Elon Musk and the Twitterverse of Sadness
This post is #sponsored by Marvel.
Happy Friday my beautiful babies. I hope you all enjoyed last week’s piece by our guest writer, Alex Andreyev. Overall, it wasn’t an incredibly busy week aside from the Musk news, but we can go over that and do some should-reads.
Before I even really get into it, I have to warn you that a lot of this piece is going to be me doing super old man stuff and reflecting on the “good old days” of Twitter. But I do think it has a different place in the minds of the general public and the weirdos who have been on it since 2009, like me.
Donald Trump obviously changed the perception of Twitter, which I think was a pretty niche social media network before his 2016 Campaign. Twitter is fundamentally different from other social media sites like Facebook or Instagram because Twitter is really the only one that is heavily populated by political journalists. Although you can waltz into Twitter and find your own community, it is unique amongst other sites due to the heavy population of journalists publicly talking about politics. Just yesterday, the New York Times’ economics desk ran a piece on the GDP report, an economist criticized it on Twitter, and the reporter who wrote the piece defended it on Twitter. That is pretty cool!
That’s partly why Musk targeted Twitter for a takeover. Although he’s an avid Twitter user (Twitterer?), there is a reason why he spent $44 billion to buy it, rather than, say Snapchat, which would have been considerably cheaper. I’m sure there are some people who think Musk’s true goal is to make Twitter better and more profitable, but any honest person would admit that part of the reason for Musk’s takeover is to make journalists (and the Left) angry. In other words, Musk - who has a penchant for trolling - is just trolling.
But that’s a lot of cheddar to spend just for the lulz, so let’s look at the particulars of the deal. If you want to read the whole thing and feel the light of existence slowly leave your body, you can find it here. To get the easy part out of the way, I think a lot of people have misunderstood a few things about the deal. For one, Musk cannot pull a Michael Scott and just declare that he owns Twitter. According to the actual legal documents, it looks like it won’t be finalized until the Fall, after he creates separate companies and merges them with Twitter (this is boring mergers and acquisitions stuff, a.k.a., the worst field of law). So, if you have seen any conservatives saying they magically got let back onto Twitter thanks to Elon, they are lying to you (but based on who it was, you knew that already).
That said, I think there is still a real likelihood that Musk will back out. For one, he is objectively overpaying for Twitter; the buying price is about 38% more than its actual value. For another, it has been super hard for Twitter to squeeze out a profit. In short, Musk ultimately wants to tie up a huge chunk of his wealth in a company that is both hard to manage and barely profitable, and somehow he is trying to convince us that it is good business. It seems like only a matter of time before he comes to his senses, even if he did sell 4 billion dollars worth of Tesla stock yesterday, presumably to fund the deal.
Twitter itself is probably happy to take the deal since it gives them a higher payout than their current stock price, and they’ve also put in place a number of triggers that get them some easy money from Musk (if he backs out, for instance, he has to pay Twitter $1 billion, cash). Meanwhile, Musk has to invest a huge amount of his own cash into managing a social media company, which means he will have to pull money away from Tesla. It is like he’s taking out a second mortgage to buy 2007 Hyundai Sonata.
The last point is really what makes me skeptical that he will go through with it: One of Musk’s purported reasons for buying Twitter and redoing the rules is so that it can become a sort of “Town Hall” with fewer restrictions. But one of Twitter’s biggest enemies is the Chinese government, which wants more regulation on Twitter, particularly in Hong Kong. Twitter has been in a long-standing fight against China over the issue.
Tesla does a ton of business in China, and not only in the private sector. Therefore, Musk is going to find himself facing off against a Chinese government that he needs if he wants his car company to be profitable in Asia. And Tesla is a much bigger prize than Twitter.
Leaving all that aside, I think there are big risks to someone like Musk taking over Twitter. There is the general ickiness of a billionaire getting bored and purchasing a giant social media company, but I am less bothered by that because a different billionaire ran it previously. The main issue comes from Musk’s statements about allowing unregulated free speech on the platform. This goes back into the public’s understanding of Twitter vs. Twitter’s actual functionality, but there was a time - not that long ago - where Twitter was much less regulated than it is now and it was miserable.
During the 2016 election cycle, Twitter was awash with Neo-Nazi zombie accounts threatening to send everyone to the concentration camps (again?). I know this firsthand, because I used to get these messages:
A lot of journalists complained about the amount of abuse on the platform from Neo-Nazi trolls. It took a while, but Twitter did do some large-scale bans, and it looks like our friend @cheddarsammich was one of them.
Then, throughout the Trump Presidency, various people (on the Left and Right) warned about the growing presence of QAnon on the site and urged Twitter to take action. While some accounts were purged in 2020, the bulk of it didn’t happen until after January 6th. In other words, the new “free speech” version of Twitter that Musk envisions has already been tried and it was pretty shitty. And while you can say “free speech” is more important than the feelings of a platform’s users (if you don’t like the new version of Twitter, you can feel free to leave it), this is where we circle back to the profit motive of Musk. It wasn’t until after Twitter put all these safety protections in place that it became profitable. This is because the people who make Twitter money - advertisers - are less likely to promote Dancing with the Stars on a platform that is rife with fat Neo-Nazis tweeting swastikas at the official @NBC account from underneath a bridge in Southeastern Ohio. If Elon thinks he can make that version of Twitter profitable, then perhaps he is a smarter billionaire than we all thought.
I think there is also something to be said of the “censoring” of people who repeatedly spread misinformation. The elephant in the room is obviously the prospect of President Trump returning to Twitter (which is a major reason why Musk bought it, don’t kid yourself). But if COVID-19 has taught us anything, we should be extra worried about giving megaphones to grifting sycophants who don’t actually care about public health or (in Trump’s case) the legal jeopardy of individuals. Right now, Trump is a free man relaxing at his mansion in Florida, while a bunch of people he incited on January 6th are being sentenced to prison. Those are real people, with real families.
COVID is also a major factor. Musk himself has been a purveyor of COVID misinformation, and we have tangible evidence that people who consume false information about COVID are more likely to die of it. QAnon itself currently has a growing body count, with the most disturbing case involving a California man who killed his two year-old son and 10 month-old daughter with a spearfishing gun because he thought they possessed the “serpent DNA” of QAnon’s “Cabal.” That is real, tragic, and horrible pain, and in the meantime Ron Watkins is running for office in Arizona.
I will fully admit that I used to have a goofy libertarian belief that the best way to get rid of bad speech is to simply have “more speech”. That was before I became a Calvinist. I don’t see how you can look at the 1 million deaths from COVID, a Dad who killed his own children after being sucked into a QAnon rabbit hole, and conclude that Twitter’s restrictions are too oppressive.
I liked this piece on Trump’s attempts to steal the 2020 election. It is just one Boomer misadventure after another.
Olga Khazan has a good piece on how Republicans are getting Sex Education all wrong.
Hey look, a Twitter thread! This is a good explainer on why the topline GDP number yesterday wasn’t so bad:
Noah Rothman, in a good piece, pushes back on the freakout about Musk owning Twitter.
If you are wondering why I am not writing on the Kevin McCarthy tapes, it’s because I get my own copy of the book on Tuesday.
I am outing myself as a hip-hop head (is that a bad thing though?), but this album is absolutely bonkers. Fun preview:
Enjoy the weekend my habibis. I’ll see you next Friday.