It’s time once again to check in with Elon Musk’s new and improved Twitter and—yep, still a garbage fire. After buying the already-struggling company for a plainly ridiculous $44 billion, Musk’s first and only task is to somehow bring in enough money to justify the price he paid for it.
You’d think that, anyway, but in practice, Musk has focused much of his attention on online performance art announcing new but nebulous changes to Twitter’s content moderation practices that seem to prioritize right-wing hate and conspiracy accounts while mocking anyone who expresses alarm over it and, inside the company, firing anyone and everyone who might be in a position to tell him how that might backfire. And, you guessed it, now Twitter’s financials are cratering. Again.
A new Media Matters analysis reports that 50 of the top 100 recent advertisers on Twitter have effectively stopped advertising on the platform in the last few weeks. Some announced the suspension of their ad campaigns, while others ended their ad campaigns without public explanation. The advertisers who paused their campaigns were big spenders before the Musk takeover, accounting for more than $750 million in revenue in 2022. A similar analysis by The Washington Post counts the number of top-100 advertisers who have now paused Twitter ad campaigns in the last two weeks at “more than a third.”
By either metric, Twitter’s spendiest advertisers are holding off on giving Elon Musk money until they get a clearer idea of what, exactly, their brands might soon become tied to. As an expert told the Post, Musk is becoming “a very strong brand himself, and a controversial brand.”
That might be an understatement. One of Musk’s first public acts after taking over Twitter was to personally promote a hoax news site’s fake coverage of the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband. He’s mingled with some of the most notorious conspiracy promoters on the hellsite, both before and after, in apparently unending quests to seek out public approval from anyone willing to give him some.
The man has a brand indeed, and the brand is “what if MAGA conspiracy crank, but rich.”
As for why Elon Musk is proving so blazingly incapable of managing a social network, we all have our theories. One anecdotal account that’s getting traction today is a Tumblr post by a self-identified former SpaceX intern who describes high-level company management as being focused primarily on keeping Musk from doing damage: “I cannot stress enough how much of the company culture was oriented around managing this one guy.”
“Twitter has neither of those things going for it. There is no company culture or internal structure around the problem of managing Elon Musk, and I think for the first time we’re seeing what happens when people actually take that man seriously and at face value.”
We can’t vouch for that account, though it does contain some anecdotes (ahem, “rocket cake”) that can be verified elsewhere. Almost anyone who has worked inside corporate culture, however, is very familiar with the notion of instituting layers of management whose primary task is to keep the higher-level boss from constantly shattering underlings’ projects by instituting new weird demands that range from the impossible to the absurd.
Sure enough, when Musk came to Twitter, he brought along a team of top-level yes men from his companies to perform “code reviews” and otherwise allegedly judge the fitness of Twitter’s current architects, and nearly all of the Twitter executives who did not have years of experience fluffing Elon Musk’s ego were swiftly kicked to the curb.
It’s a vanity project for Elon; he imagines himself enough of a genius to turn around a company he knows nothing about and wants to learn nothing about. His primary tool to turn Twitter into a profit center will be to insult people incessantly until that magically happens, but, in the meantime? He’s losing more of the company’s top advertisers by the day, even as his Twitter purchase is putting a billion dollars worth of new pressure on the social network. That still doesn’t sound like a plan to us, but what do we know?
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