Face It, Elon: Twitter’s Goose Is Cooked

Photo illustration of Elon Musk cooking the Twitter bird
Photo illustration: Cheyne Gateley/VIP+; Adobe Stock; Musk: Getty Images

Stick a fork in Elon Musk’s Twitter — it’s done.

Believe it or not, as chaotic as his first few weeks at the social media company he grossly overpaid for have been, I reserved judgment and bit my tongue.

After all, it’s not all that uncommon for acquisitions to be very messy at first, and Twitter was not exactly a well-oiled machine before Musk arrived. He’s far from the first CEO to try dramatic shock-and-awe tactics to right a listing ship. Just because he’s off to a rocky start doesn’t mean he can’t find his groove in time, I reasoned.

I also didn’t want to be too quick to count out Musk because it always pays to avoid the simplistic narrative the media coverage tends to paint. And as narratives go, these opening weeks are playing like a script written by Aaron Sorkin. (Trust me, a Hollywood dramatization will come in time.)

Yes, Musk seems to be conducting himself like a bull who bought the china shop, but surely there’s a method to the madness … right?

Well, no more. The staggering scale of the idiocy emanating from Twitter HQ must mean doom is around the corner for this company.

I can no longer delude myself into thinking Musk is crazy like a fox; he’s just plain crazy.

Why is that? Well, take your pick from Musk’s reign of error: Maybe it was the way he began his new duties by retweeting a false smear concerning Paul Pelosi. Or was it the utter fiasco that was his relaunch of Twitter Blue? Or the callous manner in which he pink-slipped half the company, only to have to beg certain staffers to return for fear the platform couldn’t stay online without them.

Perhaps it was the exodus of key senior execs in the crucial departments of advertising and information security. Or the way he conducted a Twitter Spaces session to calm advertisers. If that didn’t alienate them even further, perhaps publicly threatening them with “thermonuclear name & shame” if they left did. Then there was the time he baited a senator with a tweet that led to threat of intervention from Congress. Or maybe it’s the massive drop in revenue and possibility of bankruptcy.

Turbulence comes with the territory whenever a new boss arrives at a company with an ambitious agenda of aggressive change, but this has shot well past aggressive to ridiculous.

Truth is, the best CEO in the world could be running Twitter right now, and that person would still be up shit’s creek without the proverbial paddle because of something completely out of the company’s control: Macroeconomic gloom is crippling the once mighty world of digital advertising.

The naif in me believes Twitter has become so ingrained among the chattering classes that it simply can’t not exist. The social platform’s unparalleled ability to take the real-time pulse of the world seems bigger than any one man — even if that man seems to be doing his damnedest to light $44 billion of his own money on fire. Never has a product become so indispensable and yet so poorly run at the same time.

Perhaps the enormity of the value destruction won’t be apparent until a competitor comes along and steals Twitter’s audience right out from under Musk’s nose. There’s a massive opportunity just sitting in plain view for replacement apps like the Twitter clone Mastodon, but it’s way too early to tell. The smarter bet would be on a different social app that is already at global scale, like Snapchat, but no one seems to be pivoting to invade the gaping white space Twitter could leave open.  

The only way I can wrap my head around Musk’s conduct is to psychoanalyze it thusly: He isn’t serving as CEO so much as he is playing the part of a CEO. Similar to the way Donald Trump comported himself while in the Oval Office, Musk seems to be less interested in reviving the company than he is doing anything possible to create drama that yields something even more important to him than revenue: attention.

And no company can survive this kind of insanity. Not that I think Twitter is literally going to cease to exist. While speculation is rampant right now that its state of technical disrepair will see the platform combust in a puff of smoke any day now, I think we’re about to be watching something worse: Twitter’s inevitable fade over the course of multiple years. More whimper than bang.

Think of the tragic arc of MySpace, another social network that went from the bee’s knees to yesterday’s news in agonizing slow-motion. Like MySpace, Twitter won’t disappear in one fell swoop but eventually shift into a vegetative state, a liminal limbo in which it’s not quite dead but sure as hell not alive, either.

If Musk continues on his current course, all that will be left on the platform will be right-wing wingnuts forced into a circle jerk because all the libs they want to own will have moved onto other digital pastures.

As for Musk himself, he won’t even be around by then. Like his pal Jack Dorsey, he’ll soon cave into investor pressure for having the audacity to run multiple companies at once. Give it a few months, and he’ll hire a proxy CEO in a late attempt to change the narrative, but by then the company will be too far gone for anyone to salvage. Dying slowly will be the ultimate indignity for a platform Twitter founders like Dorsey launched with lofty ambitions.