At least among the Twitter staff, Musk “had a way of charming people, even those who were determined not to like him,” Wagner writes. “Most importantly, he had a skill for saying the things that people wanted to hear.”
During his first weeks at the company, Musk’s idealism was infectious.
He seemed to earnestly believe that saving Twitter was vitally important to the future of humanity.
“Civilizational risk is decreased the more we can increase the trust of Twitter as a public platform,” Musk said unironically during a TED2022 conference.
But as time went on, it became increasingly obvious to his new employees that Musk knew nothing about how to operate a social media company.
His understanding of Twitter “was colored almost entirely by his own experience as a user, which was far from normal considering he was a billionaire with more than 110 million followers,” writes Wagner.
During his first week, Musk sent a series of tweets promising a more relaxed approach to policing on the site. “Anyone suspended for minor & dubious reasons will be freed from Twitter jail,” he wrote.
All of this made advertisers nervous, for obvious reasons. The NFL, which had a content partnership with Twitter dating back to 2013, “didn’t want its touchdown celebrations appearing alongside tweets from Nazis,” writes Wagner.
Musk, demonstrating the business savvy that made many believe he could steer Twitter into the future, orchestrated a video call with some of the biggest (and most risk-aversive) brands in the world — like General Electric, Mastercard, NBC, and Ford.
Musk “said all the right things,” writes Wagner, promising that “tweets with questionable content wouldn’t be shown to many people.”
While he promised advertisers that he wouldn’t reverse account bans and suspensions without consulting an advisory council, he did just the opposite in practice, reinstating Donald Trump’s account (based on a user poll), and then did the same with Kanye West before banning him again days later for a tweet featuring a swatstika. (“I tried my best,” he offered in explanation.)
Musk’s biggest blunder, Twitter Blue, was a bad idea from the beginning.
Musk was convinced that it would eliminate bot accounts — trolls would never pay $8 per month for verification badges, he reasoned — and would eliminate the system that Twitter had created which gave journalists “a higher status and more authority on Twitter than [Musk] thought they deserved,” Wagner writes.
Imposters took over almost immediately, even targeting Musk personally.
A blue-check account with the name @TeslaReal posted that all Teslas would be “inoperable effective immediately,” and then shared a picture of Musk posing next to convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell with the caption “appreciation post for our amazing founders.”
If Musk understood the damage done, he held his cards close to his chest. “Quite the day!” Musk tweeted after Twitter Blue’s debut. “Some epically funny tweets.”
“It’s possible that Musk will still turn everything around,” Wagner writes.
The backlash was predictable — and ironic, given that he’d banned Ye for antisemitism — and even more advertisers fled the platform, like Apple, IBM, Disney and several other major brands (Must embarked on an apology tour to Israel and Auschwitz soon afterward).
With so many missteps, how Musk ultimately went wrong is open to debate.
Esther Crawford, a former top Twitter lieutenant, suspected Musk had “surrounded himself with the wrong people,” who egged on his erratic behavior, “furthering the damage to his reputation,” as Mezrich reported in “Breaking Twitter.”
Another ex-Twitter employee (not named) told Schiffer for his book “Extremely Hardcore” that Musk is “a lot easier to understand if you’ve ever had a younger sibling that invented a game and added a new rule every time they started losing.”
But probably the best take on why Twitter (sorry, X) faces an uncertain future comes from Kimbal, Musk’s brother and one of his fiercest supporters, who opted to stop following Musk’s tweets when they became too embarrassing.
“The giant elephant in the room,” Kimbal quipped, “was that he was acting like a f–king idiot.”