Readers, before we start this week, allow me to break the fourth wall and open up here.
I’ve been feeling burnt out these days. It’s been especially rough over the last week or so. It has felt like my brain is dragging against asphalt while a beehive buzzes inside it. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this and it won’t be the last, I’m sure. Prior experience tells me that I need to lighten my load a bit so I can rest and heal. And to do that, I’m taking a two-week break after the next podcast drops. It feels shitty to have to admit that, but I would feel much worse if I evaporated without saying anything. I appreciate your understanding. I’ll return here as strong as ever.
Anyway, let’s keep it moving…
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Things can only get stupider from here
Cringelord billionaire Elon Musk recently purchased 73,486,938 shares of Twitter to take his passive stake in the company to 9.2%, becoming its largest shareholder in the process. (For comparison, former CEO Jack Dorsey holds just 2.3% of the company.)
With that unfathomable blast of cash, Musk also landed a seat on Twitter’s 11-person board until at least 2024. The New York Times reports that while some members of the board have signed agreements not to influence company policy, Musk did not. Instead, it seems that Musk will be directly involved in crafting the path forward for Twitter. (The seat does, however, prevent him from acquiring more than 15% of the company through stock purchases.)
Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal tweeted that he hopes Musk joining the board will make the platform “stronger in the long-term.” Musk replied to Agrawal’s tweet that he was excited to “make significant improvements to Twitter” while on the company’s board.
And just like that, the richest man in the world has bought a large lever of power on a tech platform used by nearly every public figure in US journalism, politics, and entertainment. By some counts, about 23% of US adults use Twitter—a whopping 69% of US adults use Facebook—but Twitter wields disproportionate influence over American politics and newsgathering because of the way public figures, including journalists, use it to steer up-to-the-minute coverage of breaking news. (And takes. So many takes.)
We don’t yet know what Twitter will look like when Musk’s personal ethos — which, again, has produced a ton of sadistic, cringey shitposting and at least one probable crime — becomes a part of the publicly traded company’s governance. Musk has hypnotized huge swaths of the public with his singular combination of unimaginable wealth and apparently relatable cringe. What happens at a company when an over-promising, under-delivering guy who thinks the Babylon Bee is funny gets to help steer the ship?
Does this mean Donald Trump is coming back to Twitter at some point? Will content guidelines loosen up? Will Twitter’s attempts at slow-curbing the god-awful shit on its platform stall or even reverse? Maybe the Twitter bird will be replaced by a Doge cartoon and instead of likes we’ll all get nuggets of epic bacon.
Many of the answers to those questions are: “probably not… probably.” Musk’s seat on the board is indeed a position of great influence at Twitter, but it won’t make him the single person who sets Twitter policy. That will almost certainly be done among the teams that made those decisions before Musk’s stock buy.
Musk is now in a great position now to stir the pot whenever he gets interested in the issues of the day, or to stomp his feet if the company makes decisions he doesn’t like. And as Twitter’s largest shareholder, that’s not nothing. He already seems to be chummy with the CEO, according to the Times. And with more than 80 million followers on a platform he now partially owns in, his voice is unlikely to stay in the boardroom. (He’s still in trouble with the SEC over influencing his company’s stock prices with tweets.)
The open question now is this: What does Elon Musk want?
I was a fan of Max Read’s take, which argued that Musk may use Twitter to further jack his stock prices, as he’s done many times before:
Twitter, and its ability to generate attention and hype, is an essential component of the business strategy for Tesla, SpaceX, and the Boring Company, and some level of internal power within the most important platform from which he promotes his ventures is surely worth $2.89 billion to Musk.
As [Bloomberg’s Matt] Levine has written about extensively, thanks to his loyal ultras and outsized reputation, Musk is able to move stock prices precipitously simply by tweeting; he doesn’t even really need to be tweeting about a given company for his speech to move markets. If I had that kind of power, I would very much want to consolidate it! And owning a tenth of Twitter is a good way to start doing that.
I also thought Bloomberg’s Matt Levine (whom Read repeatedly cites in his own newsletter) had a good read on the situation, too:
Elon Musk is not doing a pump and dump! Elon Musk is not interested in a quick and easy nine-figure profit, that is absurd. Elon Musk did not buy 9.2% of Twitter to make money. He already has all the money, and Twitter has kind of a mixed record of making money for its public shareholders. He bought 9.2% of Twitter because he has money, and wants to spend some of it on being more annoying on Twitter. I cannot tell you exactly how — presumably not through traditional activism, proxy fights, etc., though who knows really — but I bet we’ll find out.
News of Musk’s invasion of Twitter landed in my brain with the same kind of thud a worn-out bean bag chair makes when you flop into it. Maybe that’s the burnout talking, but I could practically hear the slow release of air as the news sank into my brain.
The last thing Twitter needs right now is divorced dad energy in the boardroom. I don’t trust any 50-year-old man trying to keep it cool with the youths by aggregating stale-ass memes. Maybe this is just what it looks like when the ultra rich have a midlife crisis. My dad bought a used convertible. Musk bought some influence in a social media company.
Whatever the path forward looks like, it’s all but certain to be even stupider than we can possibly imagine.
I’ll see you here again at the end of April.