Twitter might go down as the most expensive impulse-buy in history.
After all, Elon Musk never really wanted to buy Twitter to begin with.
Musk offered, seemingly in jest, to buy the company in January 2022.
Cheered on by members of the far-right, Musk began investing in Twitter around the same time. By March, Musk owned 9.2% of the company, making him the largest shareholder.
By early April, Musk announced he planned to buy twitter for $43 billion - which was 38% higher than the company’s worth the day before he made the announcement. At the time, Musk lied in an SEC filing that he already secured the financing for the purchase.
By the end of the month, Twitter had implemented a poison pill to prevent the takeover, but eventually accepted Musk’s final offer of $44 billion.
By mid-May 2022, Musk started trying to weasel his way out of the purchase, questioning an audit of Twitter’s users which found less than 5% of accounts were fake. Two hours later he recanted. A few weeks later he was back at it, trying to find ways out of the deal.
Then Musk found out he was trapped when Twitter sued him, caving to pressure and finalizing the purchase at the original offer price the day before the trial. Musk had to dump $8.5 billion in Tesla stock to pay for it.
Chaos since the takeover
That brings us today, with Twitter tanking and Musk in precarious business deals with foreign adversaries to save the former “TIME Person of the Year” from bankruptcy. (FYI, you can bid, advertise and essentially buy “person of the year.”)
Early on in the acquisition, rumors started that Musk took over Twitter with the intent to destroy it. I dismissed the allegations as nothing more than rumor, bordering conspiracy theory.
Why would the CEO of a successful car, clean-energy and space exploration company spend $40 billion on a social media platform already in decline just to destroy it?
Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between.
Musk’s inability to take rejection or be publicly humiliated led him to make some very poor and impulsive decisions in the Twitter deal, and he’s insuring his own financial stability by working with people and groups looking to exploit his situation by offering money in exchange for access, data and control of the popular social media platform.
The Twitter takeover has irreparably damaged Elon Musk’s reputation and brand and put Musk in dire financial straits.
After all, Musk isn’t famous for being attractive, funny, talented, creative, charismatic, street-smart or particularly entertaining; Musk’s entire persona and fame is built upon his wealth and supposed “business instincts.”
Without his wealth, Elon Musk would have nothing. Twitter’s value has declined by nearly 50% in just six months - meaning musk has lost half his investment and still owes $8 billion to the Saudi royal family.
The Twitter takeover was characterized as financially risky, even a bad investment, given the declining use of the platform and the overlapping investigations and even arrests involving illegal foreign surveillance by both Saudi Arabia and China.
But what stands out about Musk’s behavior as CEO of Twitter isn’t the damage he’s done to himself, but rather the methodical and rapid dismantling of the platform.
Pundits attribute Musk’s destruction of Twitter to a variety of reasons – a lack of knowledge about what Twitter is and how it works, ideologically-driven policies backfiring and driving away users, the reinstatement of digital terrorists, and Musk’s lack of knowledge of code and misguided and disruptive algorithm tweeks (including the one to boost his own profile above all others).
Twitter hasn’t been paying its bills, Musk fired a large share of its critical staff, and the continued public blunders (brief list below) have driven some of the platform’s biggest influencers off the site. You’ll notice the most embarrassing mistakes had nothing to do with politics at all:
The disaster of the paid Twitter Blue subscription service launch that undermined authenticity on the site and led to a flood of fake impersonation accounts. The verification system was designed as a (very imperfect) security measure for high-profile celebrities, politicians and journalists to prevent other people from creating imposter accounts. Elon never understood this. His threats to remove legacy verification, then keeping it, then lashing out and removing the New York Times’ badge because they said they wouldn’t pay for it, threatened the one cohort of people that keep Twitter going: Famous people.
Falsely claiming Twitter users had doxxed him (they did not) and falsely claiming said non-existent doxxing led to him being attacked (it did not) and constituted publishing “assassination coordinates”
A painfully embarrassing Twitter poll in which Musk asked users if he should resign as CEO and pledged to “abide by the outcome of this poll.” Twitter users overwhelmingly voted Musk out in the December 19, 2022 poll and Musk has yet to resign. Musk, after several days of silence, later claimed the poll was a “rigged election” (on his own platform) and despite having no evidence and having previously claimed he had already removed all the bots off twitter decided to instead change how Twitter polls work.
Mocking one of Twitter’s most notable employees with ableist language, then feverishly apologizing once he got a call from legal. The employee, Haraldur Thorleifsson, is an all-around badass, brilliant data engineer, and bonafide saint. He was named Iceland’s Person of the Year in 2022, awarded the Order of the Falcon for chivalry in his contributions to social issues, and started a non-profit building thousands of wheelchair ramps across the country. Follow him here.
The force-feeding of the self-titled “Twitter Files” and subsequent complaining that both Twitter users and the media didn’t buy his overtly political, selectively-shared “exposing” of the inner-workings of Twitter.
Twitter’s authentic user base has been shrinking for years, especially as more popular platforms like TikTok siphoned off younger users - Twitter’s core demographic. TikTok today has nearly twice the number of users than Twitter.
American use of Twitter peaked in 2018 before dropping each year onward.
Contrast that to Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Reddit which have all experienced consistent annual growth since 2012.
Twitter also lacked major competitors outside of the legacy social media networks like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram two years ago.
What’s left after the mishaps and feature failures might be killed off by the politically-motivated changes.
Twitter has always been a predominately liberal-leaning space - second only to Instagram in the gap between republican vs democratic-leaning users.
That’s partly because Twitter’s core users consist of educated, working-class millennials and Gen Z.
Pre-Musk, the most followed accounts were world leaders (President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi), entertainers (Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber), athletes (Neymar Jr. , Lebron James and Christiano Ronaldo), a few nerdy outliers (NASA, Bill Gates) and major media outlets (CNN, The New York Times and the BBC).
The press’ utilization of (or problematic dependency on, depending who you ask) the site makes Twitter’s content a regular feature of news stories. Hell, desperate outlets write entire stories around tweets (they really, really need to stop doing that, but I digress).
Without the celebrities, athletes and journalists who drive Twitter, Musk could be in big trouble. And those are the groups he’s been targeting the most.
So why forcefully inject far-right voices into a platform where a disproportionately large share of the users “lean Democrat” when you’re at risk of losing a $44 billion investment?
How did we get here?
You can’t discuss Twitter’s downfall without considering the man who became the catalyst for it.
The self-made billionaire fairy tale Elon Musk’s sycophants regurgitate online is an entire fabrication.
Musk used his father’s blood money to build and sell startups and eventually buy his spot at Tesla.
Musk didn’t create Tesla, two American engineers did. Musk didn’t bully his way into Tesla until well-after the company’s business plan and core mission were developed, then pressured the real founders into a legal agreement so that Musk could call himself a “co-founder,” even though he was not.
His own father’s statement about Musk’s younger years should induce instant vomiting from those who worship him most:
From the Independent: As a result of this, the teenage Elon Musk once walked the streets of New York with emeralds in his pocket. His father said: “We were very wealthy. We had so much money at times we couldn’t even close our safe,” adding that one person would have to hold the money in place with another closing the door. “And then there’d still be all these notes sticking out and we’d sort of pull them out and put them in our pockets.”
Tesla worked to insulate itself from Musk’s apparent inattentiveness and impulsivity, but it didn’t always work.
That’s when we get to one of the lowest points in Musk’s public life.
Musk spent two years doing damage control after an alleged mental breakdown following the 2019 Cybertruck reveal in which the vehicle’s “bulletproof” window shattered on stage.
“It is literally bulletproof to a nine-millimeter handgun, that’s how strong it is,” Musk said when revealing the concept earlier that year.
Public ridicule ensued and Musk eventually declared the entire cybertruck project “dead.”
In 2019, Elon Musk didn’t even register as a twitter super-account in terms of followers.
Musk’s feed consisted largely of random memes about hot pockets, Tesla / SpaceX promotions, reducing congestion and traffic, the benefits of tunnels, and a myriad of innocuous and business-centered content.
But a few major incidents should have set off some red flags a while ago.
Musk started a personal vendetta against one of the men who rescued a soccer team that became trapped in a cave in Thailand due to flooding in July 2018.
The rescue, led primarily by two British divers in what was perceived as a suicide mission, successfully saved every one of the kids trapped in the cave. A navy diver died navigating the 2.5 miles of narrow, flooded passages. Another diver died later from an infection he acquired while in the cave.
Musk felt entitled to chime in, suggesting that a “kid submarine” could easily get the job done. He flew himself to Thailand and the locals placated him by letting him play with his tech while continuing the real rescue plan. No one invited Musk. No one asked for his help. The help he offered wasn’t even usable.
The diver who managed to pull off the impossible in the rescue was asked about Musk’s “kid-sub” and said it was just a “PR stunt,” as Musk had no idea what he was talking about.
So Elon Musk accused the diver and hero of being a pedophile.
No, really. He did that.
Musk also publicly attacked and then encouraged harassment of the Tesla whistleblower. Labor law violations, accusations of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and alleged racism at his company often overshadowed his successes. Then there was the US Department of Justice investigation with Musk’s fake-news tweets to pump up Tesla stock.
About that time, Musk also began publicly gravitating toward support for Donald Trump and other populist fascists, enjoying the public attention.
Foreign efforts to infiltrate American discourse leading up to the 2020 election enabled Musk to capitalize on his already-fringe beliefs and to elevate his profile even higher.
After the takeover, Musk began engaging in information warfare, positioning himself as chief conspiracy theorist on the platform, sharing propaganda from Russian troll-farms, retweeting and interacting with domestic terrorists, and undermining every safety feature Twitter enacted to protect themselves from Congressional oversight.
Musk even called the New York Times- the world’s preeminent newspaper - “propaganda” on April 2, and stripped the news service of its legacy verified status after a known disinformation operative shared a meme with him about the agency’s refusal to pay $1,000 a month to maintain that status.
Maybe, like with Trump and the Presidency, Musk never wanted to buy Twitter but got high on the attention and ran with it. And, just like Trump, spent his time at the top pandering to white supremacists, spreading COVID-19 disinformation, and dragging the organization into the gutter.
Or maybe it’s something worse.
Some of that transparency Musk promised but has failed to deliver would sure come in handy right about now.