It’s on. Elon Musk has officially filed to end his own Twitter acquisition, and Twitter is calling his bluff. They will see Musk in court. And while things only get messier from here on out, there’s already a key verdict from Elon Musk himself: He doesn’t have what it takes to run Twitter. And that is a devastating blow to its own central mythology.
We’ll look at the details of Musk’s formal SEC filing in a moment, but first it’s important to remember what he said about the deal and why he wanted to do it in the first place. It is not that the world has forced the wealthiest man in the world to acquire a relatively small social network. And Musk’s behavior around the deal was marked by a lot of obvious trolling. A reasonable person would conclude that he never took it seriously at first, which is already leading to many Musk stans and Twitter haters telling a 4D chess story that makes his blunder appear deliberate. But.
There are some things Musk said in the frenzy of the Twitter takeover that cannot be ignored. That’s because they get to the heart of what built his original reputation: as a visionary, daring industrialist, futurist, and perhaps even the man who would solve climate change and multi-planetary civilization. Sure, lately he’s been working tirelessly to attract a huge base of social reactionaries and various right-wing people who care more about his trolls than the missions of SpaceX or Tesla. But Musk’s real credibility — if he ever had it — was to be the face of truly massive and ambitious efforts to change and improve the world.
He probably didn’t have to, but he brought that same world-saving energy to the Twitter deal:
- Musk said he was motivated by the fact that Twitter had become a “de facto town square” and that it is “very important that people have both the reality and the perception that they can speak freely.” (He talked a lot about “free speech” at the time.)
- Speaking at a TED conference, Musk said the deal is no way to make money. Some of his exact words: “It’s about the future of civilization, but you don’t care about the economy at all.”
- Musk later told Twitter employees internally, “I want Twitter to contribute to a better, long-lasting civilization in which we better understand the nature of reality.”
- Musk: “Twitter has extraordinary potential. I’ll unlock it.”
These statements are above all because (a) things that are important for the future of human life aren’t things you normally troll people about, and (b) that should be especially true if you’re Elon Musk, who has spent his entire modern career since Tesla cultivating the idea that he’s on a mission to save the future of humanity and spread civilization across the stars. Does he often tweet stupid memes? Yes. Did he jokingly send a car into space? Secure. But the missions of his companies are dead serious. Tesla’s mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to renewable energy”. Neuralink wants to build devices that help people with paralysis to ‘gain independence’. And SpaceX? That’s about nothing less than “enabling humans to live on other planets.”
So: Musk has consciously dealt with some of the world’s most difficult problems to solve during his career. He gives a lot of keynotes, throws big ideas on the board and makes a lot of promises. Incidentally, this campaign to save the world earned him one of the largest and most active fan bases on Twitter† And let’s face it: the guy likes to tweet. The only person in the world who might love to tweet more than Elon Musk has been banned from the platform and impeached twice by the US Congress.
But remember: Musk didn’t say, “I want to buy Twitter because I love tweeting and I’m in command of an army of users here.” He said Twitter was important to the future of human civilization† And so, spiritually speaking, the deal joined the ranks of the Teslas and the SpaceXs of the world.
What kind of issues would keep this man from unlocking Twitter’s true potential? To help steer it and, along with its other companies, help humanity prosper in the future? He really only makes two claims in his SEC filing:
- Twitter doesn’t give him any data he needs to find out how many spam bots there are on the platform.
- Twitter has laid off a number of people and lost a number of executives.
This is weak crybaby stuff.
Musk has been talking about the alleged bot problem for a while, even getting into public rows about it with the CEO of Twitter. I’m not going to unpack this whole fight – the Delaware Court of Chancery is about to explore that in some detail – but the TL; DR is that Musk wants to make a huge deal on a problem known to every social media company on the planet, all of which have spent huge amounts of resources on solving it over several decades. It’s just a fundamentally unserious position of a man willing to solve earth-shattering problems like climate change
But for fun, let’s assume Musk is right. After starting the deal and looking under the hood and laying out his plans for Twitter’s workforce, he found that Twitter’s bot population is over 20% over 5%. And then? What is a spread of 90 million users if TikTok and Facebook are ahead of you? billions† If you believe that Mark Zuckerberg is an unelected tyrant of speech, how will leaving Twitter help you tackle him? And why argue in your SEC filing that active users’ earnings are at stake? That doesn’t sound like “don’t care at all about the economy.” That sounds like you only care about the economy.
And as for ruining the deal because a few Twitter execs fired staff while continuing to work normally and rolling out new features (hello, co-tweeting!) – get real. You buy Twitter for $44 billion. It’s yours now. You can clean the house if you want and correct or reverse any ill-advised decisions that originally brought the platform in your sights. No one can stop you! The SEC couldn’t even stop you from tweeting!
There are many possible theories as to why Musk sent himself, Twitter and the world through this charade. But in the end, Musk wrote a check that failed to cash his myth.
We still have two options. Either Musk doesn’t think he can do the job he promised on Twitter, and he’s not the world-changing force he’s been called. Or he lied about the kind of lofty ideals and visions that shaped his companies and his image.
What kind of man taunts the world about a better future?