Why Elon Musk will win the Twitter wars

Jeremy Stern
Jeremy Stern
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
8 min read

“Better to think of him as some sort of pagan god…than as a savior or hero,” the programmer known as Roon recently tweeted of Elon Musk. “Powerful, extraordinary, chaotic, capricious.”

Indeed, Musk’s nascent tenure as CEO of Twitter, Inc. might have made Zeus’s head spin. After he signed a binding merger agreement to purchase Twitter for $44 billion, Musk changed his mind over the summer and told Twitter he was no longer interested, at which point Twitter predictably sued him. Musk unsurprisingly had to pay. In the days before the deal finally closed, Musk publicly accused Twitter of colossal fraud; in his first days as CEO, having lost a huge sum on the acquisition, he publicly warned of the company’s impending bankruptcy. He then proceeded to threaten advertisers with a “thermonuclear name and shame” against any company that paused its ad spending; fired and then un-fired a number of employees; arbitrarily banned users for mocking him; introduced and then withdrew a new verification service; then tried to negotiate the terms of the verification service with the horror fiction writer Stephen King.

For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

As of this week, Musk has promised to publish the “Twitter files on free speech suppression” in what he calls “a battle for the future of civilization,” and to build a new smartphone if Apple and Google make good on threats to remove Twitter from their app stores. Musk has also declared war on Apple over its complicity in Chinese free speech suppression, among other crimes. After Musk sold 20 million shares of Tesla to finance his Twitter purchase in early November, Tesla’s stock dropped by half.

Musk has also shared his plans for converting Twitter from an addictively unpleasant low-tech social media product into a supposedly less unpleasant but even more addictive higher-tech “everything app” which—in addition to giving journalists, academics, and epidemiologists the chance to reveal themselves as emotionally disturbed freaks—will also facilitate payments, end-to-end encryption for direct messages, more transparent content moderation, and less intrusive and ideologically slanted speech regulations. Perhaps the algorithm that generates “trending stories” will also improve by pushing fewer headlines like “Pete Davidson opened up about trauma therapy. Black Twitter is conflicted.”

As the Twittersphere turns, Musk will likely continue to get in fights with lesser celebrities, make fun of Bill Gates’s physical appearance, and otherwise deliver one of the most bizarre and entertaining one-man shows on earth. But will he succeed as the human being at Twitter with ultimate fiduciary responsibility for having a sane business plan, reporting financials, and turning profits? Who knows!

The case for optimism seems to be that Twitter’s existing proprietary technology is bad, and Musk has accomplished more difficult feats of business and engineering prowess before. A convincing case for pessimism, at least with regards to the speech wars, comes again from Roon, who warned in April that “the free speech compromises Twitter and [Facebook] have made are a delicate balance between users, employees, governments, and ad buyers. This is what they’ve had to do to run them. I think ‘glorious leaders’ can help on the margin but it’s not the same as an engineering megaproject. These are mostly not technology problems.”

The bottom line is that what makes the Twitter wars America’s favorite reality show is that no one has any idea what the 21st century’s most iconoclastic entrepreneur will or won’t do with one of the most impactful communication platforms ever invented. The one thing we do know for sure is that we can safely ignore the confident predictions of Twitter’s most miserably dependent junkies—the blue check-marked media, the college professors, the misinformation/disinformation set, and anyone else who identifies themselves as an “expert” in their bio. This group is sometimes referred to collectively as the “extremely online” (which overlaps in important ways with a related group, the “professional-managerial class”) and has long hated Musk with an intensity normally reserved only for Donald Trump and people who refuse to wear surgical masks outdoors. As soon as Musk took over Twitter, the extremely online threatened to walk en masse to competitor platform Mastodon. (They didn’t.) When the new CEO fired a number of “human rights” employees, the extremely online seemed genuinely convinced that Twitter’s servers would go dark in a matter of hours (They didn’t.) Now, their only hope for salvation seems to be the president of the United States, whose press secretary vowed menacingly on Tuesday that the White House is keeping a “close eye” on Musk’s stewardship of Twitter.

Many—as in, billions—of non-Americans who seem to reflexively like and admire Elon Musk might be wondering why so many of his most visible and vocal peers so passionately despise him. There are some obvious reasons, including the petty resentment of millionaires for billionaires, Musk’s interest in cool things like cars and rockets rather than “important” things like who gets to use which bathroom, and the fact that it reportedly took Musk less than 30 minutes to decide Sam Bankman-Fried was a criminal fraud while many of Musk’s more credulous or cynical enemies were busy taking the disgraced Ponzi schemer’s money.

A more under-explored reason, though, might have to do with their sense that Musk the Nerd God also has a conspicuous knack for forging strong and authentic connections to hundreds of millions of normal people. With large parts of the American cultural, intellectual, and political establishments dissolve into self-satire over issues like “gender-affirming care” while epidemics of crime and educational failure erode the foundations of America’s social cohesion, it’s clear to most ordinary people that the country’s leadership class has lost the plot. For anyone who believes that “experts” clearly have no idea what they’re doing, Musk often strikes a refreshing and inspiring figure—the irreverent, flawed, iron-willed, all-too-human super-genius who rolls over “respectable” people and institutions like a paving machine, cackling and shitposting and making billions of dollars and siring legions of children as he goes his merry way.

This makes Musk a hard target to hit. To accuse him of making too much money from building electric cars and reusable rocket ships doesn’t hurt him with people who see the system as being rigged in favor of rent-seeking bankers, lobbyists, and politicians. To blame him for spreading “misinformation” doesn’t hurt him with people who believe that the media and government are lying to them about everything all the time. To charge him with insanity doesn’t hurt him with people who like to imagine that they’d have the balls to walk and talk like he does too, if only they were rich. Musk makes no attempt to hide his deep flaws as a public figure and as a human being—but it takes a certain kind of extremely online sociopath to see his lack of interest in hypocritical concealment and virtue-signaling as disabling rather than refreshing.

In an age in which many Americans feel that contemptuous elites are attempting to reeducate and reprogram them to have the “correct” opinions on everything from public health to racial relations, the new Chief Twit strikes most people as being a better custodian of public discourse than the experts. No one has to be taught to be in awe of Elon Musk—it’s hating him that takes indoctrination.

Read more:

UAE probes CEO of private sector company for violating Emiratization regulations

Saudi construction sector remains the strongest across MENA region: JLL

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending
  • Read Mode
    100% Font Size