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Twitter, Musk & Mayhem: The Inside Story!
When losing 14 billion dollars is just another day at the office.
Elon Musk, Founder, CEO and chief engineer of SpaceX, CEO and product architect of Tesla, Inc., President of the Musk Foundation, Founder of the Boring Company and X.com (now part of PayPal), co-founder of Neuralink, OpenAI and Zip2, and now CEO of twitter Inc. Phew. Did I miss anything? Oh yeah - Tesla Energy but maybe that's part of Tesla.
Anyway, Musk’s story starts out like the original tech wunderkind story. Drops out of Stamford after 2 days (proving he might be a little impatient), founds a software company called Zip, sells it after 2 years for $300 million (proving he’s still a little impatient), founds his next X.com merges it to become PayPal and sells it for $1.5 billion.
So far so everyday myth making. I mean it’s a story we've all heard a million times, similar to the kid who started a business in his college dorm or the supermodel discovered in a bus station in Topeka. His path should have been - join or start a vc a la Mark Andreesen. But Musk put consecutive in serial entrepreneur and he's running all those businesses now (except the 2 he sold).
He's also found time to have 10 kids, with I think 4 women but who's counting and apparently couch serves among friends. And why not, homes can be a lot of work and really who are we kidding he'd never be in it so what's the point.
He gets off on twitter, calls himself the memeLord and now Chief Twit, with 100 million followers and counting. He spouts all kinds of crap. Self promoting, sec baiting, challenger of woke and mastered the art of the outrageous like any good attention hog as though running/actively involved in 8? companies and 10 kids didn't give him enough to do.
His somewhat oversized mouth/ego/wallet walked him into the $44 billion twitter deal and all his lawyers couldn't get him out of it. And while before everyone was looking at him and writing about him on occasion, now everyone is looking at him and writing about him in major media multiple times a day. It’s quite exhausting.
Since the purchase at the point of a gun er a Delaware judge on October 27th there have been major pieces (5-10 min reads as the NYT's measures it) in multiple news source every single day. I must have read 10 in the Times alone and I haven't read them all. Who could? And they are opining on Musk and Twitter and why'd he buy it, what he's doing with it, with all the lack of humour and disapproving tsking of an Irish nun at an orphanage in a Dickens novel. Except louder and more nefarious.
To wit: Greg Bensinger of The New York Times argued that Musk's acquisition was "about controlling a megaphone" rather than free speech, while Elizabeth Dwoskin of The Washington Post remarked that Musk's free speech vision for twitter was considered by technologists to be outdated and impractical (presumably because you can’t by ads with Bitcoin which everyone wants to dump).
Don Pittis of CBC News noted the controversy associated with the wealthy gaining control of media platforms. 'Spiked' called it the "battle for control of the Internet", with Business Insider's Ben Gilber calling the purchase the latest "battleground" in the culture war between Democrats and Republicans.
Meanwhile, David Auerbach of UnHerd saw the purchase as indicative of a "major flashpoint" in the transition of society to "a more decentralized, chaotic, and devolved world". I. e. Web 3, so take that! Musk himself has said, “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” Pretty words?
He believes in the libertarian ideal of free speech, twitter should be a true public square open to all and let's face it, have you been to Central Park and seen some of the guys out there orating to whoever passes by? For Musk, twitter should be that on steroids. He's said he is going to create an inclusive arena for free speech. He planned to add features to the platform, make its algorithms open-source, fight spambot accounts, and promote free speech (again).
The first acts were hard and fast in keeping with how he's worked in the past. He took the KKR playbook er contract out on top management, fired half the staff in his 2nd nano second at the company (his 1st nano second he installed a sink??), tried reassuring the advertisers (90% of Twitter’s $5billion yearly revenues) about content moderation by only firing 10% of that team (have the rest of them left by now?) and has started changing algorithms and trying new features.
Mayhem, what mayhem?
The advertisers haven't really bought into Musks new strategy yet, hence a new statement talks about allowing all speech except illegal speech... Wary activists worry that means in places like India which just passed draconian laws making political speech on social media illegal and they'll lose their voice. Twitter had challenged that law in court. Will they continue that challenge? The new head of content moderation who had been the old heads no. 2, the guy who had said just last week that content moderation was actually stronger then it had ever been before at twitter just quit.
Several banned accounts notably Jordan Peterson, Kanye, and of course Trump have been reinstated without the promised Moderation Council and well it's a private company now so he can do what he wants. Musk has said he will allow all speech but not allow the algorithm to promote violent, offensive speech and misinformation or conspiracy theory stuff.
Advertisers continue to press pause and new revenue streams haven't come online. Musk warned twitter could go bankrupt which is looking easier to deliver by the day/Elon-tweet/office-open/close/open-policy. He said staff should be willing and ready to go hardcore, all hours. If he was in the Godfather he'd be going to the mattresses. But it's not a movie although he's used all these somewhat theatrical tactics before in his other ventures.
I'd say 80% of the world in business and media is watching and thinking what a trainwreck and what'll replace twitter when it crashes. Mastodon?? Have you tried it?! Most of those think it's mid crash and only a matter of time before it's demise. I guess if you're worth over $300 billion - $14 billion (which he personally invested) doesn't matter. And maybe he's just dragging twitter kicking and screaming through a burning building and he'll get it out into a hyperbaric chamber and over the next year with a fresh, healthier skin. Who knows.
But if past is prologue Musk seems as likely as anyone to pull it through.
For political activists twitter was a way to publicly communicate and organize, efficiently and safely. Remember the exciting times of the Arab Spring. In fact in India, Iran, Africa, maybe Turkey it’s used that way right now. A far cry from the ego/talent/political antics back in Silicon Valley. Politics… what politics? It’s all business baby!
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