Commentary: $44 billion can buy Twitter but not respect

Twitter has always been a weird place, but things have gotten wilder in recent weeks thanks to the service’s chilling new owner, Elon Musk. A role model at its worst, his trolling and despotic practices in the workplace have set the tone for a grassroots uprising in the so-called Internet marketplace.

Let’s start with users smearing the site with parodies of Musk and prominent companies. It’s an apparent attempt to thwart Musk’s efforts to pay for the proceeds of the company’s debt-ridden $44 billion acquisition, and the vandalism appears to have left its mark. Risk-averse advertisers, who previously generated almost all of Twitter’s revenue, have fled, for some reason not lured back by Musk’s promise, “thermonuclear name & shame” her for leaving.

Fears that the company could go bankrupt are growing, as Musk himself hinted at last week. Or that Musk has already laid off so many employees (half the workforce has been laid off so far) that one day someone will delete an obscure line of code that kept the entire app running. Meek users I follow have cast their own vote of no-confidence by taking a precautionary farewell, as affectionately as one would expect if an unstoppable asteroid were days before impact.

It’s nice to know that in the moments leading up to an inevitable vaporization or a completely avoidable server failure, thoughts turn to love; Lots of thought also seems to be going towards inviting followers to switch to competing services like Instagram, Substack or the upstart Mastodon.

Elon Musk speaks at an event.

Elon Musk, pictured at an event in 2020, tweeted sarcastically this week after Twitter employees were fired: “I want to apologize for firing these geniuses. Her immense talent will no doubt be of great use elsewhere.”

(Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Then there are the Twitter survivors who quietly reach out via direct messages, asking if we could agree to wiping our private chat history in the event of some sort of reputation-damaging security breach. When our fragile little online society is about to collapse, these are the people who will focus on surviving when looting erupts. Musk’s changes have already compromised the service’s two-factor authentication protection, a key security tool for protecting user accounts.

That’s the stink of losers wafting off many of his longtime regulars on Twitter right now, despite Musk’s claims modest gains of user engagement in his possession, which also coincided with the new midterm season in the USA.

The more musky take on the situation is that Twitter has become too corporate, too censored — too boring in recent years, and it needed drastic change. Twitter had never been such a moneymaker when it was publicly traded. President Trump was banned from the site after his supporters’ uprising on January 6, 2021 to avoid “the risk of further incitement to violence”; He also happened to be one of the site’s most popular and engaged users. Conservatives emigrated under what they felt was a too liberal content moderation regime. Many power users and celebrities have simply migrated for their own reasons and have been spending more time on visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Some people thought the place needed a dictator figure to clean things up; Co-founder Jack Dorsey called Musk “the unique solution that I trust.”

But even Caesars need Roman senators who will not stab them in the back if they are to rule long enough to enjoy the empire. At almost every turn possible, Musk has alienated key circles seemingly necessary to Twitter’s success — his actions suggest that contracts don’t really need to be honored, advertisers don’t really need to be wooed, experts don’t really need to be heeded, or users don’t really need to be courted.

Perhaps most perplexing is Musk’s increasingly public abuse of his own employees, who are desperate to overhaul the service so it can make its billions back. The company’s initial mass layoffs had been badly received, and many learned they had been cut after realizing they could no longer log into their laptops. This week, Musk, a notoriously bad boss, is celebrating the termination of several other Twitter employees who had publicly resigned suggested that musk don’t really know what he’s talking about or who had vented privately at the Slack company.

“I want to apologize for firing these geniuses. Her immense talent will no doubt be of great use elsewhere,” Musk sarcastically tweeted Tuesday after several Twitter employees were reportedly fired for criticizing him, adding of one particular employee, “A tragic case of Tourette’s coming of age .” Imagine if Disney bought more ads to place alongside stuff like this.

Doing anything less than demonstrating subservience to the world’s richest man seems to have Musk lashing out, which is probably one of the reasons he hates journalists and left-wing politicians so much. Maybe that’s an easier way to get away with being the owner of a rocket company or a car company. But that’s a real risk for a social media platform owner, especially the service whose users are notorious for bullying the thinnest skinned targets they can find online. Any story about Musk’s lieutenants looking for petty critics to punish harshly only throws buddies in the water for his haters, who now have a lot more surface area to attack. Several fired Twitter employees have publicly celebrated their own terminations with the greeting emoji, more in a show of solidarity than solemn remorse.

It’s not clear why users would want to give their hard-earned cash to a grumpy billionaire, or why other workers would want to expose themselves to this type of work environment. Or how any of it serves the cause of free speech, public enlightenment, or democracy itself. It’s not even clear how this serves the company’s viability, let alone its profitability.

Musk’s goals aren’t clear because they don’t need to be clear; By law, he now owns one of the world’s most critical communications infrastructures, which he can destroy at will – or morph into his own unpredictable image if he manages to do so.

However, firing Twitter employees for dissent makes one thing clear: $44 billion can buy Twitter, but not respect. Commentary: $44 billion can buy Twitter but not respect

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