It’s been a wild few weeks, so I’m going to try to use the newsletter to corral some disparate thoughts into something approximating a larger narrative.
For the last month or so, my job has felt more surreal than usual. Yes, I’m referring to Elon Musk and Twitter and, to some degree, the complete implosion of the crypto exchange FTX. These things, especially when combined, add a lot of chaos and attention to the tech industry. But what feels so wild, from my vantage, is how quickly these stories have gone from bad to worse.
Musk has owned Twitter for about 20 days. In that time he has taken a platform that, while flawed, was functional, and done the following:
- Cut staff so aggressively that people fear the site won’t be able to function properly, and so hastily that Twitter has had to ask some employees to come back.
- Rolled out a pay-for-verification plan that may or may not lose Twitter money while also turning Twitter into a chaos market where people are paying $8 to impersonate politicians, brands, and public figures, and watch it go very viral.
- Alienated advertisers that the company desperately needs with conspiratorial tweets and general erratic behavior.
This tweet basically sums it up:
I’ve gone into more depth on most of this stuff in other columns, but there’s a quality to following the whole thing minute-by-minute that feels like a fever dream. Musk is feuding on Twitter with current Twitter engineers and firing them, getting trolled by Doja Cat, holding strange all-hands meetings where he rambles about “gizmos” and talks about declaring bankruptcy. We’re finding out in real time that Twitter doesn’t have a communications department anymore and that the company could very well go under, while Musk continues to post excitedly about Twitter’s usage numbers and the need to get rid of bots (anecdotally, my DMs and the DMs of a number of writers I know are completely jammed with spam and bots in ways they haven’t been in years, if ever). It legitimately seems like he is quickly, systematically ruining Twitter out of sheer ego and incompetence.
What is mind-bending about Musk’s tenure is that it is extremely predictable while feeling almost inconceivably absurd. Musk is doing exactly what you’d expect a billionaire who thinks he’s the smartest man in the room to do if he bought a social network with almost zero understanding of how to run and moderate it (and zero curiosity to learn about the history).
Days before Musk bought Twitter, I spoke to numerous trust-and-safety officers and former social-media executives, who all suggested that Musk might take over, fire crucial staff, and watch as the social network’s infrastructure began to quietly (and not so quietly) falter. That is exactly what is happening. Those same people told me his ego and erratic management style would alienate employees and/or cause them to quit. That has happened.
Experts in content moderation suggested that Musk’s actual policies lacked any coherence and, if implemented, would have all kinds of unintended consequences. That has happened with verification. Almost every decision he makes is an unforced error made with extreme confidence in front of a growing audience of people who already know he has messed up, and is supported by a network of sycophants and blind followers who refuse to see or tell him that he’s messing up. The dynamic is … very Trumpy!