February 3, 2023

When Will the Elon Musk Twitter Show Actually Come to an End?

When Will the Elon Musk Twitter Show Actually Come to an End?

By now we’ve all seen the photos. After a whirlwind week that saw the world’s second-richest man suspend a number of journalists from Twitter, feud with ally Bari Weiss, and ban links to Twitter’s social media competitors—an ill-advised policy that was later seemingly retracted—Elon Musk spent part of his Sunday watching the World Cup final in Qatar with Jared Kushner. While snaps of the two soccer spectators certainly raised eyebrows—especially amid reports that Musk is searching for new Twitter investors—it was Musk’s online activities that drew the most headlines: He polled Twitter users on whether he should “step down” as head of the platform and promised to abide by the results. When the survey closed Monday morning, it had received more than 17 million responses; 57.5% voted yes, while 42.5% voted no.

So is this it? Is the Elon Musk show on Twitter finally winding down?

Not so fast. Musk has yet to comment on the results, and there are no clear signs that he is stepping down in the near future. But he did share several cryptic, self-defeating messages throughout Sunday, even portraying Twitter as a lost cause that no leader, including himself, could save. “No one wants the job who can actually keep Twitter alive,” he tweeted in response to a suggestion that he would step down and assume a more ceremonial role at the company. “There is no successor.” In another, Musk wrote that the “question is not finding a CEO, the question is finding a CEO who can keep Twitter alive.” And after podcaster Lex Fridman, who has hosted Musk, offered to take the reins at Twitter, Musk replied by alluding to the “pain” the platform has caused him. “[Twitter] has been in the fast lane to bankruptcy since May,” he added.

To complete his $44 billion purchase of Twitter in October, Musk was forced to both sell off and heavily leverage billions in Tesla shares, startling top investors in the EV company. Despite attempts to cauterize the hemorrhaging stock, Tesla closed last week at a two-year low, and Musk’s reign atop the Bloomberg Billionaires Index ended last week as well. “This has been a black eye moment for Musk and been a major overhang on Tesla’s stock which continues to suffer in a brutal way since the Twitter soap opera began with brand deterioration related to Musk,” wrote Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives in a note to clients Monday.

It is possible that Musk’s promise to step down as Twitter CEO is simply another attempt to reenergize market confidence in Tesla and placate shareholders angered by his obsession with a social media side project. Of course, as Twitter’s owner and only board director, Musk will almost certainly steer the company regardless of his title. Three potential candidates, according to Bloomberg News, include Twitter investor Jason Calacanis, former PayPal executive David Sacks, and Andreessen Horowitz partner Sriram Krishnan, all of whom have served on Twitter’s advisory team since Musk’s takeover. Calacanis hosted his own poll asking followers if they wanted him, Sacks, both of them, or “Other” to take over as Twitter’s CEO. (“Other” won a plurality of the vote.)

If he indeed taps a replacement but stays on as owner, it stands to reason that any future CEO would serve as a puppet for Musk, who could parlay such a change into a PR stunt that would indicate his renewed commitment to Tesla while distancing him from the endless controversies he has caused at Twitter.

His most recent Twitter misstep—suspending accounts for tweeting links to rival social media sites—even prompted Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey to question the move. Mastodon, a small Twitter competitor that has seen steady growth since Musk’s Twitter takeover, appears to have been the main target of this tack, which was announced via tweets—which were later deleted. Musk took aim at the platform last week for allowing @ElonJet, an account that tracked the flights of Musk’s private plane, to continue operating after it was banned from Twitter for supposedly providing “assassination coordinates” that could be used against the billionaire. This anti-“free promotion” strategy, which also banned links to Facebook, Instagram, Truth Social, and others, lasted less than 24 hours. “Going forward, there will be a vote for major policy changes. My apologies,” tweeted Musk following the policy’s reversal. “Won’t happen again.”

Among those suspended for violating the policy was CNN anchor Jim Acosta, who had changed his Twitter display name to “Jim Acosta is also on Post and Mastodon” and shared a screenshot of his username from the latter site last week. For that offense, Acosta had his account retroactively locked. Other journalists recently suspended from Twitter include Business Insider’s Linette Lopez, a reporter known for enterprising investigations into Musk’s empire, and The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz, a tech writer who has frequently questioned Musk’s changes to Twitter. (Lorenz’s account has since been reinstated.) Last week Twitter also suspended multiple high-profile journalists for merely reporting on the @ElonJet debacle. Musk equated their innocuous coverage to a means of “doxxing” him and his family, despite none of the reporters ever sharing his location.

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