If you were looking for lessons in how to invest badly, Elon Musk is Exhibit A. Not only has he risked Twitter’s viability, his ineptitude has cost other companies billions.
Let me back up for those who — wisely — haven’t been stuck like glue to the Musk-Twitter soap opera.
First came the rumors; then the offer, then the court case in which the Tesla and SpaceX mogul attempted to withdraw his offer. But finally Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 million. His motive was to foster broader speech, but it’s quickly become clear that he had no idea what he was getting into, either from a tech or journalism point of view. Here’s the real problem though: Musk thinks he does understand how it all works.
It all started with blue check marks that act as verification that helped users have confidence in relying on certain sources of information, essential on a site where anyone is free to register under any pseudo-name with relatively free rein to post whatever they desire, true or false.
For users whose self-worth is heavily dependent on their Twitter status, a lack of check mark was deeply bothersome. So Musk introduced blue check marks, i.e. verification, for the cost of $8. No actual verification took place. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this ended up, rather quickly. Eight bucks isn’t a lot to pay for a good prank. Boy did the high jinks ensue — as did some stark socio-economic critique.
Such as the “verified” Nestlé account that tweeted: “We steal your water and sell it back to you lol.” Eli Lilly’s “announcement” of free insulin cost the company billions.
Musk scrambled, insisting users include “parody” in their handles, but Pandora’s box was well and truly flung open. In a 360º of failure, Musk a little over a week later had to introduce “Official” — which is what the original blue check mark already was!
As a journalist, I found most humorous that amid this self-created debacle, Musk tweeted that “increased competition from citizen [journalists]” will cause mainstream media “to be more accurate.” I don’t know whether he truly believed this, or was trying to gaslight his fans, many of whom seem to suffer from deep confirmation bias.
Musk’s downfall was failing to recognize the skill it takes to run such a site, and thinking he could immediately jump into day-to-day operations, laying off the staff necessary to Twitter running smoothly.
To employ two clichés, he threw the baby out with the bathwater before learning how the sausage is made. Now Twitter’s continued existence stands at a precipice.
As someone who finds Twitter entertaining, informative and, yes, sometimes infuriating, I hope it finds its way back from the brink.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at [email protected].
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