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We All Know The World Would Be Better Off Without Twitter-- But What About You Personally?



I don’t hate Twitter the way so many people seem to. I admit it— I kind of like it. I don’t get into Twitter fights. I follow people whose tweets I find valuable and ignore pests and assholes. But when I read that Elon Musk was buying it— the first go-round… Well, let’s put it like this. I ordered a Tesler and cancelled the order once I figured out who and what Musk is.


Now Musk says he wants to buy Twitter again and the Delaware court dealing with the mess has given him a 3 week grace period to complete the transaction. Meanwhile, yesterday, Musk welcomed fellow right-winger Ye (Kanye West) back to Twitter after he let lose with some anti-semitic crap on Instagram. Ye took that as an invitation to let loose with some more anti-semitism on Twitter, causing the folks who still run Twitter to remove the tweet and lock his account.


Over the weekend, the NY Post’s Charles Gasparino shared his own views of Musk, as well as a warning that investors would be better off to stay clear of his revived Twitter purchase. “Back in July,” he wrote, “just after Elon Musk announced to the world he was bailing on his $44 billion purchase of Twitter, he was asked if he was merely looking for a way to renegotiate his deal for the ubiquitous social-media platform because markets had soured. ‘Do you want to buy at a lower price or walk away?’ one adviser inquired. Musk’s answer was unequivocal, I am told: For all his whining about just discovering all those fake accounts (aka bots), its bad management, etc., he loved the property, loved its relevance, and was an addicted user. He also thought he could make something out of a pretty lousy business (no cash flow, sputtering earnings) by taking it private and not answering daily to shareholders. But he was starting to look pretty dumb by overpaying while shares of his famed EV company, Tesla, along with everything else in tech (Twitter shares included) were collapsing. He wanted the company but wanted to pay less— no matter what he was saying on his Twitter feed about looking to call it off, sources tell me.”


Granted, trying to decipher what Musk really means at any given time is often like nailing Jell-O to a wall.
Maybe that’s the secret to his success. Recall how he convinced lenders and stockholders they should cut him slack when concerns grew over his accounting practices and EV production. Nonsense, Musk said: Tesla’s problems were being overblown by evil short sellers looking to drive its value down.
Only later did he admit that for all his attacks against the bad old shorts, Tesla was indeed poised for Chapter 11 bankruptcy just a few short years ago.
Musk overcame all that, of course. Tesla became a stock-market darling and the world’s foremost electric-vehicle manufacturer. Musk is now worth an estimated $220 billion.
That doesn’t mean it always pays to follow Musk’s lead if you’re an investor. Yes, Tesla— at least until the tech correction— was a market darling. But in 2018, Musk pulled a fast one. He said he was prepared to take Tesla private at a significant premium of $420 a share. The funding for the massive buyout was totally “secured.”
Those investors who cut him the slack rejoiced, and shares of Tesla surged. But the celebration did not last long. Not long after, the “secured funding” turned out to be another one of Elon’s alternative facts and the stock cratered.
Ouch.
This is why it strikes me as odd that so many smart investment-types appear to be buying his latest yarn that he’s once again looking to buy Twitter and at his initial offer of $44 billion, which is about $40 billion more than any rational investor would offer for this dog with fleas.
Twitter shares closed Friday at $49.18, pretty close to Musk’s offer of $54.20. Many of the original banks look like they’re coming back to the table to provide debt financing. Initially, Musk enticed friends like Larry Ellison of Oracle and VC superstar Marc Andreessen to throw in some equity and they haven’t said they’re not interested.
The question I still have is: Why? Musk came back to the table only after Twitter sued him for reneging and the case was about to be heard by the Delaware Court of Chancery. And it wasn’t going well for him. Discovery made Musk look like he fabricated the whole bot concern. (Surprise!) In fact, he was talking about the need to weed out the fake accounts— before he even bid.
Also, Twitter’s business model of no real cash flow and sputtering earnings is getting worse, analysts say. Yes, Musk turned out to be the only person in the world rich and crazy enough to want to fix the company’s business while promising to deprogram the progressive bias of its algorithms.
ou can see why people like ­Ellison (one of the few Silicon Valley Trump supporters) and Andreessen (himself a libertarian free-market-type) initially liked Musk owning what is considered the global town square. Ditto for the banks that decided to lend to Musk based on the fact that his currency for the deal was his then-high-flying Tesla stock.
But Tesla stock is down more than 30% since Musk first announced his bid (along with his net worth). With higher interest rates, banks should be more reticent to pony up money for a depreciating asset that could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars of losses when they look to unload the risky debt from their balance sheets.
Musk’s own bashing of management and bots, most of it via Twitter, no less, shouldn’t instill confidence in Twitter’s future with those who looked at putting their own skin into the game. It’s just another excuse for advertisers to cut their rates and further squeeze the company’s weak cash position.
Maybe these really smart investors will come to their senses and officially bail on Elon in the coming days. Also, the banks could be largely locked into their financing because of the prior commitment so they can’t easily escape. Or maybe Elon is spinning another tall tale to delay the court case (it’s now being pushed out to at least the final days of ­October amid the new talks) and pressure Twitter to accept a lower bid.
One thing I do know is that getting people to believe his BS is part of how Elon got so rich.

Even before all this, NY Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote how she’s looking forward to Musk destroying Twitter, which she described as akin to “staying too late at a bad party full of people who hate you. I now think this was too generous to Twitter. I mean, even the worst parties end. Twitter is more like an existential parable of a party, with disembodied souls trying and failing to be properly seen, forever. It’s not surprising that the platform’s most prolific users often refer to it as ‘this hellsite.’ So I have mixed feelings about what might be the impending takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, whose neural network seems perpetually plugged into the platform. Musk first made an ill-advised move to buy Twitter in the spring. After signing papers with little due diligence, he tried to back out. Twitter sued, and on the cusp of the trial Musk reversed course again, agreeing to go forward with the sale. It’s far from a done deal— the financing is still uncertain— but Musk appears to recognize that the alternative is potentially embarrassing litigation that he is likely to lose. (Already, the lawsuit has resulted in the release of a bunch of Musk’s text messages, showing many of his sycophantic associates channeling Kendall Roy.)”


That means a Musk-owned Twitter is, at the very least, a distinct possibility. I understand why this is, for many on the left, deeply chilling. Musk’s politics are shaped by a fondness for trolling and a hatred of wokeness, and he’s likely to make the site a more congenial place for racist demagogues and conspiracy theorists. Among other things, he’s promised to reinstate Donald Trump, whose account was suspended after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Other far-right figures may not be far behind, along with Russian propagandists, Covid deniers and the like. Given Twitter’s outsize influence on media and politics, this will probably make American public life even more fractious and deranged.
I have a shred of hope, however, that if Musk makes Twitter awful enough, users will flee, and it will become less relevant. I’m usually wary of arguments that declining conditions are a catalyst to progress— contrary to the formulation often attributed to Vladimir Lenin, “the worse, the better,” worse is usually just worse. I’m going to make an exception for Twitter, though. The best thing it could do for society would be to implode.
An obvious question— one my kids ask me all the time— is why I use Twitter if I detest it so much. The easy part of the answer is that it’s useful for my job. It’s a font of breaking news, a way to quickly survey what lots of different people are saying, a tool for promoting my writing, and sometimes a vehicle for contacting sources. It was on Twitter that I learned that Musk had finally agreed, again, to buy Twitter. As soon as this column is published, I’ll post it there.
But more than professional utility ties me to the site. Twitter hooks people in much the same way slot machines do, with what experts call an “intermittent reinforcement schedule.” Most of the time, it’s repetitive and uninteresting, but occasionally, at random intervals, some compelling nugget will appear. Unpredictable rewards, as the behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner found with his research on rats and pigeons, are particularly good at generating compulsive behavior.
… Twitter is much better at stoking tribalism than promoting progress. According to a 2021 study, content expressing “out-group animosity”— negative feelings toward disfavored groups— is a major driver of social-media engagement. That builds on earlier research showing that on Twitter, false information, especially about politics, spreads “significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth.” Trump was almost certainly right when he said that without Twitter, he wouldn’t have become president.
The company’s internal research has shown that Twitter’s algorithm amplifies right-wing accounts and news sources over left-wing ones. This dynamic will probably intensify quite a bit if Musk takes over. Musk has said that Twitter has “a strong left bias,” and that he wants to undo permanent bans, except for spam accounts and those that explicitly call for violence. That suggests figures like Alex Jones, Steve Bannon and Marjorie Taylor Greene will be welcomed back.
But as one of the people who texted Musk pointed out, returning banned right-wingers to Twitter will be a “delicate game.” After all, the reason Twitter introduced stricter moderation in the first place was that its toxicity was bad for business. Back in 2016, Disney came close to buying Twitter, but was ultimately put off in large part by the harassment rampant on the platform. “Disney’s discomfort with abuse on the site indicates that it’s a larger problem for Twitter’s business prospects than its executives imagined,” reported Bloomberg.
If Musk moves Twitter in the direction of right-wing sites like Gab, Parler and Truth Social, he might attract some new users, but at the price of repelling others. Already, Twitter user growth has slowed, and as Musk pointed out when he was trying to get out of the deal, many of its top accounts don’t post much. For A-list entertainers, the Washington Post reports, Twitter “is viewed as a high-risk, low-reward platform.” Plenty of non-celebrities feel the same way; I can’t count the number of interesting people who were once active on the site but aren’t anymore.
An influx of Trumpists is not going to improve the vibe. Twitter can’t be saved. Maybe, if we’re lucky, it can be destroyed.


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