Can Elon Musk Run A Business Without Government Subsidies?
With Twitter, we’ll find out! Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity certainly relied on tons of taxpayer dough
Assuming all goes well with his impending bid, Elon Musk will soon own Twitter.
And what happens next?
There’s plenty of speculation, and I don’t really have much to add to the already-expansive predictions. It seems likely that Musk wants, at minimum, to roll back the work Twitter has done in recent years (however imperfect) to rein in harassment and hate speech. I think that’d be a mistake for many reasons: The most obvious is the human damage we’d see if Musk re-septicizes Twitter, but there could also be short-term financial repercussions for the site. Advertisers don’t much enjoy running ads next to rape threats.
It’s a bit tricky to really know what Musk truly intends do. Quite apart from the intellectually half-chewed “free speech” stuff over which Musk perseverates — informed by his dysmorphic sense of the country’s political spectrum — Musk has spitballed a lot of different ideas for Twitter.
Some of these seem daft to me; others, I’d endorse. He’s talked about encrypting DMs (a very good idea), defeating spambots (also good), open-sourcing Twitter’s algorithm (probably meaningless unless you also show training data), denoting whether a post has been algorithmically boosted or not (likely harder than it sounds), creating an “edit” button (which also risks creating a “gaslighting” button), charging third parties to embed tweets (I would be morbidly fascinated to see how that went down), and moving Twitter away from advertising. I’ve long advocated for that last idea, though Musk might not enjoy the likely side-effect: A far smaller user-base for Twitter. (Me, I’m a fan of anything that might steer us toward a plurality of smaller social networks, instead of four or five giant, monopolistic ones.)
But however significant those issues are, let me leave them aside for a second.
What interests me, here, is the business proposition.
Can Musk actually help run Twitter successfully, as a profitable business? Does he have the chops for this?