another service to engage their full content. Add in true encrypted messaging, voice and video calling, video conferencing. P2p payments, using a PayPal like system built into Twitter, or utilizing crypto for small micropayments. Want to read an essay but don’t want to spend $10 on Patreon or Substack? A content creator could charge .20 worth of Doge to read it.
And of course, the potential for a mini Amazon/Etsy/eBay/etc to exist within this architecture is very interesting.
That’s the end goal here. Now, whether it gets there is of course a topic to discuss, and whether it should get there is sure to be one as well.
But to pretend that Musk would sell Twitter quickly because he can’t get people to spend $8 on blue checkmarks is very shortsighted when you listen to what he has said about his goals for the service.
Yep, Scalzi, you nailed it!
My favorite little bit of this saga so far is the three former executives who were “fired” by Musk.
Never mind that they each received anywhere from tens of millions of dollars to over 100 million dollars as part of the buyout (for the stock that they held) and were probably already on the way out the door. But sure, the Muskrat “fired” them…
I’m aware of his WeChat-esque ambitions. I don’t think he’s going to get that far, personally. But we’ll see.
Also, you know. Meta already has all these elements under its umbrella with Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp, etc. The reason Meta hasn’t put them together in one, uh, metaservice, and what that means for Musk’s ambitions regarding the same, is an exercise left to the reader.
Part of me still wonders if Elon never wanted to buy Twitter in the first place, only making noise and such to affect price (SEC violation anyone?.. wouldn’t be his first) to sell shares. And then he got stuck when they decided to run with the sucker offer, not realizing the rules around it.
He came not only with zero plans but with zero idea about its books and financial models. His slap-dash ideas (e.g. charging for the blue-check verified) assumes there are no other free (or cheaper) options available for people to move to… they have no real viability.
Little nit-pick: He doesn’t have a billion dollars in debt to service. It’s worse. He has $13 billion in debt to service which costs a billion dollars a year. (This is from Matt Levine’s Money Stuff newsletter which has been doing a fabulous and funny job of following this whole debacle.)
@David: Our Gracious Host may be making a mistake my not mentioning x.com; but I think you’re mistaking ‘something Musk said casually’ with ‘serious long-term plan’.
Sure, Musk said something about a vague plan to turn Twitter into the hub of a big unified service like WeChat. He also said SpaceX would be landing Dragons on Mars in 2018. https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/04/spacex-plans-to-send-its-dragon-spacecraft-to-mars/
In other words, even at the most charitable interpretation, he has a tendency to make big sweeping plans and then revise or completely discard them later. Less charitably, he’s got a big problem with impulse control and ADD. Either way, it’s wise not to put too much stock in big pronouncements from him.
I think your analysis aligns pretty well with this one: https://www.theverge.com/2022/10/28/23428132/elon-musk-twitter-acquisition-problems-speech-moderation
(which goes into some more detail). (The title is “Welcome To Hell, Elon”, which gives you a general idea.)
I don’t think that Elon has the first idea of how to make a WeChat competitor, but if he tries I suspect that it will attract even more regulatory (and other governmental) interest from, well, everybody.
Thanks for the thoughts. I do not follow you on twitter (or anyone else for that matter). I get your emails so just keep them coming (along with your books – have them all)
Here’s my thinking:
Musk is, on paper, the wealthiest person on the planet. Most of that wealth is tied up in non-liquid assets. He lived in a “tiny house” when he’s in Texas, flys by private jet, and tried (for much of about 9 months) to live a low-expenses lifestyle.
Suddenly, he’s visible on yachts.
He doesn’t have $44b in cash. He has assets worth six to seven times that, but if he sells them for cash, he tanks Tesla’s stock price. So, he does what everyone else in his tranche does: He takes out loans on unrealized assets (which means he pays no taxes on the money) and the asset valuation appreciation outgains the interest on the loan.
One of the things that happened between his first offer, his first attempt to back out, his lawsuits, and then suddenly abandoning those lawsuits is that the public information about his lending started getting noticed.
And then the banks (which have disclosure requirements) started backing off from the Twitter buy-out.
Triangulating from the public information about his financing, he’s got to make about $1 to $1.3 billion a year to keep up with the loan that covers the purchase price of Twitter.
Twitter’s revenues are about $3.5 billion per year. All in advertising sales.
Banks started backing out, so he started finding private sources of funding. Through Saudi Arabia according to rumors I’ve heard.
The Saudis are damned near openly laundering money for Russian oligarchs.
Now, look at the following events:
A) Musk’s lawsuit from June is about to go into discovery. This means financial disclosures from Musk. Like who his private lenders are. Musk’s lawyers drop that lawsuit like it’s an Americium-gilded prostate barbell that’s still warm.
B) Musk goes from being “I’m rich, I’m a Republican asshole” to trying to strong-arm Ukraine over paying for Starlink, and “suggesting” that Ukraine do peace talks that amount to capitulation to everything Russia has taken.
C) Russia’s ability to do disinformation in the US has been greatly hindered since the Ukraine invasion, and suddenly the Russian bot army gets blocked. This demonstrates that the social media giants could have done this at any time, they just never saw it as being a better deal than making all that money. Russia would think $44 billion for Twitter is a bargain.
D) He’s fired the entire executive team. This includes the Vice President In Charge of Regulatory Compliance. The EU is imposing new legislation that has actual mandatory content moderation requirements. He just fired the guys in Twitter who’ve been preparing for that…because hey, if Twitter is blocked in the EU, but allows crazy Republicans access, that’s a win for Russia.
E) Musk has had a shocking number of “Whoops, here’s another kid/whoops, here’s a workplace ‘romance’ that he tried to bribe away with a horse.” events in the last 10 months. Do you really want to bet that someone who’s been photographed with Ghislaine Maxwell hasn’t stuck his dick something else that might be embarrassing?
I think Musk has been compromised. I think that he made a bargain with Russian money lending, and I think they’ve demonstrated that they can reveal embarassing things to him, and that they won’t if he does them some favors.
I think the “Your internet will go down unless you pay for it, Ukraine…” and “We need a negotiated peace where Putin gets everything he wants, and we casually ignore the systemic pattern of war-crimes committed by Russian troops…” ploys were Musk showing that, yes, he can follow instructions.’
Great post. Stipulating that his negotiation of price and no-way-out was the worst deal negotiation I’ve heard of, here is a somewhat contrarian view:
1) If I could invest 4% of my net worth on an absolutely cool business that I believe has substantially underperformed commercially and I could upgrade it, I’d do it. I have.
2) He’s backed by a lot money, including stupid money, that will keep supporting him through quite a bit of hell.
3) Twitter is the 15th largest social network in the world but is one of the top 3 available properties (excluding Chinese, FB, Google, Telegram), with arguably the largest brand equity. If you are going to make a play, this is it. (Note, lol, if he’d paid the same price as the market cap for Pinterest/Snapchat, it’s arguably a GREAT deal. Too bad, sucker)
4) I’ve no doubt that strong leadership can better monetize and expand Twitter readership, even without the X App coming to be.
So, he has a chance to make this a great long term bet, while having a good time along the way. I wouldn’t count him out.
Having said that, he’s an idiot and going about this is so many wrong ways, I can’t get started. Well, maybe I can. Listening to Dorsey who is the guy that underperformed as CEO for a decade is nuts. Firing a random 33% of the company in a month is .. well … nuts. I don’t know why a world class engineer would hang out at Twitter one day longer. Project X … WeChat is brilliant but has the full backing and support and push of the Chinese government because it’s the best surveillance tool ever. There will be hugely different headwinds in the west.
I wish him the worst.
SSteve made the point about debt service that I was going to make, so thank you, SSteve.
Regarding Google, please. Google has taken a shot at social media – well, three – and neither worked out for the long term. (Those would be Orkut, Buzz, and Google Plus. Oh and Wave had limited aspects of social media too, as did Reader.)
I would suggest looking at the graveyard of products that Google created or bought and then ruined or shuttered.
Per Kara’s comment above, and speaking as someone in media, this has thrown a lot of us into chaos. But we went through this before a few years back when Facebook changed its feed algorithms to show you less of what you want and more of what its advertisers convinced Zuckerberg you wanted. Which also sparked an exodus from that platform, and my own pub lost about half its referral traffic overnight.
I expect Twitter will be similar, only more so, since there’s a very real chance Musk just loses interest and walks away from the whole thing, leaving a broken company behind that will eventually get picked apart by corporate raiders (including Google, which probably doesn’t want anything except the ad data).
In that sense, Scalzi’s right on: Musk can’t win, but he may try to lose as little as possible. No guarantees he’ll do that either, since he’s clearly right up there with Jared Kushner as the Platonic ideal of the un-self-aware unqualified and overprivileged white man.
I don’t think he’s in it for the money. He thinks he can do a utopia government using twitter as a democracy tool/experiment. Kind of. I don’t know. It seems to link to his Martian utopia fever dream or whatever.
I think Elon’s delighted to do anything that tickles his “performative assholery” knob, but only as a hobby. His passion is proving how smart he is by juggling with obscene amounts of money.
And now he’s doing that again. I doubt he intends to hang on to Twitter, whatever wild WeChat X.app fantasies he teases. Rather, he’s going to run a classic “eviscerate and move on” predator capitalist raid.
Here’s how it works:
1. Take the company private so that you have no oversight, no brakes, no snoopy stickybeaks seeing what you’re doing behind the curtain.
2. Do big splashy things (like fire 1/3 of the staff) to jack the EBITDA. Expense reductions (like aforementioned massacre) all around. Bring your own pencils from home, people. Do not be surprised if he shills for some ‘revolutionary’ new advertising models that will generate a big short-term revenue burst. Those’ll likely be offset with hidden costs and possibly even subsidies from his other holdings, but they’ll make the bottom line LOOK reel sexay for a bit.
3. When the balloon is reinflated, take the zombie remains public again, looking for a drop price on the stock that’ll have the suckers flocking.
4. Cash in, and bow out, hopefully before the corpse stops twitching and starts to stink.
Look for a very short timeline on this, due to the already-discussed debt-service costs, but also look for vast clouds of shiny stuff filling the air to distract from the evisceration taking place behind the curtain.
Will he get away with it? Probably. There seems to be no limit to the market’s tolerance for predators.
Musk is a master at using OPM (Other People’s Money). As Paul G, SSteve, Ken B, and Lisa R H, pointed out, Musk is only partially using his own money, the majority coming from loans and investors.
You can bet that Musk will set things up so that even if Twitter ends up losing money, that Musk will be golden.
Engineer’s Disease: The delusion that because you’re an expert in your chosen field, you’re automatically an expert on everything else.
The current Twitter situation is possibly the purest example of Engineer’s Disease in human history.
I really like Charlie Warzel’s analysis of the Musk era of Twitter in his “Galaxy Brain” newsletter.
It reinforces Scalzi’s point that Musk’s purchase of Twitter was a fit of fiscal folly.
Social media is becoming geriatric, both in the senses of its user base and the companies as organizations themselves. For young people, the cool thing to do is either to jump to the novel thing — TikTok — or check out of social media altogether. As the user base erodes, the remaining users median, mean and modal ages will trend older.
Meta and Twitter are the most prominent companies, but they are geriatric in the sense that their user bases saturated a long time ago. Everyone who wanted an account has one, and there’s no user growth to be had. Now, active users are declining and engagement is driven by provocation, continuing to drive away users and degrading conversations. Warzel noted that the fastest-growing content category now is crypto and porn. Warzel: “(Moral judgements aside, historically, it is usually a grim sign for platforms when they become disproportionately flooded by pornography and get-rich-quick material.)”
In other words, Twitter is your Main Street filling up with pawn shops and X-rated theaters.
As far as the X-com hype goes, it’ll be just that — hype.
Musk bundling Twitter with micropayments, crypto, video and all manner of “current things” (sorry) sounds very back to the future.
That’s what AOL, Prodigy and Compuserve were in the dial-up era. Today they’ve diverged and the unwalled garden of the internet is here to stay.
On the one hand, I’m glad Elon was forced to go through with the purchase. For unknown reasons, my mother’s financial advisor put some of her money into the stock market, including some stock in Twitter that she’s now making a nice profit on. (She’s also telling the financial advisor that he lucked out, and to get her out of the stock market before those stocks tank again.)
On the other hand, I follow several content creators who depend on Twitter for promotion. I’ve got no problems moving to a different platform to continue to follow them, but I foresee a lot of confusion with Creator A moving to Platform 2, Creator B moving to Platform 4, and fans trying to keep track of who’s where. The result, at least in the short term but possibly longer, is those creators losing out because fans can’t find them any more.
No sympathy for Elon, though. He can go shove his body parts in a Supercharger for all I care.
Love this, so witty and accurate. You’ve almost got me feeling sorry for Musk. I’m a Twitter ignoramus though, what’s Twitter Blue? Here in Oz, blue has connotations of either old money or rampant profanity.
Was gonna suggest that the “he’s” before “overpaid” looks like a typo. But on second thought, no; no, it isn’t.
@butimbeautiful, it’s likely the verified users’ blue checkmark, which has kind of taken on a status marker sense to it.
Ken Burnside makes a compelling argument for Elon’s willingness to show a somewhat pro-Russia stance lately. Hopefully he isn’t being Putin’s tool to get Twitter back open for the MAGA, Q and other GOP crazies. But is is possible.
I agree there could be blackmail, after all, that’s what Putin’s Russia does best… but it could be something more fundamental that is being threatened: LEO. Imagine Putin threatens Low Earth Orbit with ASAT weapons used against a variety of satellites. The cascading debris and subsequent collisions could effectively take LEO out as a useable area of space for years to come. This would effectively kill StarLink and the billions SpaceX has invested in it. I prefer this blackmail scenario over Elon’s being afraid of bad-dick choices or sullied Lenders. But I agree that the Saudis could very well have been encouraged to underwrite Twitter funding by Putin. They too have a LOT of crap to hide.
After posting my comment above I realized what is the HOLY CRAP threat would get Elon to take serious notice: it isn’t StarLInk that’s got Elon’s knickers in a bunch, it’s Mars. No access to LEO, no Occupy Mars.
Elon Musk bought a toilet, looked around and said: “You know what? This toilet doesn’t have enough shit in it. What’s the point of a toilet if it isn’t full of shit?”
Maybe the experience will make him a bit less of a narcissistic chaos Muppet, but I doubt it.
I think that I would put more stock in the comments if l had the sense that any of the commenters had successfully run a company or driven a Tesla. I just don’t have that feeling.
Interesting takes, both OP and commenters.
The Putin angle has a lot of plausibility, given that he starts out being Look-at-me-I’m-Cool helping Ukraine. Then there must have been a call from headquarters to say, “Ve haff vays to make you take ze Party line.” After that bizarre turnaround, Putin mucking about seems plausible.
And it would explain why somebody who’s nuts but not entirely stupid would overpay and then dig in deeper to lose more money. Although hard to tell from a distance. He could be that stupid. It’s in line with other arrogant fly-off-the-handle moves he’s made.
I like the idea that driving a Tesla confers the financial acumen to make one qualified to comment on companies.
I’ve driven Teslas. Twice, even. Cool.
I drive a Tesla. I’m starting to feel like an asshole when I do. Thanks for nothing, Elon.
I am likely missing something but there seems to be a few easy things he can do, that have shown success to turn Twitter around.
1) Twitter can score all accounts based upon factors like how many mutes, blocks, how man followers, tenure, posts in a time period (spam), verification status, etc. then allow other users to filter based on score. This would keep his freedom to post anything, while easily allowing people to avoid trash accounts.
2) He could pay content creators similar to Tiktok based on followers, interactions, tied to ads revenue seen by those who say the post. This would incentivize people to help grow Twitter and provide better content. That combined with Vine could set it up to take a big bite from Tiktok if that gets banned.
3) He could charge a one time fee for verification and make it a requirement to be paid. He could also charge for data insights for people really trying to make money, showing what content works. He could also sell the ability to promote tweets (though not bypass point 1).
I wish he would go for easy stuff like this before he tries some of the more controversial plans.
With respect to the theories about what motivated Musk to pull the trigger, I’m not sure any external factors are truly necessary; Musk has a strong pattern of “screw you, I do what I want” behavior, and this fits right in with it. He also seems genuinely excited by the potential he sees in the platform, even if his comparables are suspect.
I think there’s also a bit of Silicon Valley echo chamber influence on his thinking here as well, but that’s just a hunch, nothing definitive to point to.
@MrBoobo – I think the thing you’re missing is the ad revenue. #1 would be aggressively hostile to it, #2 would require a lot more of it, and #3 would not amount to significant new sources of revenue.
All y’all inventing deeper motivations for Musk’s Folly have forgotten Schiller’s Razor:
“Of all possible explanations, the stupidest one is probably correct.”
… Particularly where Musk is concerned.
THere’s also his famous thin-skin; we’ll see how he likes it when the twitterverse roasts him earnest. You know it’s coming.
Alternative social media : having been on mastodon for a while, just followed you there. Cat pictures appreciated, as well as the generative art from earlier in the year.
Just followed you on mastodon
Appreciating the cat pictures and the generative art images.
“I like the idea that driving a Tesla confers the financial acumen to make one qualified to comment on companies.”
Eh, nutswingers gonna nutswing. What else is new?
Musk has a proven track record of overpromising, underdelivering, and backpedaling. It’s already happening with Twitter. He also seems pretty unconcerned by people’s opinions (again, not sure how much of that is “attitude” and how much of it is due to his inability to emulate human behavior, or interpret social cues). Most likely, the Twitter purchase was another failed attempt to come off as “cool”.
I don’t think this dumb move will impact Musk all that much. Or that Twitter will change significantly in the short or the long term. Letting bigots of all imaginable stripes run roughshod over your white elephant is a sure way to drive away advertisers and kiss any chance of recouping your losses goodbye.
Then again, as someone already pointed out, there’s always other people’s money to plug the gaps with.
He thinks he’s Tony Stark, aka a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” when in fact he’s a “…stoned billionaire iconoclast occasionally posting an outrageous opinion for lulz.”
I don’t really like Elon Musk, but I like what he did at Paypal. I thought Tesla would fail, but it survived and is flourishing. SpaceX was a huge gamble, but appears to be paying off and NASA apparently feels the same way too as they shovel trailer loads of contracts it’s way. However, Twitter sounds like an impulse decision made by an impetuous juvenile. Let’s see he winds up regretting his decision a year from now. Cheers.
2 thoughts from a sometimes Twitter user who lives in China (where Twitter is banned.
Wechat is used for almost everything here. I used it today to order a Didi (Chinese Uber), show health codes to go in a few places, pay for groceries, and order dinner, along with chatting and sharing some photos. One reason it has become the general app for everything is that its competitors are banned. Twitter won’t have that very important advantage.
Tesla sold just over 80,000 cars in China in September, which was the best month it ever had, surpassing the previous record set in June. Things are going well, and the Chinese government can end that any time it chooses to. There are Chinese EV manufacturers who would be happy to take Tesla’s market share and no one is going to vote out Xi over this. So what would happen if Beijing tells Musk that unflattering news about China disappears from Twitter or Teslas disappear from showrooms? Conversely, Tesla could be supported by the government if Twitter helps promote accounts that promote Chinese propaganda. Hypotheticals for now, but seems pretty likely to me and others here
In six months watching the Twitter-verse will be like watching Lemmings run over the edge of a cliff.
Musk will drive it into the ground, like he is trying to do with Tesla. He is going to add some crud that isn’t going to work at anything but gumming up the works.
Then both he, and us, will be stuck with it, because the bottom will drop and nobody will want to invest to right the boat.
Within a year it will be a fallow field with a broken irrigation system; worthless.
In a slack I’m in someone said “Quick someone should go register ‘istwitterdeadyet.com’”
Guess who now owns a one-trick-pony of a web site now?
You buried the lede there. No way Musk will have read your long post all the way to the next-to-last paragraph.
Remember several years ago when Yahoo! bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion, changed everything that made the service entertaining for users and profitable for advertisers, then dumped it two years later and ate a 99.7% loss?
This is that, only much more gigantic.
To think he coulda bought Truth Social for $610M.
I thought Tesla would fail, but it survived and is flourishing.
What is your definition of “flourishing”? I don’t think that word quite accounts for the free-fall in its stock price, or the multi-million dollar verdict (and ongoing lawsuits) for permitting discrimination at its plant.
But this is why guys like Musk continue to fail upward.
@pjcamp: Narcissistic Chaos Muppet should be an entry in The Name of My Next Band.
@Fancycwabs … he kinda sorta did buy Truth Social. Just you wait. One major tech news site theorized the problem with far-right Twitter clones such as Gab, Parler, Truth Social, etc., is that they aren’t fun because they’re effectively far-right safe spaces while Twitter has actual lefties they can antagonize. Leave at least two fashoid social media users alone and their discourse is all far-right crap and grievances … and nothing else. It’s as boring as it is toxic. There just aren’t any libs to own, and for many that was the point.
@Mythago, Tesla is flourishing in the sense that as of right now, Tesla is the killer app in the electric car market segment. It’s like the Prius has owned the hybrid segment since the first ones went on the market more than two decades ago. Teslas are also status objects.
However, keep in mind that electric vehicle sales are still like 1% of overall new vehicle sales. In the U.S., the top-selling vehicles are trucks and SUVs with weak gas-mileage. Gas engines are here to stay for a while.
The market is shifting rapidly, though. According to wealth manager and car aficionado Barry Ritholtz, he’s shown that gas-powered vehicle sales in the U.S. peaked about 3-4 years ago and fewer of them are being sold. Hybrids, plug-ins and EVs are enjoying sales growth.
Tesla might not be able to count on its dominant status in the EV space, especially in the fact that Musk’s antics might be alienating the left-leaning car buyers who drove (ahem) Tesla’s growth.
Ford, for instance, cut off pre-orders for the electric version of the F-150 after 300,000. That already makes it one of Ford’s most successful product launches ever.
EVs might be one of the other segments that Japanese and Korean carmakers could end up dominating. Toyota did so well with the Prius that almost every model it offers now has a hybrid version (Corolla has tremendous brand loyalty as a reasonably priced, reliable basic car that translated to popularity when its hybrid option came out); expect that to roll out to a full complement of plug-ins or EV options.
Hyundai might have built its best vehicle ever in the Ioniq 5 EV. The auto press think it’s a Tesla rival. Also, Hyundais might be easier to service because one thing Teslas have done poorly is be a car-car, not just a really technologically advanced car. Maintenance is even more costly than most luxury cars; there are gripes of a set of replacement stock tires costing thousands of dollars, or a headlight assembly costing thousands of dollars that a Toyota mechanic said would cost $250 parts and labor at a dealership.
I’m agnostic about Musk, but your analysis basically relies on him not having thought this through, which I find doubtful. He may not be as smart as his fanbros tout, but he can’t be a complete moron.
“The whole concept of what social media is seems to be undergoing scrutiny”
…since 2016? This was plain to see for a long time. Let’s take this as a fact.
Now, suppose you also had a hypothesis for what came next. What’s the cheapest way to fast track it?
Maybe you can acquire 450M (granted, potentially half leave) active users at $100/ each, and get for free a revenue stream (less than you’d like, after advertiser attrition), an oversized engineering team that surely has top 5% talent, and all the ops and code and … to go with it.
My point is, you have some point of view about Musk, it prevents you from seeing any possibility here.
If you assume he did put some thought into it, might you interpret his actions differently?
Reading the original blog then all the comments that follow it saddens me that so many people are willing to put so much time and effort into this topic.
I fiddled with Facebook for about 6-mo early on but saw where that shit was heading so I got out and never looked back.
As for Twitter, I’ve been doing it longer but mostly to keep up with about 100 friends. As more and more of them leave Titter my wife and I both disabled our accounts yesterday. I’m not supporting Musk in any way and if it’s important for me to contact anyone worth contacting in my sphere af friends, there’s texts and email.
I understand Scalzi has a decent fan base and Twitter is the perfect platform for communicating with folks you don’t actually know, but it doesn’t work that way for me. Bye bye Twitter. No regrets and no looking back.
@Ben D.: No.
Twitter is his now. Whatever his pregroatives are is what Twitter is going to be. Everything from here on out is speculation and spectacle.
I don’t have a horse in this race. I’m not cheering on Twitter to either pull off a dramatic second act like Apple, or to become a red giant and flame out spectacularly. Or something like what Charlie Warzel said in his “Galaxy Brain” piece: Social media are entering their geriatric phase, much like their user bases, and they’ll be forgotten but not gone.
Personally, I checked out of Twitter several years ago, like before the midterms in the Trump presidency. And the decision was surprisingly easy and I have no desire to go back to a lamented past that never was.
Twitter for me was Sturgeon’s Law in action. To refresh: Sturgeon’s Law is “90% of everything is crap.” And that’s even being charitable to Twitter. First, I started muting and blocking magas. That got rid of the toxicity. Now I have a left-leaning feed. But when leftists tweet, they don’t send their best people. The self-righteousness, the sloganeering, the scolding …
I just tuned politics out altogether. I’d check out the trending topics. I could actually sense brain cells popping like bubble wrap after a few minutes.
I’ve then noticed that more and more, people didn’t even bother putting in the minimal effort to condense deep thoughts into 140 or 280 characters. Instead, people will just throw up a meme to say: this animation or macro perfectly summarizes my innermost thoughts and feelings. And it is always the same two dozen or so memes: Black man doing the thinking pose and pointing to his temple; woman doing a spit take; gap-toothed blonde girl making a cringe face; Cary Elwes-looking man blinking …
By then I was just down to colleagues, journalists and writers. Since I had other ways of communicating with co-workers, or in the case of journalists having other platforms for their work, I could follow them to their publications.
For me at least, there’s no desire to go back. And because of who owns it now, I don’t want to help him along.
@ Ben D.:
“If you assume he did put some thought into it, might you interpret his actions differently?”
Musk tried his darnedest to back out of the Twitter deal. That tells you that he did (eventually) put some thought into it, decided he’d screwed himself over, and wanted out. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, so now he’s doing his darnedest to grin and bear it.
The impulse-buy interpretation is in line with Musk’s history of business ventures (he openly bragged about it several years ago). Some of his investments have become incredibly valuable (not necessarily profitable). Others not so much – but these were completely overshadowed by the apparent success of Tesla and PayPal. The difference with Twitter is that everyone’s at least heard of Twitter. If it flames out, it won’t do so quietly.
@SSteve, Hirsch (et al?)
I’m late to the party. But that’s quite a nitpick.
Had he put any thought into it, he wouldn’t have bought Twitter at all, or at the very least not for $44B, and not without being able to do due diligence (which he essentially waived the right to do). So, no, I don’t don’t think he put any actual thought into it. Once he did, as others noted, he tried to back out. The board at Twitter wouldn’t let him, because the members knew they would never again find a pigeon as plump as this. So now he’s stuck. Hubris and money is a hell of a drug.