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