Who’s the Twit?

Elon Musk is, by any standard, a brilliant and successful man. Which is what makes his takeover of Twitter such a grimly absorbing spectacle.

Within a month of completing the high profile $44bn purchase, Musk has fired half his workforce, told the remainder they need to embrace a culture of ‘long hours at high intensity’ or leave – and has scared away so many advertisers that Twitter is haemorrhaging $4m a day just to stay in business.

The fascinating question is ‘why?’

Musk says he wants to turn Twitter into a marketplace of global ideas, where people can say anything, however outrageous – because, ultimately, the best ideas will win through by superior reasoning.

But it’s a little difficult to square this with an owner whose default position, when confronted with a dissenting opinion, is to deploy his considerable wealth and power to crush it.

Musk has form in this area. When his (ludicrously impractical) offer of a submarine to help in the recent Thai cave rescue was rejected as a stunt by the British diver Vernon Unsworth, he responded (on Twitter) by accusing Unsworth of being a paedophile.

When Unsworth sued him for defamation, Musk accepted the accusation was false, but defended himself by claiming the term ‘Paedo’ is just a standard form of banter where he grew up in South Africa, so it couldn’t be defamatory. Astonishingly (and legal observers really were astonished), the judge accepted this defence and dismissed the claim. 

Not a very encouraging trailer for the quality of intellectual debate we can look forward to in Musk’s marketplace of ideas. 

There are other explanations, of course.

Maybe he was just bored and wanted a new project. 

Or maybe, having made the grandiose claim that he was going to buy Twitter, he was worried he’d look weak or foolish if he walked away.

Let’s face it, there aren’t many people in the world who can afford to pay $44bn for a car they don’t want and then drive it off a cliff – but Elon Musk is definitely one of them (Forbes estimates his current wealth at $181bn). 

Then again, maybe all this chaos and bloodletting is just part of a bigger, smarter plan which only a visionary like Musk could understand.

Who knows?

In the meantime, we all have ringside seats at the very public dismantling of one corporate culture and its replacement by one that’s radically different.

I have huge sympathy for the people at Twitter who have had their lives and careers disrupted – and seen the things they worked to build ripped apart and dismissed as rubbish. It’s a horrible way to run a business.

But you’ve got to admit it’s fascinating to see what happens next.

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