Elon Musk… backed by some sort of consortium of financiers, because there wasn’t $44 million in quarters in that sink he hauled into Twitter HQ this past Wednesday… has purchased Twitter.
The sink was an attempt at a visual gag because Twitter had to “let that sink in,” one of those quips that he loves to append random statements that he thinks lend substance to his ignorance.
So there goes the neighborhood. His publicly stated plan is to restore free speech by firing 75% of the company employees. Anybody who has worked in tech knows that most companies over a certain size can shed 10-20% of their workforce and likely see a dramatic rise in average productivity. But 75%, that might kill the company, because the high performers who can get another job quickly will walk the moment things get too bad.
The starting point was the executive staff, which was probably to be expected, including Vijaya Gadde, who was in charge of the company’s legal policy and who probably did more for free speech on the platform than we will likely ever see during Elon Musk’s stewardship.
Basically, protecting their users personal information from litigious rich people and foreign governments by going to court rather than just handing over the data was far more important as a free speech concept than being able to harass people and use the n-word about anybody with a dark skin tone.
But now Elon owns the place and, as I said last time this threat seemed to be looming, he can’t just burn the place down. He isn’t the sole owner. He has financing from other sources, including loans, and his backers will be pissed if he takes this $44 billion boondoggle… probably double the price it was really worth… and devalues it through stupid egoistic blundering.
The problem is, that is kind of his brand in public.
I mean, he may actually be the technical genius his fanboys claim he is, but as this article over at The Verge points out, the problems with Twitter are not technical.
I mean, not that he doesn’t believe somehow there is a technical fix to perfect Twitter. Leaked internal email says that he wanted to personally review code with all of the developers on the team, actually asking them to print out their last 30 to 60 days of code submissions so they could review it with him… only to have that order countermanded later in the day, with instructions to shred all those print outs.
The problem with content moderation is that it always seems like an easy problem to solve with code… right up until you start trying to actually do it. And I speak as somebody who spent half a decade working with attempts to automate responses to support request email messages. That was summed up nicely by a Stanford grad student who interned with us over a summer to do research on text analysis. His grand summing up was to announce that the fewer sorting categories we had, the more likely we were to route messages to the right one. He was not amused when I asked if that meant if we just had a single “miscellaneous” category we would achieve 100% accuracy.
But I digress. There is no technical solution to what ails Twitter… though that won’t stop somebody suggesting blockchain to make everything worse.
There is no problem so bad that blockchain can’t simultaneously make it worse, dumber, and more expensive in one go.
No, the problem, as The Verge points out, is political, and even Elon knows that is the real truth. While he may be yanking the collective chains of his developers, probably looking for people to fire as much as anything, his first outreach as head of the company was to advertisers promising them he wouldn’t be turning Twitter into a free-for-all hellscape.
Twitter is barely a break-even situation even on its best day, so driving away advertisers willing to spend money on promoted Tweet would only make things worse for the whole enterprise, no matter how many people he lays off.
Still, laying people off is every the tech company’s solution to budgetary problems. He’ll do that, probably move the HQ to Austin, and freely hand over user information to any subpoena or totalitarian regime that requests it. That last will save a lot in legal fees. Expect more people getting jail sentences in dictatorships.
Content moderation though… even he is backing off of his grandiose pronouncements. Nothing is being changed today, Trump hasn’t been unbanned, and as much as the MAGA “own the libs crowd” has been crowing, it still looks more like Elon got taken to the cleaners his, chained as he is to this $44 million albatross.
But I am going on about the absurdity of the situation, which I find both funny and horrifying in various measures.
The question I should probably get to is what am I going to about it?
Probably very little right now.
To start with, as with every takeover or merger, not much is going to happen after the first few dramatic firings. And it will be hard to look away from the train wreck, should it come to pass. I don’t plan travel to totalitarian states, so I should be safe.
But mostly I am going to stick around because I don’t have a good replacement for Twitter.
Everything else is either too siloed up into little friend groups (Mastodon, Discord) or are worse hell holes than Twitter has ever managed to be (Facebook, NextDoor, Reddit).
Twitter is kind of a strange mix of people I know and follow, people who are interesting to follow, and random reactions to news and events, often before I hear about them elsewhere. It works for me in ways other options do not.
So I will continue hanging out, at least until something really stupid happens.