Elon, Elon, Elon

The story with Elon Musk becomes more dramatic, ridiculous and convoluted with every passing moment.

In late May, Gizmodo editor-in-chief, reported on Musk’s strategic push to purchase Twitter. Twitter was a public company and Elon Musk had become the largest shareholder at 9.2% in April with a goal to purchase the company outright. The purchasing agreement, for the amount of $44b (AUD$65 billion) hinged on Twitter’s CEO accounting for fake accounts and bots. That became a matter for the courts which Parag Agrawal dragged Elon through proceedings to hold up his end of the deal. He was then ditched following the takeover. If there was a golden parachute exit, Agrawal received it, a $55 million payout for less than one year at the helm of Twitter, originally hand selected by founder Jack Dorsey.

What remains true, for now, is that Elon Musk is a billionaire. He wanted to make some changes at Twitter and he wasn’t allowed when he was just a board member, so he put in an offer to buy it. He succeeded. Now he is making those changes and the stability of the company is questionable. Executives are resigning or being dumped, employees are turning and Musk is harshly pruning the Twitter workforce by nearly half and slashing expenses and policies. Will Musk sink the Twitter ship?

Twitter has been an explosive democracy for a while. What separates Twitter from other social media platforms is that independent creators have had a place to spruik their opinion and their work outward, far beyond their base: quickly and sometimes in real time, followed by review and debate. Journalists, politicians, authors, artists, musicians and everyday humans have had a place to share something no matter what side of politics, as long as the content was created within some fairly loose rules. Those rules were broken often and there were consequences, like when the then president, Donald Trump lost his Twitter account because he was found to incite violence on January 6th before the insurrection and undermining the election process by de-legitimising the outcome of the 2020 election in his refusal to accept the result. That decision by Twitter instilled confidence in its users, that there were boundaries to what people could say on Twitter. Each user could choose to block users or content that, in their eyes, was inappropriate, misleading or violent.

Musk tried to stir the pot in May, saying when he is in charge, he will allow Trump to return. Is that why he spent all those billions of other people’s money?

Is this a hands in the air moment where Twitter users vacate due to the unreliability of the service and the distrust therein, leaving the platform an empty shell haemorrhaging money? Potentially. There is a massive exodus from Twitter to Mastodon. That platform looks a little like Discord, it will take some time for Twitter users to get it if they should choose to jump.

And then there is the verification blue tick debacle. Previously the blue checkmark ‘indicate[d] active, notable, and authentic accounts of public interest that Twitter had independently verified based on certain requirements.’ Elon’s plan to remove the blue check to maintain some kind of egalitarian platform has backfired spectacularly and caused mostly, confusion. He proposed a charge of AUD $8/month to users to get their tick back and other documentation to verify you are who you say you are is not required. But then, blue ticks arrived everywhere with the user name, @elonmusk – uh oh. Ok, no more blue ticks or yes to blue ticks, just not until Musk is ready. Is this the best social engineering that a billionaire can muster? Maybe, because billionaires don’t operate as human beings, they are an industry hellbent on maintaining power. To be continued…