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When the going gets weird — Elon Musk’s last-minute BBC interview

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

It was fascinating to see Elon Musk try to explain his many inexplicable decisions and to see how disingenuous his tactics are.

With just a few hours’ notice, Twitter CEO Elon Musk proposed that the BBC interview him.

For a man so reticent to give interviews, this was noteworthy. It happened after BBC News technology reporter James Clayton emailed Twitter about the controversial label applied to the broadcaster’s account that it was “government-funded media”.

When Musk himself replied, Clayton asked for an interview, to which the Twitter CEO replied: “Let’s do it tonight.”

So, they did — live-streamed on Twitter from its HQ. And it was compelling viewing. It was fascinating to see Musk trying to explain his many inexplicable decisions and to see how disingenuous his tactics are.

At the beginning of the interview, he demanded that Clayton — who asked about “hate speech” — provide “a single example of hateful content. Not even one tweet. And yet you claimed that the hateful content was high. That’s false.”

As the BBC journalist stammered a reply that, “No. What I claimed…” Musk interjected: “You just lied.”

He added: “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

In terms of weirdness, it was downhill from there. After eventually giving up on point-scoring by attacking the BBC over misinformation, Musk said Twitter would be “adjusting the label to be ‘publicly funded’, which I think is perhaps not too objectionable? We’re trying to be accurate.”

After about 10 minutes, Clayton asked about Musk’s “first six months as chief executive owner of Twitter”.

With arguably the understatement of the year, Musk replied: “Well, it’s not been ­boring. It’s been quite a roller coaster.”

He said things were now going “reasonably well” and that “usage is up, growth is good. The site works mostly. You know, apart from a few glitches here and there, but the site is working fairly well.”

As Musk said this was with “a small fraction of the original headcount”, Clayton pointed out that there had been “several outages” and an engineer told him that “the plumbing is broken here and it’s on fire and there could be problems at any minute”.

Musk grumpily replied: “I mean, there have been a few outages, but not for very long. It’s currently working fine.”

Twitter was now “roughly breaking even”, Musk said. “We could be profitable, or to be more precise, cash-flow positive, this quarter if things keep going well. I think almost all advertisers have come back or said they are going to come back.”

Explaining how he got rid of most of Twitter’s 8,000 staff — down now to about 1,500 — he said: “I wouldn’t say it was uncaring … If the whole ship sinks, then nobody’s got a job.”

At least he showed some self-awareness and honesty. Asked about his many, many controversial tweets, he replied: “Have I shot myself in the foot with tweets multiple times? Yes.”

Musk added: “I think I should not tweet after 3am.”

Overall, he said: “Were there many mistakes made along the way? Of course. But all’s well that ends well. I feel like we’re headed to a good place.”

Two of the most bizarre things that occurred reveal something about Musk’s narcissism. At the end of the 30-minute interview, he suggested taking questions from Twitter, and proceeded to do that for another half an hour.

An exasperated Clayton finally said: “I’m done with this interview.”

And, when Clayton asked Musk if he still intended to step down as CEO, as he tweeted he would last year, Musk replied: “I keep telling you I’m not the CEO of Twitter; my dog is the CEO of Twitter.” BM/DM

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  • I thought Musk was brilliant. I guess there are a few angles on this one.

  • Bryan Shepstone says:

    So Elon is no politician? Is that news? I thought he was incredibly open and honest. And I think he made the BBC guy look like an amateur. IMHO…

    • johanw773 says:

      Agree. I get the feeling this journalist has an axe to grind with Elon Musk. Most of his comments seem to be petty and snide, not the kind of stuff I am interested in as a Maverick insider.

      • Peter John says:

        Agree.

        • Bruce Q says:

          I too agree.
          A touch of jealousy perhaps?
          Musk is clearly a visionary. And puts his money where is mouth is.
          Of course he’s made mistakes, but to be so anti a man who has achieved so much for humanity smacks of unpleasant envy.
          Hardly becoming of a DM reporter.

  • Petrus Kleinhans says:

    The man who gave the world the first non governmental space company, who made the electric car industry work when 99% of “experts” said batteries were not there yet, the man who is closing in on a cure for Alzheimers disease, the man who is currently delivering affordable high speed internet to people all over the planet, the man who is warning the world against unfettered AI….
    This guy took a failing, child porn publishing, misinformation spewing, privacy invading, internet megaphone and took not a scalpel to it, but a chainsaw. I can see why that upsets you.

    • Dou Pienaar says:

      Have to agree Pierre! I watched the whole interview and this BBC journalist got exactly what he deserved. His attempts at sensationalism backfired and as you say it is clear why media souls will get upset.

  • Peter John says:

    Musk was excellent in that interview – proved beyond doubt that the BBC (like most media) have a pre-determined story, and simply look for ways to promote it, rather than approach with any journalistic integrity.

    The fact is most people see a vastly improved Twitter experience. Almost no bots, fewer trolls, with racists and other hateful idiots being pushed further into obscurity. You can only wonder what 75% of the fired staff were actually doing before.

    If you were happy in your protected left wing bubble, you might be uncomfortable to find that there are people who think differently. But they need equal voice. If you are sobbing violently into your skinny latte at this realisation, then too bad.

    Musk is actually protecting free speech, rather than just pretending to.

  • Gregory Favish says:

    Toby Shapshak I think you need to self reflect – basically Elon plainly shows that the establishment media is (sometimes) pushing narrative instead of reporting on things factually – stats show the trust the public has in media decreasing.

    This clearly touched a nerve with you (as a jounalist yourself) and instead of self reflecting why an awkward Elon Musk can make a professional BBC journalist look so amateur, you try gaslight us saying how “weird” and “bizarre” it is.

  • matthewm82 says:

    I watched the interview on YouTube. I find this article quite different to what I saw actually.
    If somebody says there are many instances he saw of hate speech then coming up with one let alone a few should be easy. He could not think of any at all which is really odd and does seem to show he made it up. Also the likes of CBC is in fact government funded to the tune of 69% of their total revenue and this is BESIDES the adverts the government places. How can reporting not be affected by this? Ridiculous. Also the likes of BBC and CBC were all very pro vaccinations and masking but STILL don’t write about how masking was a waste time or how vaccinations don’t stop you catching covid like these publications stated in 2020. Vaccinations also don’t stop you spreading covid which they wrote about in 2021. Whether funded by governments or whether funded by advertisements by government, still bad for objective reporting. Not rocket science to realise that publishers who receive millions from governments would be afraid of losing that funding ie tow the line.

  • Peter Wright says:

    Narcissistic? Disengenious?

    I don’t suppose what he’s achieved has any value to you. Or maybe it’s petty jealousy? Do you feel a need to tear down what you’re not capable of? Do you run even one successful company? Or are you sitting somewhere complaining about work-life balance?

    I’m sorry I clicked on this link, I had a lot more respect for Daily Maverick about 10 minutes ago.

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