It’s on. Elon Musk has officially filed to kill his own Twitter takeover, and Twitter is calling his bluff. They will see Musk in court. And while things will get more confusing from here, one important verdict has already been handed down by Elon Musk himself: he doesn’t have what it takes to run Twitter. And that is a blunt blow to its own central mythology.
We’ll get to the details of Musk’s formal SEC filing in a minute, but first it’s important to remember what he said about the settlement and why he wanted to do it in the first place. It’s not as if the world forced the purchase of a relatively small social network on the richest man in the world. And Musk’s conduct around the business was marred by a lot of obvious troll behavior. A reasonable person would conclude that he never took this seriously to begin with, which is already leading many Musk fans and Twitter haters to second-guess a 4D chess narrative that makes his mistake look intentional. But.
There are a few things that Musk said in the Twitter takeover frenzy that cannot be ignored. That’s because they get to the heart of what built his original reputation: as a visionary, a daring industrialist, a futurist, and maybe even the guy who would solve climate change and multiplanetary civilization. Of course, lately he has been working tirelessly to attract a huge base of social reactionaries and various rightists who are more concerned with his trolling than with SpaceX or Tesla missions. But Musk’s real credibility — if he ever had any — was in being the face of genuinely huge and ambitious efforts to change the world and make it better.
He probably didn’t need to, but he brought the same energy to save the world in the Twitter deal:
- Musk said he was motivated by the fact that Twitter has become a “de facto town square” and that it is “very important for people to have the reality and the realization that they can speak freely.” (He talked a lot about “freedom of speech” during this period.)
- Speaking at a TED conference, Musk said the deal is not a way to make money. Some of his exact words: “It’s about the future of civilization, but you don’t care at all about the economy.”
- Later, speaking internally with Twitter employees, Musk said, “I want Twitter to contribute to a better, lasting civilization where we better understand the nature of reality.”
- Musk: “Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it.”
These statements stand out above all because (a) things that are important for the future of human life aren’t things you usually troll people about, and (b) that should be especially true if you’re Elon Musk, who has spent his entire modern career since Tesla cultivating the idea that he’s on a mission to save the future. of humanity and spread civilization across the stars. Does he tweet a lot of stupid memes? Yup. Did he send a car into space as a prank? Clear. But his corporate missions are very serious. Tesla’s mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. Neuralink wants to build devices that help people with paralysis “regain independence”. And SpaceX? This is nothing less than “allowing people to live on other planets”.
So: Musk has intentionally spent his career leaning on some of the world’s toughest problems to solve. He gives a lot of speeches, throws big ideas on the board, and makes a lot of promises. In fact, this campaign to save the world earned him one of the largest and most active fanbases on twitter. And let’s be real: the man loves to tweet. The only person in the world who can love tweeting more than Elon Musk has been banned from the platform and impeached twice by the US Congress.
But remember: Musk didn’t say “I want to buy Twitter because I love tweeting and I command an army of users here.” He said Twitter was important for the future of human civilization. And so, spiritually, the business joined the ranks of the Teslas and SpaceXs of the world.
What kind of problems would stop this man from unlocking Twitter’s true potential? To help run it and, along with its other companies, help humanity flourish in the future? He really only makes two claims in his SEC filing:
- Twitter will not give you the data it needs to find out how many spam bots are on the platform.
- Twitter laid off some people and lost some executives.
This is weak crybaby stuff.
Musk has been talking about the bot’s alleged problem for some time now, even getting into public fights with Twitter’s CEO over it. I’m not going to unpack all this fighting – the Delaware Court of Chancery is about to examine this in some detail – but TL;DR is that Musk wants to make a big deal out of a problem known to every social media company on the planet, who have devoted vast amounts of resources to fixing over several decades. It’s just a fundamentally unserious position from a guy who is willing to solve world-shattering problems like climate change.
But let’s just assume for fun that Musk is right. After he started the business and looked under the hood and presented his plans to the Twitter team, he found that the Twitter bot population is more than 20% than 5%. And? What is a 90 million user spread when TikTok and Facebook are ahead of you billion? If your position is that Mark Zuckerberg is an unelected speech tyrant, how will abandoning Twitter help you face it? And why would you argue in your SEC filing that revenue from active users is at stake? That doesn’t sound like “not caring at all about the economy.” That sounds like only caring about the economy.
And as for screwing up the deal because some Twitter execs laid off employees while continuing to operate as normal and rolling out new features (hi, co-tweeting!) – get real. You’re buying Twitter for $44 billion. It’s yours now. You can clean the house if you want and correct or reverse all the reckless decisions that originally brought the platform within your reach. Nobody will stop you! The SEC couldn’t even get you to stop tweeting!
There are many possible theories as to why Musk has put himself, Twitter, and the world into this hoax. But in the end, Musk signed a check he couldn’t cash.
We are left with two possibilities. Or Musk thinks he can’t do the job he promised on Twitter, and he’s not the world-changing force he was made to be. Or he was lying about the kinds of lofty ideals and visions that built their companies and his image.
What kind of man trolls the world about a better future?