Image from Reuters.com.
Elon Musk was once the epitome of the American Dream, a self-made billionaire who pulled himself up from his bootstraps. He is the founder of revolutionary companies such as Tesla, SpaceX, and PayPal. Tesla has made shockwaves throughout the automobile industry and has led the way for electric cars to be more accessible to the public. Moreover, SpaceX is the first private spacecraft company and has even sent people to the International Space Station. However, this begs the question: Is Elon Musk’s leadership the reason these companies have succeeded? If so, why has his Twitter takeover been so chaotic and unpopular? These questions can be better understood by looking at Musk’s past and Twitter’s revenue.
Elon Musk has been portrayed as a real-life rags to riches story. The story is that he was obsessed with technology as a child, and the capital of the tech world was America. In 1995, 17-year-old Musk came to Canada with $2,000 and a few belongings, which forced him to fund his education. In the end, he had enormous amounts of debt and later founded his first company, Zip2, which sold for $300 million, catapulting his career. However, his story does leave out key details. His mother Maya Musk was a Canadian model, which is why Elon was able to get Canadian citizenship. Furthermore, his father, Errol Musk, has a 50% stake in an emerald mine. Elon Musk once claimed, “we had so much money we couldn’t even close our safe.” Errol Musk even held political power at the Pretoria City Council in South Africa as a representative of the anti-apartheid Progressive Party. Elon Musk also attended expensive private schools in his youth, putting him in the upper class of society. The story that Elon Musk is self-made isn’t the complete truth. Even though all this information is public knowledge, most people still believed that Elon Musk came to America with no support. However, this narrative fell apart after Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.
On April 27, 2022, Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter was finally complete. In the end, he spent about $44 billion for a company that makes $5 billion at most annually. Most economists agree that the $44 billion price tag was not worth it for a company that doesn’t make much revenue. The main way that Twitter makes its revenue is through sponsored advertisements from companies such as Adidas, Nike, or Nestle. To increase revenue, Musk decided to sell the verification check for $8 a month. He excitedly tweeted out, “humor is legal on Twitter again” and advocated freedom of speech on the platform, which essentially means you can say whatever you want and no one will punish you for it. However, this decision blew up in Musk’s face because the verification mark lets users know whether an account represents the actual celebrity, brand, or company. That way, the public would know that an account is a parody or impersonation if it doesn’t have the verification blue mark. Now that verification was available to everyone, people were allowed to impersonate anyone without having to tell other users. For example, one user was verified as God. Some even impersonated the same companies that run advertisements on Twitter. A verified Nestle account tweeted, “We steal your water and sell it back to you lol.” Another verified account impersonating Elon Musk’s Tesla tweeted, “everyone’s talking about Twitter going up in flames but our cars did that before it was cool :/”. Politicians weren’t spared either: one verified Trump account tweeted he supports Joe Biden for 2024, the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) tweeted they love apartheid, and George W. Bush said, “I miss killing Iraqis.” When asked whether they believed these fake verified accounts, Kabir Kaur, a Junior at Washington High School said, “No, because you can tell if an account is an impersonation because they say crazy things, but overall it was funny to watch.” However, it’s not just that these tweets are outlandish and funny: they hurt companies that are paying money to Twitter for advertisement. For example, a fake verified Eli Lily Company account tweeted, “We are excited to announce insulin is free now,” which drove the company’s stock down. In total, Elon’s policy change was a disaster, but to add insult to injury, many impersonated Musk, mocking his romantic life. After all the drama, Elon Musk banned all of the fake verified accounts, even though they paid for the $8 verification. However, the damage had already been done: many companies pulled their advertisements because Twitter was damaging their company’s reputation and stocks.
The next big issue that Musk has been facing is the sheer lack of employees on Twitter after all the layoffs. One thing that Musk is known for is his intense work ethic: many employees in his other companies, such as SpaceX, claim that their work takes over their entire lives because it is so intensive. At the end of the day, 64% of all Twitter employees were laid off, with reports suggesting only 2,500 remain. For the remaining employees, Musk wrote the “hardcore email” which says that employees must create a 2.0 version of Twitter, and if they cannot commit, they should quit. Then he decided to remove the work from home policy and required all employees to work at the office. Once everyone was working in the office, Musk realized that employee lunches were too expensive and that they would no longer be free. At the same time, Musk got into Twitter arguments and rants with several employees for the world to see. This pushed much of the remaining staff to leave for good. However, Musk can’t get rid of his employees just by laying them off, and many have been fighting back with lawsuits. One claimed that Elon Musk targeted female employees in layoffs. Furthermore, this lack of employees means several key parts of Twitter are now gone. For example, Twitter has no communications team and no team to moderate content.
However, Elon Musk thinks a lack of content moderation is the correct path because moderation stops freedom of speech. Musk’s entire goal for his Twitter takeover was to allow people to say whatever they pleased without bearing the consequences. Before Musk, Twitter had a no-tolerance policy for hate speech or misinformation. If there was false information about Covid, Twitter would take it down and moderate it. However, Musk thinks this limits freedom of speech, so now if you want to be racist, spread neo-nazi memes, and make conspiracies about Covid-19, Musk’s Twitter is not going to take it down. In an interview Aleesha Sachanandani, a junior at Washington points out, “It’s harmful because if you’re able to say slurs to others, it’s setting us back. It’s giving spaces for hateful people to do what they want.”
Musk believes so firmly in this idea that he completely dissolved the Trust and Safety Council, which is a group of activists and human rights organizations that voluntarily work to advise Twitter. Elon Musk himself recently made calls to prosecute Anthony Fauci, the head of the CDC during the pandemic. He tweeted, “my pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci”. Moreover, Musk reinstated former President Donald J. Trump’s account after being banned for misinformation and the January 6th insurrection. All this drama over the lack of moderation has led the European Union to warn Twitter of a potential ban. Overall, Musk has begun treating Twitter as his kingdom. He promised that he wouldn’t take down “ElonJet,” an account that tracked Musk’s jet because, “My commitment to free speech extends even to not banning the account following my plane, even though that is a direct personal safety risk”. In the end, however, Musk suspended ElonJet and suspended more than six journalists at CNN, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. He claimed that the accounts were putting him and his family at risk by sharing his location, since prior to this a stalker had followed a car that carried one of Musk’s children, X Æ A XII, who he had with singer Grimes.
All of these decisions have led to backlash. When Musk showed up to a Dave Chappelle stand-up comedy show in San Francisco, most of the audience’s immediate response was to boo. Another example is at Twitter’s main headquarters in San Francisco, people displayed insult after insult outside the building. Some highlights are “petulant pimple, apartheid profiteer, insecure colonizer, space Karen”.
Elon Musk, from the beginning, has made free speech the focal point of his new Twitter. He claims that the old Twitter management suppressed right-wing tweets, and he supported this idea by releasing the Twitter Files. He gave these files to journalists BariWeiss, Matt Taibbi, and Michael Shellenberger, who wrote “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.” These files have been the center of the freedom of speech debate. But it’s not just “freedom of speech” that Musk wants: he also wants the “will of the people”. His way of doing this is through Twitter polls. Should I let Trump back on Twitter? Yes. Should I reinstate the journalists’ accounts? Yes. Should I step down as CEO of Twitter? Yes. When asked whether polls are a good way to run Twitter, Sachanandani says, “he has no brain and the fact that he’s basing everything on the public is concerning. Imagine not listening to the advisors of the company as the CEO.”
In the most recent poll, Musk asked users whether he should step down as Twitter CEO and an overwhelming 57% voted yes. Musk, always the benefactor of the people, tweeted on December 20, 2022, “I will resign as CEO as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job! After that, I will just run the software & servers teams”. However, the damage may already be done for both Musk and Twitter. To fund the acquisition Musk sold billions of dollars worth of Tesla stock, is no longer the richest man on Earth, and may have ruined his own reputation. As for Twitter, its loss of employees, debt, and competitors such as Mastodon are catching up. Either way, this rollercoaster of a takeover may go down in history as one of the most catastrophic acquisitions ever seen.
Shazia Shameerullah is a senior at Washington High School and has lived in Fremont since elementary school. This is her second year at the Hatchet and is now the Opinions editor. Her favorite subjects at school include social studies and English. She enjoys being with friends, volunteering at the animal shelter, cooking, Mock Trial, Model UN, and watching sitcoms. After high school, Shazia plans to major in political science and get a career in public service or law.