I Wish I Could Tell You This One Is Not All About Twitter

I would love to regale you with fun links and clever commentary about subjects other than Twitter “2.0”. I really would. I’m as thirsty for such subject matter as you surely are. But, alas, the continuing saga is simply too entertaining, and moving too fast. If you’ve been successfully ignoring the drama, I salute you.

Let’s start with Jack Dorsey, who created the original concept for Twitter, posted the first ever tweet, and was the best-known and longest-serving of Twitter’s numerous CEOs over the service’s 16-year existence. On Tuesday — three days ago, a veritable epoch in Musk time — Dorsey started a newsletter/blog on Revue, Twitter’s own Substack-style publishing service. Under the headline (capitalization verbatim, and very Dorsey-y) “a native internet protocol for social media”, Dorsey wrote:

I’ll start with the principles I’ve come to believe … based on everything I’ve learned and experienced through my past actions as a Twitter co-founder and lead:

  1. Social media must be resilient to corporate and government control.
  2. Only the original author may remove content they produce.
  3. Moderation is best implemented by algorithmic choice.

The Twitter when I led it and the Twitter of today do not meet any of these principles. This is my fault alone, as I completely gave up pushing for them when an activist entered our stock in 2020. I no longer had hope of achieving any of it as a public company with no defense mechanisms (lack of dual-class shares being a key one). I planned my exit at that moment knowing I was no longer right for the company.

Put aside the merits of Dorsey’s principles for just a moment and enjoy the fact that, less than 24 hours after starting his newsletter, Twitter shut down Revue. File under “shit that happens when you’re no longer the CEO”. (Dorsey took the timing with good humor and republished his post to Pastebin.)

As for Dorsey’s principles, #1 and #3 seem unobjectionable, and to my eyes are correct. #2, though, that’s a problem. In a Twitter thread, Raph Koster summed up just some of the obvious problems with the notion that only the original poster should be able to remove content:

Way too many people think that mute and block are adequate. They are nowhere near enough. Trivial example where mute and block don’t work: slander.

A life can be utterly ruined by allegations flying and plugging your ears and going lalala doesn’t stop it from happening. [...]

Governance is not a technical problem, ever. Everything on the net started out technolibertarian. All of it evolved. The idea that the slander is now only deletable by the slanderer is... I lack words.

It is trivial, albeit unpleasant, to imagine numerous other examples where muting and blocking are insufficient. That the man who led Twitter from 2015–2021 seemingly lacks that imagination or understanding at least partially explains how we got here.

Next up: Musk’s petulant banning last night of over half a dozen prominent journalists for writing about his spat with Jack Sweeney, creator of the ElonJet automated account that tracked the location of Musk’s private jet using publicly available, perfectly legal information from the FAA. Musk, of course, just last month tweeted, “My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk.”

Reneging on that promise is hypocrisy. Suspending Twitter users who had the temerity to simply post links to the ElonJet accounts on Instagram and Mastodon is beyond hypocrisy. They were just links.

It gets better. After suspending those journalists, BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulos hosted an hours-long Twitter Spaces discussion — Spaces is the group audio call-in feature that was modelled on last summer’s flash-in-the-pan hit Clubhouse — that featured, as speakers, several of the journalists who’d been banned from Twitter earlier last night. That’s right: Twitter’s backend infrastructure is such a mishmash that suspended accounts are still able to join and participate in Spaces.

Eventually, as Notopoulos’s Spaces panel continued to grow in listeners — there were several thousand when I briefly tuned in — Musk himself joined. It did not go well. Or rather, it did not go well for Musk. It went just great if you enjoy a good laugh. After being asked a pointed but utterly fair question by Notopoulos, Musk simply bailed. Moments later, the entire Spaces feature was yanked offline by Twitter. Not just the space that was currently being hosted by Notopoulos, but the entire feature, Twitter-wide.

Surely a coincidence.

But it gets better. Last night Twitter began classifying all links to all popular Mastodon servers as “malware”. That includes links to one’s own Mastodon account that a Twitter user might put in their account profile — which is how tools like Movetodon and Fedifinder help users new to Mastodon find and follow the Mastodon accounts for people they previously followed on Twitter. You put your Mastodon account link in your Twitter profile, then new-to-Mastodon users who already follow you on Twitter can find your new Mastodon account using such tools. But, now, Twitter blocks you from adding any known Mastodon link, whether in your profile or in a tweet, under the false claim that all such links are malicious or dangerous. So if you spot an interesting post on Mastodon and just try to tweet a link to it, you can’t. It’d be bad enough if they banned links to Mastodon accounts as part of a new policy disallowing links to Twitter competitors, but Twitter is flat-out lying that Mastodon is in any way dangerous. Free speech!

Even more free speechy: Twitter has banned Mastodon’s official Twitter account (@JoinMastodon). Just banned it. Musk isn’t worried about Mastodon at all, no sirree.

Again, this is far beyond the realm of mere hypocrisy. It’s absurdity. It has become increasingly clear, week by week, that Musk is unstable and erratic, and that his definition of “free speech” — his supposed guiding principle for running Twitter — is simply whatever the hell he personally doesn’t mind. Content moderation at Twitter under Musk’s regime is simply raw, unadulterated petulance. He clearly sees the entirety of Twitter as his own personal $44 billion playground and a vicious cudgel to be wielded against his perceived enemies.

Which finally brings us to today, which brought news that Musk is now seeking investors to buy shares of Twitter at the same valuation he paid. Semafor reports:

The managing director of Elon Musk’s family office is seeking new equity investors for Twitter as users revolt, advertisers flee, and debt payments loom, according to people familiar with the fundraising effort.

Musk’s money manager, Jared Birchall, reached out to potential investors this week, offering shares of Twitter at the same price, $54.20, that Musk paid to take the company private in October, the people said. [...]

Asking investors to pay full price for an asset whose value is rapidly collapsing is going to be a tough sell.

There are tough sells, and there are tough sells. Selling shares of Twitter at $54.20 today could be grist for a sequel to Glengarry Glen Ross. Ed Zitron summed up the pitch perfectly:1

Hey do you want to buy shares of a company I have publicly reduced the value and revenue of? Don’t worry there’s also just an astounding amount of debt.

Musk is not just sinking Twitter with his ostentatious public descent into madness. He might be taking Tesla down with him. Over the last month, when the stock market overall has been flat, Tesla shares are down about 20 percent. Tesla shareholders are ... displeased.

Tesla has long traded at an incredibly high valuation. Apple’s price-to-earnings (PE) ratio is 22; Google’s 18; fellow carmakers Ford and General Motors have PEs around 6. Tesla’s PE today remains a sky-high 48. Wait, that was this morning. After today’s trading it’s down to 46. That’s still really high. That price only makes sense if you think Tesla is going to dominate the entire auto industry, and that only makes sense if you have a lot of faith in Elon Musk and believe his hype on Tesla’s purported expertise in areas like self-driving autonomy.

It seems clear that many people who heretofore bought into Tesla because they bought into Musk’s hype are coming to the realization that he’s an erratic huckster, a liar, and a low-grade (at least) sociopath. Musk’s very public jackassery is also doing obvious damage to Tesla’s brand image amongst consumers.

Last but not least, keep in mind too that Twitter DMs are not end-to-end encrypted, and thus are readable (and leak-able) by anyone at Twitter with sufficient access privileges, which presumably now includes the boss. What could go wrong?

Other than all that, though, things are going just great at Twitter.

  1. Also from Zitron, in that same Twitter thread: “Libertarian psychopaths with too much money are being given the spotlight and they are hitting themselves in the nuts with a kettlebell.” ↩︎