Musk: 1. Twitter: 0.
Elon Musk is very good at keeping the world guessing.
Like other geniuses, innovators and entrepreneurs, Elon Musk is an unknown quantity in his time. He is often disruptive- which is nature of all innovation. Without a disruption of the previous pattern, no new pattern can emerge.
Musk’s rebelliousness and unpredictability have earned him rock-star status in some circles. He is one of the wealthiest people in the world, a man whom some- on Twitter- have called a “real life Tony Stark”.
“When Elon Musk buys into Twitter, I don’t need a little bird to tell me something’s afoot,” wrote John Naughton for The Guardian on April 9, after it was announced that Musk would soon become the largest shareholder of the social media giant. “The Tesla and SpaceX boss becoming the biggest stakeholder in the social media company should set alarm bells ringing.”
Just who these alarm bells should be ringing for is still rather unclear. What is clear is that there is great change afoot at Twitter. In the latest saga of “will he?” or “won’t he?” Musk appeared ready to join Twitter’s board of directors as of yesterday. Today, the opposite is true and it is now being reported that Musk will not be joining the board.
“Team,” began Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal in a note posted on April 10 at 11:13 PM. “Elon Musk has decided not to join our board. Here’s what I can share about what happened.”
“The Board and I had many discussions about Elon joining the board, and with Elon directly,” Agrawal announced. “We were excited to collaborate and clear about the risks. We also believed that having Elon as a fiduciary of the company where he, like all board members, has to act in the best interests of the company and all our shareholders, was the best path forward. The board offered him a seat.”
“We announced on Tuesday that Elon would be appointed to the board contingent on a background check and formal acceptance,” the statement continued. “Elon’s appointment to the board was to become officially effective 4/9, but Elon shared that same morning that he will no longer be joining the board. I believe this is for the best. We have and will always value input from our shareholders whether or not they are on our Board or not. Elon is our biggest shareholder and we remain open to his input.”
By not joining the board, Musk has left room for plenty of speculation that he might instead be planning a hostile takeover of Twitter.
Nor has he refrained from taking a few public shots at Twitter management.
On Saturday, Musk published a poll to his 80 million followers asking if Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters should be turned into a homeless shelter, “since no one shows up anyway.”
90% of respondents gave a gleeful “yes”.
In another poll, Musk proposed dropping the “w” from Twitter, giving only two options: “Yes” and “Of course.” He has proposed other, far more serious changes as well, many of which must be scaring Twitter’s current management silly.
“I’m excited to share that we’re appointing @elonmusk to our board!” Parag Agrawal tweeted almost a week ago, before launching into something akin to a cry for help. “He’s both a passionate believer and intense critic of the service which is exactly what we need on @Twitter, and in the boardroom, to make us stronger in the long-term. Welcome Elon!”
Musk is well known for his avant-garde approach to social media as well as his contrarian style. He has also been outspoken about the shortcomings of traditional media outlets, who have shown themselves repeatedly over the last few years in particular to be strangely averse to certain stories and overly invested in others.
Elon Musk has also been known to openly criticize the U.S. government.
“As the saying goes, when the government first prints money, everyone feels like a winner, but in the end no one does,” he tweeted on April 9.
He was rather busy that day. As far as disruptions go, sharing this World of Statistics retweet caused quite an unexpected stir.
“Most of these ‘top’ accounts tweet rarely and post very little content,” is how he prefaced the retweet before dropping the hammer: “Is Twitter dying?”
“For example, @taylorswift13 hasn’t posted anything in 3 months,” Musk followed up by saying. “And @justinbieber only posted once this entire year.”
Not only does Musk seem inclined to govern Twitter by Twitter- letting polls determine company priorities and exposing the inner workings, and algorithms, of the social media service to sunlight- he seems intent on shaking up as much as possible, as quickly as possible.
Worse, for the powers that currently be at Twitter anyway, Elon Musk appears to fully understand the depth of the stir he is causing, and not care one little bit, sharing this gem on April 7.
“Do you want an edit button?” Musk asked Twitter users in a poll posted on April 4. The final tally- 73.6% of respondents yes and 26.4% no with 4,406,764 votes- was, according to Twitter execs, definitely not the reason Twitter added an edit button shortly thereafter.
As far as his feelings on free speech, Tesla’s CEO has made them abundantly known. Or at least, he has posted his support for free speech on Twitter many times, and has introduced the topic in other forums.
“Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy,” Musk posted on March 26. “What should be done?”
This tweet was in follow-up to a poll he posted on March 25.
“The consequences of this poll will be important,” he warned his Twitter followers, obviously alluding to his intent to acquire a controlling interest in the company. “Please vote carefully.”
In the poll, Twitter didn’t emerge very favorably.
“Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy,” he wrote in introduction to the poll. “Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?”
A whopping 70.4% of 2,035,924 votes said “No”.
“Is a new platform needed?” He mused on March 26.
Even now, a team of Twitter executives must be combing Elon Musk’s social media history for clues about what he might do next.
But it’s very easy to see why Elon Musk is such a culturally popular figure on a platform like Twitter. While not exactly universally loved, Musk projects a quirky, brainy persona online, building his following one SXSW appearance and one Joe Rogan interview at a time.
Like other genre-defying alternative media figures who have rose to prominence- Joe Rogan, Russel Brand and others- Musk isn’t a true member of the media class. Like Rogan and Brand, Musk punched the clock at his day job long before he learned to talk for a living.
Under the auspices of Twitter, a popular figure like Musk can turn his take on the news of the day into free advertising for his brand in more ways than one. Musk keeps his fans guessing, as they never know what he might say next.
“I hereby challenge Владимир Путин to single combat,” Musk quipped on March 14, sending his millions of followers running for Google Translate. “Stakes are Україна.”
He challenges Vladimir Putin to single combat, he insults Twitter brass, he defends free speech, he builds electric cars in a single bound. Perhaps Elon Musk’s Twitter adherents are right about him.
Tony Stark, eat your heart out.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)