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Elon Musk will rue the day he bought Twitter — the rest of us already have

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Shapshak is editor-in-chief of Stuff.co.za and executive director of Scrolla.Africa

After a sitting US president tweeting about the biggest national sports event got more views than Elon Musk, the business magnate who bought Twitter instructed engineers to devise a system so all of his tweets would be seen by everyone. I kid you not.

Buying Twitter had been the biggest mistake of Elon Musk’s otherwise stellar career. He will live to regret it and it will forever tarnish his reputation. Far removed from his original plan to “unlock” Twitter’s “extraordinary potential”, Musk is behaving like a spoilt billionaire brat with a truly regrettable narcissistic streak. It’s really not a good look.

This week as Americans fixated on the annual Super Bowl extravaganza, Musk inserted himself into the centre of attention because his tweets didn’t get the same engagement as US President Joe Biden’s humorous one. I kid you not.

The manner in which it was done was painfully revealing of the continuing trainwreck that is Musk’s $44-billion takeover of the “digital town square”.

His cousin James Musk messaged Twitter engineers at 2.36am on Monday, February 13, just hours after the Philadelphia Eagles won the game. Biden’s tweet about his wife supporting them received 29 million views; while Musk’s tweet, which he subsequently deleted, only got 9.1 million. 

“We are debugging an issue with engagement across the platform,” James Musk wrote on the internal Slack messaging app. “Any people who can make dashboards and write software please can you help solve this problem. This is high urgency. If you are willing to help out please thumbs up this post.”

Some 80 Twitter staff were tasked with fixing Musk’s declining popularity and decreasing engagement with his tweets.

“Employees worked through the night,” reported the excellent Platformer publication, and one possibility was that “Musk’s reach might have been reduced because he’d been blocked and muted by so many people in recent months,” Platformer reported. Even before this, “Musk’s long stint as Twitter’s main character, both in the run-up to and aftermath of his $44-billion takeover, had led huge numbers of people to filter him out of their feeds.” 


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So now everybody on Twitter gets to see every one of Musk’s tweets — even if they don’t follow him, as some people have noticed.

Musk calls himself a “free speech absolutist” but he demonstrably isn’t. He has unbanned a bunch of toxic characters that Twitter quite rightly banned — including former US president Donald Trump and a slew of right-wing nutters. No sooner had he unbanned white supremacist Nick Fuentes and disgraced rapper Kanye West, than they both tweeted anti-Semitic things and praised Hitler.

Free speech is all good and well, as long as Musk’s voice is the one everyone hears on Twitter, it seems. 

One Twitter employee told Platformer: “He bought the company, made a point of showcasing what he believed was broken and manipulated under previous management, then turns around and manipulates the platform to force engagement on all users to hear only his voice.”  

The employee added, summing up the prevailing morale at the company: “I think we’re past the point of believing that he actually wants what’s best for everyone here.” 

At the beginning of February, Musk held a meeting with engineers, where he reportedly said: “This is ridiculous. I have more than 100 million followers, and I’m only getting tens of thousands of impressions.”

When one of the two remaining principal engineers told him that people were losing interest in him, Musk told the engineer: “You’re fired, you’re fired,” Platformer reported.

Who needs the Florida Man when the world has the next big thing in terms of unrepentant ego and Twitter narcissism? Covfefe.

There is a very sad thing happening here. Bullied at school, Musk has emerged as an adult bully himself. He has bullied his way through this abortive Twitter acquisition, behaved in a way that is frankly unethical (he tried to back out of the sale by claiming spambots were more rampant than stated), and been reckless with staff (firing half of them, then discovering many engineers were still needed) and revenue (many advertisers withdrew principally because of Musk’s weird management decisions). Worse, he has spread patently false information (most notably, claiming Nancy Pelosi’s husband was attacked while paying for sex with a male prostitute).

That is not so much free speech as a moral free-for-all.

Musk may well go on to do great things with Tesla and SpaceX — and the other company he co-founded, OpenAI. But this megalomaniac, narcissistic behaviour is truly revolting to see in action. Musk, so brutally bullied himself as a teenager, has morphed into the worst kind of bully himself — rich, entitled, delusional and narcissistic. 

It’s the absolute worst of toxic masculinity and Musk’s unforgivable behaviour makes it hard to praise him for the previously brilliant things he has done. So much for: “Twitter has extraordinary potential” and “I will unlock it”. Musk will rue the day he decided to buy Twitter. The rest of us already do. DM/BM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sue Malcomess says:

    It’s really simple: go off Twitter.

  • Mike Silber says:

    Small niggle with your otherwise excellent analysis – the Chiefs won the Superbowl and not the Eagles!

  • Arthur G says:

    Err. The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t win the game.

  • Steven D says:

    Speak for yourself, Toby. Since when is allowing free speech a bad idea? Why not let people use their own brains to filter out the nasty comments by using the block button? Why should a select group of self-righteous ‘authorities’ be given the exclusive power to decide what I see? If it’s true that Elon’s flagging popularity caused him to decide to make himself more visible by changing Twitter’s code, it’s clearly a step too far. That’s spoiled-brat behaviour without a doubt. His purchase of Twitter, however, is no bad thing. His approach is simple: some views might be unpopular but they may well be correct. Let the people decide.

  • Ritey roo roo says:

    There, there, do you feel better now

  • Craig King says:

    My Twitter experience is greatly improved since Elon Musk took over and started making it better each day. Better feed, wider opinions, interesting members and more freedom of speech. As for his improving the visibility of his and every body else’s tweets; how is that a bad thing?

  • Apocalypto Soldier says:

    I think we underestimate how much Musk’s ego means to him, maybe spending enough money to end world hunger for between 1 and 5 years depending on the estimate was worth it for him to be able to have the system promote his own tweets.

  • Helmut Straeuli says:

    I’m more thankful by the day that I’m not on the chief Twits vehicle for self-aggrandisement.

  • Cedric de Beer says:

    Written as if this is some strange new behaviour from Musk. Remember the “paedo guy” attack on the man co-ordinating the Thai cave rescue? Just because he rejected Musk’s offer of a submarine. The narcissism is nothing new. It just morecobvious because twitter is such a public platform.

  • John Sadler says:

    Please don’t deign to speak for me! As a member of the ‘rest of us’ I celebrate Elon’s intervention at Twitter. I find your article lacking in any real substance, seeming to merely rehash what one could only call ‘gossip’ and extrapolating aka spinning that to make outlandish and sensationist claims which imho is not the greatest journalism. What he’s doing at Twitter in the ‘fake news’ industry is akin to what he’s already done in the rocket launch and motor industries, where powerful entrenched vested interests are seeing their backsides. I can only hope he is as successful at Twitter and applaud him for having the guts to take on the rabid self serving media. I’m looking forward to watching Twitter succeed. The future is bright!

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