Twitter? I hardly know 'er!
Because titles are hard.
In news that feels like it now requires an opening text crawl like a Star Wars movie, Elon Musk owns Twitter.
To recap, as briefly as I can manage: Elon Musk, an Oedipus complex so severe it has taken on physical form and begun puppeting the flabby shell of a Silicon Valley tech bro, anounced an intention to buy Twitter.
Twitter, a sort of diet Hellscape in digital form, has been around since 2008 and only turned a profit for two of those years, so its owners were willing to listen when Elon Musk declared his interest. Pretty soon, they’d locked Elon into a deal to buy the Bluebird of Unhappiness for forty-four billion dollars.
This was many multiples of what most people estimated the platform to be worth, but Elon had already signed the paperwork. He is, after all, the world’s richest and therefore presumably smartest man, so there was no way he could be getting scammed as he’s two hundred billion times smarter than normal people.
Then Elon saw everyone pointing out what a terrible deal he’d made in agreeing to buy a money-losing platform for a staggeringly inflated price. Thinking quickly, Elon decided to use his special genius brain and came up with a solution: “Nuh-UH!” he said, and folded his arms and pouted until Twitter went away.
This proved unsuccessful when Twitter’s board pointed out that he’d already agreed to buy the company, and that if he pulled out of the deal they could sue him for breach of contract and he’d owe them the same amount of money without anything to show for it.
Musk briefly tried to stall in court, but when it emerged that the court would require access to a lot of his personal communications and would thereby be making them public, Elon sprang into action again and declared that he was going to buy Twitter just like he’d been planning to all along, and that he didn’t care about the money anyway because he was doing it “for the good of humanity.”
His plan to improve humanity seems to be to allow racists and the mentally ill back onto Twitter en masse. Previously, there were laughably ineffectual and watered down attempts to police Twitter’s users for things like hate speech. They were borderline useless, because unless you egregiously threatened violence or used racial epithets to an audience of thousands, you’d probably go ignored. Everyday users - journalists, activists, local political figures, even just casual tweeters - are constantly subjected to threats of violence and rape, or else just a background hum of abuse over their gender or race or sexuality. However, when a prominent figure like Kanye West goes on an anti-semitic tirade, Twitter at least suspends that account as a sop to user protection.
“Fuck that,” decided Elon Musk, who described himself as a “free speech absolutist.” What Twitter needed was to ditch any and all content regulation, no matter how ineffectual it may have been to begin with.
So, to return to where we came in, Elon Musk owns Twitter. In an unlikely turn of events, I couldn’t be happier. Because it’s going down in flames at a speed even the most cynical of us couldn’t have predicted. Here are the problems that Elon is about to fail to solve in the most public forum imaginable.
It’s A Financial Sink Hole.
As mentioned, Twitter has never been profitable. This isn’t a warning Musk is psychologically capable of heeding, because in exact opposition to this, Elon has never been poor. He grew up funded by his father’s emerald mine. He honestly has no concept of what “not having any money” means.
Unfortunately for him, Musk also exists at the financial level of a corporation or a nation state, which is to say that money to him is essentially imaginary. He doesn’t have a giant money bin full of coins like Scrooge McDuck. All of his two hundred billion dollar “worth” actually comes from owning shares in Tesla and SpaceX. If he has to keep propping up Twitter as a failing entity, he’s going to have to hand over his shares.
Once again: Twitter doesn’t make any money. Never has. It’s been making a loss for twelve of the fourteen years it has existed. So Elon is almost certainly going to have to keep throwing money (by which I mean “Tesla shares”) at Twitter, and the more he does that, the less of Tesla he will own. There’s a very real chance that he could lose control of Tesla because Twitter is going to Pac Man its way through his stock portfolio.
Elon’s Genius Brain Saves The Day.
A lesser man than Elon (or at least a more self-aware one) would probably panic at this point, but don’t worry. Elon Musk didn’t get where he is today by being bad at business. He got where he was today by using daddy’s money to fail upwards and lying to investors whilst being bad at business.
In particular, Elon has declared Twitter will be a free speech bastion and people will be able to say what they want. This led to an enormous uptick in use of racial and sexual slurs as soon as his takeover was complete, which is going to create a problem when it comes to keeping advertisers on the site.
The only way Twitter has tried to make money is through advertising in people’s feeds, and most companies are wary of having ads for their product sharing an online space with literal Nazis. Sure, you might get Volkswagon and Hugo Boss and IBM to risk it, but this isn’t a morality issue - it’s one of cold, hard capitalism. Woke is profitable. Being seen to be a brand that is okay with bigotry will be detrimental to the bottom line, and more advertisers will jump ship the more Twitter drowns in hate speech.
Musk’s only option to retain advertisers and perhaps a slim chance at avoiding financial ruin will therefore be to start moderating Twitter again and banning the hate speech that drives advertisers away. Except he can’t do that, either, because as soon as he starts banning the weird, basement dwelling racists that make up his fan base they will turn on him, and Hell hath no fury like an incel scorned.
If he keeps his promise to be a “Free Speech Absolutist” he’s going to lose all the advertisers on the platform. If he doesn’t, he’s going to be in the path of a volcanic eruption of betrayal and rage, spewing from some of the most unhinged people imaginable.
This might be what led Elon to find a third path: Charging people to use Twitter! Specifically, the idea was floated that blue tick accounts (the accounts verified as actually belonging to public figures and celebrities) would have to pay twenty dollars a month to keep the little blue tick next to their name.
Stephen King became the focus of the debate, when he pointed out that if anything, Musk should be paying big names to use his platform, not the other way around. Musk, using the acumen that we should expect, asked King if he would be willing to pay eight dollars a month. It was a neat encapsulation of Elon Musk’s prowess as a negotiator.
The plan now seems to be that anyone can pay eight dollars a month to acquire a verification tick, which would undermine the point of having one in the first place, to say nothing of the fact that the “free” speech warrior is now charging people to speak as themselves. Or perhaps as someone else. It remains to be seen if someone else can pay eight dollars and have themselves verified as Stephen King, but an issue like this is a drop in the bucket of problems Elon has given himself by not thinking things through.
The Swiss Approach.
One way out of the dilemma Elon finds himself in could be to simply open the flood gates and turn Twitter into a full blown right wing hatespeech free-for-all. I call this the Swiss Approach, because you’d be surprised how wealthy you can get by taking money from the Nazis.
Unfortunately, Elon isn’t just a bad businessman. He’s a bad con artist, too. I’m pretty sure that Musk, who grew up rich and white in apartheid South Africa and whose factories have faced lawsuits over segretation of their workforces, doesn’t have a problem with racists. I’m not saying he is one, I’m not saying he’s not. I’m just saying he’s very comfortable with them, and vice versa, and also that he is.
So Elon would probably be fine with letting the Far Right dominate Twitter, and if they’re willing to pay, maybe he could salvage some cash out of this whole mess. As bait, maybe he would let people like Donald Trump back onto the platform.
Except that Trump has already started his own, rival social media network for racists (“Truth Social”) which is also failing. If Trump migrated back to Twitter and brought his demented flock with him, it would be the death knell for Truth Social and would therefore cost Trump money. I doubt Trump is going to do that, and would guess that the Mango Mussolini would encourage his followers not to go back to Twitter at all.
Elon could exploit the racist market, but he’s too late to the party. He can’t exploit people whose pockets have already been picked by a different scammer.
He Can’t Get Rid Of It.
Watching this absolute train wreck from afar has done nothing but highlight the problems that Twitter as a platform faces. By extension, this means that Elon has virtually no chance of getting rid of his new acquisition. There are only a handful of people in the world who might be able to buy it from him, and they’ve all just seen what a terrible investment it is in real time.
Essentially, Elon has bought a used Fiat with a Ferrari sticker on it, driven it once around the block until it caught fire, and is now desperately looking for someone to take it off his hands before it burns down to the rims.
Of course, it’s not a perfect analogy. Car fires are fast, whereas Elon can keep Twitter stumbling on for a while, as long as he has the world’s deepest pockets. Except…
The Emperor Has No Clothes.
A quick glance at Tesla would tell you a couple of things. It’s the most profitable car brand in the world and it got there by selling its proprietary electric vehicles.
Look a little closer and neither of those things is true.
Tesla is, in fact, the most over-valued car company in the world. Without getting too deeply into it, the measurement of the discrepancy between stock price and real world value for a car company tends to hover around fifteen points. Ford has a discrepancy value of about seven points. Tesla, meanwhile, scores around seventy.
If this weren’t bad enough, Tesla, like Twitter, has never been profitable. The way that Tesla has made whatever money it has so far managed to make is not through selling cars (it doesn’t sell enough of them and they’re too expensive to make) but rather through selling carbon credits.
As a “green” company, Telsa is awarded carbon credits by various governments for reducing emissions, and Tesla then sells those credits on to other people. Meaning that the amount of carbon released is the same, but Tesla sells polluting companies a magic ticket to say that they have not, in fact, released the carbon they have already released.
It’s pretty awful, but maybe one day Elon’s company will turn the corner in terms of profitability and we’ll all drive electric cars and save the world?
No chance. The cars run on giant batteries, and there isn’t enough lithium on planet earth to make enough Tesla batteries for everyone in a major city to own one, much less the world. (Mars has enormous lithium deposits - it’s one of the reasons Elon wants to go there.)
So Tesla is a sham, and - so far - Elon has managed to con the world into thinking the company is much more valuable and successful than it actually is.
Unfortunately, the same ridiculous financial system that allows people to succeed on confidence (if you can convince investors you’re a genius they’ll give you money) is also notoriously skittish, with many investors having been burned before, for some unknown reason.
With his acquisition of Twitter, Musk has proved that he’s an idiot who makes bad decisions. It will increasingly highlight the fact that he makes bad decisions and doesn’t know how to run a company. The more obvious this becomes, the less confident people will be in the solidity of Tesla as a business.
If the Tesla stock price drops due to investor unease, Musk loses money. Which means when Twitter loses money, he will have to put more of his Tesla shares into the business because they’re now worth less, which accelerates the risk of losing control of Telsa and/or SpaceX. And he can’t sell Twitter to stop the cycle without taking an absolutely brutal loss, now that everyone can see Twitter is a losing proposition. If Musk does somehow succeed at offloading Twitter, losing billions in the process, it will only serve to underline what a terrible businessman he is, and Tesla shares will likely drop further.
Weird Musk fanboys will tell you that he is a genius. I’ve always laughed at the idea, but to be clear: Elon Musk has managed to ruin the life and finances of the world’s richest man with a single move. Granted, that man is himself, but none of us could have fucked his life up this thoroughly. It takes a truly special brain to be able to do it.
So What Now?
When Musk first said he was going to acquire Twitter, like most people, I started looking for other platforms. This time, however, I might stick around and watch it burn.
The butterfly effects of Elon’s decision could be enormous. What will happen if the world’s richest man torches his own personal fortune?
Probably nothing. The title of World’s Richest Man has passed around pretty swiftly in recent years and it hasn’t made too much difference to most of us - I don’t particularly care if Elon Musk has more money than Jeff Bezos, who has more money than Bill Gates, and so forth.
In this instance, Elon may well lose control of increasingly worthless chunks of his increasingly worthless car company, but that just means the shares will be owned by other rich kids and another car company will probably step in to fill the gap. It will be interesting, however, to watch the face of Late Stage Capitalism destroyed by hubris in real time, perhaps destabilising the necrotic economies of the West to the point where we finally see some change.
If nothing else, as Elon’s dreams collapse and he is forced to sell off his shares to others, we will probably get to see Elon Musk, The World’s Richest Man, unwillingly redistributing his wealth to others.
And if that can happen to the biggest fish in the pond, maybe there’s some hope that we can force the same fate on the rest of them.
Sue me, hairplugs, I need the publicity.