Thursday Reads: The Musk/Twitter Mess

Good Afternoon!!

We only have eleven days until the midterm elections and–unless the Feds intervene–one more day until Elon Musk starts destroying twitter. I know I should focus on the elections, but I just can’t face it. The press has more or less decided that the Republicans are going to take over control of the House and Senate, and I just can’t face reading beyond the headlines. I’m just going to wait and see what happens on Nov. 8. Instead, I’m going to focus on the more immediate Musk/Twitter situation.

Musk’s idea of humor is to rename his Twitter feed “Chief Twit” and walk into Twitter headquarters carrying a sink.

Can someone please explain why anyone would find that funny? I don’t get it. Here’s the latest on Musk and his determination to ruin Twitter for the rest of us.

Raquel Maria Dillon at NPR: From Tesla to SpaceX, what Elon Musk touches turns to gold. Twitter may be different.

Musk has been founding companies since the dawn of the internet age. He’s grown Tesla, SpaceX and PayPal into the blue chips that they are today.

But the financially struggling social media company, which he is expected to buy by Friday, needs something more to become a success story, said Andy Wu, who teaches business strategy at Harvard Business School.

“Musk has no experience in managing organizational change and there’s definitely an embedded culture at Twitter that he’ll have to change in order to achieve some of his goals,” Wu said.

The challenge has only grown since Musk first offered to buy Twitter in the spring for $54.20 a share, or about $44 billion. Tech stocks have struggled along with the broader market. It didn’t help that Musk openly criticized the company, tried to walk away from the deal, and only changed his mind after a high-profile and expensive legal battle neared trial. At one point, Twitter’s stock lost a quarter of its value.

“Myself and other investors are obviously overpaying for Twitter right now,” Musk said on a call with Tesla investors last week.

He acknowledged on Thursday that there was a lot of speculation about why he was buying Twitter after all his wavering.

“It is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of believes can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence,” he wrote in an open letter to Twitter advertisers.

“That is why I bought Twitter. I didn’t do it because it would be easy. I didn’t do it to make more money,” he added, acknowledging that failure was a “very real possibility.”

Read much more about Musk at the link if you can stomach it.

Maybe Sargent is right. I sure hope so, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Lauren Hirsch at The New York Times: Elon Musk Reaches Out to Advertisers Ahead of Deadline for Twitter Deal.

A day before Elon Musk’s court-imposed deadline to complete his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter, he posted a message to advertisers in an apparent attempt to soothe nerves as concerns circulate about how he intends to run the platform.

“I wanted to reach out personally to share my motivation in buying Twitter,” he wrote. “There has been much speculation about why I bought Twitter and what I think about advertising. Most of it has been wrong.”

Mr. Musk went on to say that the reason he was buying Twitter was “because it is important to the future of the civilization to have a common digital town square,” where a “wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner without resorting to violence.” But, he added, “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape where anything can be said with no consequences!”

Mr. Musk’s olive branch comes as he is in the final stages of completing the deal to buy Twitter, during which he changed his mind about buying the company before recommitting in the face of legal challenges. The billionaire, who also runs Tesla and SpaceX, showed up at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco on Wednesday, and he is expected to address the company’s 7,500 employees on Friday when the deal is set to close.

Advertisers, which account for about 90 percent of Twitter’s revenue, have been watching the deal drama, and some have been concerned about how the uncertainty will affect the service as an ad platform. Mr. Musk has said he is a “free speech absolutist” and wants to loosen rules around content moderation on the service, including reversing the ban on former President Donald J. Trump from the platform. Advertisers typically shy away from promotions alongside toxic content and misinformation.

Twitter and other social media platforms are also grappling with a broader slowdown in digital advertising. Meta said on Wednesday that its profit in the most recent quarter was down more than 50 percent from a year earlier. The company, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, warned that it didn’t see any relief on the horizon for the declining ad market.

“Twitter aspires to be the most respected advertising platform in the world that strengthens your brand and grows your enterprise,” Mr. Musk wrote in his note Thursday. “To everyone who has partnered with us, I thank you. Let us build something extraordinary together.”

And Musk picked a fight with Apple. From Fortune via Yahoo Finance: Elon Musk isn’t even done buying Twitter, but he’s already picking a fight with Apple over Spotify and payment guidelines.

Elon Musk hasn’t wrapped up his purchase of Twitter yet, but he seems to be already gearing up for another battle.

In a pair of late-night Tweets, posted just four minutes apart, Musk expressed concerns about Apple’s business practices, specifically those surrounding Spotify and app store guidelines.

The first was a reply to Spotify founder Daniel Ek’s tweet highlighting a New York Times story about Apple’s three-time rejection of Spotify’s new app, as the streaming service adds audiobooks to its offerings. Apple says the new app violates its rules detailing how developers communicate with customers about online purchases.

Ek used the story as a launching pad to decry the policies, saying “I can’t be the only one who sees the absurdity.” Musk seemed to agree, replying “Concerning.”

Moments later, he voiced support for venture capitalist Bill Lee’s criticism of Apple’s 30% fee for in-app purchases, agreeing “30% is a lot.”

Criticisms about Apple and its app store policies are nothing new, of course. Spotify has butted heads with Apple before, when it began offering podcasts. And Epic Games took Apple to court last year over the policies, resulting in a split decision where the judge upheld the app store’s structure as legal.

Musk loves a good fight, though, and this isn’t the first time he’s poked Apple. In May, he tweeted that “Apple’s store is like having a 30% tax on the internet. Definitely not ok,” following that up with “Literally 10 times higher than it should be.”

Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that Musk’s company Tesla is under criminal investigation by the DOJ

Reuters: Exclusive: Tesla faces U.S. criminal probe over self-driving claims.

Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) is under criminal investigation in the United States over claims that the company’s electric vehicles can drive themselves, three people familiar with the matter said.

The U.S. Department of Justice launched the previously undisclosed probe last year following more than a dozen crashes, some of them fatal, involving Tesla’s driver assistance system Autopilot, which was activated during the accidents, the people said.

As early as 2016, Tesla’s marketing materials have touted Autopilot’s capabilities. On a conference call that year, Elon Musk, the Silicon Valley automaker’s chief executive, described it as “probably better” than a human driver.

Last week, Musk said on another call Tesla would soon release an upgraded version of “Full Self-Driving” software allowing customers to travel “to your work, your friend’s house, to the grocery store without you touching the wheel.” [….]

However, the company also has explicitly warned drivers that they must keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicles while using Autopilot.

The Tesla technology is designed to assist with steering, braking, speed and lane changes but its features “do not make the vehicle autonomous,” the company says on its website.

Such warnings could complicate any case the Justice Department might wish to bring, the sources said.

I can see why Musk likes Trump. He’s just another scam artist. All I want is to keep Twitter as a place where I can go to get the latest news and opinion, but those days may be over after tomorrow night. Sigh . . .

Brynn Tannehill argues at The New Republic: Why Elon Musk’s Idea of “Free Speech” Will Help Ruin America.

After months of legal wrangling, Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter appears to be finally going through. Musk and the right see this as a great thing because it will restore “free speech” to Twitter. Any suggestion that the sort of “free speech” they envision can have highly undesirable consequences is met with howls of “Libs hate free speech” or other accusations of fascism. Similarly, warnings that unfettered free speech results in dangerous misinformation spreading are derided with “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” and the libertarian belief that in the marketplace of ideas, the best will always win out.

These theories will be tested quickly. It is being reported that after the sale is finalized, Musk plans on laying off nearly three-quarters of Twitter’s staff and that one of the first things to go will be any corporate attempt at content moderation and user security. Musk also plans on restoring the accounts of high-profile sources of disinformation and violent messaging who were previously banned, most notably former President Trump.

The pro-Musk arguments are complete nonsense, and there are innumerable historical and modern examples of why social media platforms with nearly unlimited freedom of speech produce horrors. The Supreme Court decided free speech isn’t absolute long ago, when Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted that you can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, for obvious reasons.

First, freedom of speech has caused untold death and suffering when used to disseminate hate or spread disinformation. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a fabricated antisemitic text that purported to expose a global baby-murdering Jewish plot bent on world domination. Mein Kampf was Hitler’s autobiography, which blamed Germany’s post–World War I woes on a global Jewish conspiracy. Both were readily available in the Weimar Republic, which had no First Amendment per se but guaranteed freedom of speech. They were key contributors to the fall of German democracy, the rise of the Third Reich, and the Holocaust itself.

In modern times, lack of moderation on social media sites has repeatedly contributed to mass murder. The Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter killed 51 Muslims at two mosques after being radicalized on YouTube, 4Chan, and 8Chan. The shooter who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh had been radicalized on the social media site Gab, which advertised itself as the “free speech” alternative to Twitter. Dylann Roof killed nine people at the historically Black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, after he self-radicalized online. Investigations revealed that Google searches steered him further and further into extremist propaganda and hate.

The carnage caused by misinformation spread by social media goes far beyond massacres by racists, antisemites, and Islamophobes. Over one million Americans have died of Covid-19, and at least 25 percent of those deaths were preventable if people had gotten vaccinated. Many others could have been prevented if people had worn masks, socially distanced, believed the disease was real, or otherwise behaved in a rational manner.

Read the rest at TNR.

Finally, Musk is a believe in “longtermism,” a philosophical theory about how to save humanity in the long term. It involves making it possible for humans to populate other planets and other crazy, cult-like ideas. Dave Troy, an investigative journalist who studies “threats to democracy,” argues that Musk’s desire to control Twitter as a “public square” is part of his belief in this weird philosophy.

Read Troy’s thread on Musk and longtermism. You can also learn about it in this article by Nicholas Kulish at The New York Times: How a Scottish Moral Philosopher Got Elon Musk’s Number.

When Elon Musk’s text messages were released as part of a court filing over his proposed purchase of Twitter, the world’s richest man was found to be corresponding with tech billionaires, fellow chief executives and bankers.

Tucked incongruously among those business leaders were messages from a Scottish moral philosopher.

The philosopher, William MacAskill, was acting as a go-between for the crypto-billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, who “has for a while been potentially interested in purchasing it and then making it better for the world,” Mr. MacAskill wrote to Mr. Musk in March, referring to Twitter.

Mr. MacAskill’s appearance in that batch of messages, along with TV appearances and magazine profiles, has contributed to a sense of his sudden ubiquity, improbable considering his usually staid, ivory tower-bound profession. But his latest book, “What We Owe the Future,” became a best seller after it was published in August.

His rising profile parallels the worldwide growth of the giving community he helped found, effective altruism. Once a niche pursuit for earnest vegans and volunteer kidney donors who lived frugally so that they would have more money to give away for cheap medical interventions in developing countries, it has emerged as a significant force in philanthropy, especially in millennial and Gen-Z giving.

As the title of his recent book suggests, Mr. MacAskill argues that people living today have a responsibility not just to people halfway around the world but also those in future generations.

The rise of this kind of thinking, known as longtermism, has meant the Effective Altruists are increasingly associated with causes that have the ring of science fiction to them — like preventing artificial intelligence from running amok or sending people to distant planets to increase our chances of survival as a species.

McCaskill published an op-ed in The New York Times in August: The Case for Longtermism. The idea is that the long-term survival of humans should be our moral focus, not the immediate needs of people who are alive today.

Longtermism is about taking seriously just how big the future could be and how high the stakes are in shaping it. If humanity survives to even a fraction of its potential life span, then, strange as it may seem, we are the ancients: we live at the very beginning of history, in its most distant past. What we do now will affect untold numbers of future people. We need to act wisely.

It took me a long time to come around to longtermism.Over the past 12 years, I’ve been an advocate of effective altruism — the use of evidence and reason to help others as much as possible. In 2009, I co-founded an organization that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to help pay for bed nets to protect families against malaria and medicine to cure children of intestinal worms, among other causes. These activities had a tangible impact. By contrast, the thought of trying to improve the lives of unknown future people initially left me cold.

But some simple ideas exerted a persistent force on my mind: Future people count. There could be a lot of them. And we can make their lives better. To help others as much as possible, we must think about the long-term impact of our actions….

But society tends to neglect the future in favor of the present. Future people are utterly disenfranchised. They can’t vote or lobby or run for public office, so politicians have scant incentive to think about them. They can’t tweet, or write articles, or march in the streets. They are the true silent majority. And though we can’t give political power to future people, we can at least give them fair consideration. We can renounce the tyranny of the present over the future and act as trustees for all of humanity, helping to create a flourishing world for the generations to come.

Anyway, that’s what’s behind Musk’s space projects–making sure humans survive even if the the planet Earth doesn’t. I’m not sure I understand how that’s related to Twitter and free speech, but I’m not a tech billionaire, so I don’t count.

I know this is a weird post, and if you didn’t read the whole thing, that’s OK. I hope you all have a nice Thursday!

25 Comments on “Thursday Reads: The Musk/Twitter Mess”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    From Slate Magazine, a discussion between Will McCaskell and another philosopher, Robert Wright on longtermism vs. shortermism.

    Can Longtermism Save Us All? by Lizzie O’Leary

    Browsing the bookshelves in Silicon Valley, you’re likely to run across William MacAskill’s recent book, What We Owe the Future. In it, Will, an associate professor of philosophy at Oxford University, makes the case that we, the people of today, need to make the people of tomorrow—and many, many tomorrows from now—one of our top priorities. The idea, known as longtermism, is already beginning to reshape the world of philanthropy and is hot among tech types, as is effective altruism, the movement Will helped found. Elon Musk tweeted about Will’s book, “This is a close match for my philosophy.”

    Robert Wright, a journalist, has critiqued Will’s ideas and the philosophy of longtermism in his newsletter, Nonzero. His philosophy of choice has a shorter horizon of moral concern, and he’s dubbed it short-termism. He argues that we should be utilizing the “default human concern” about ourselves, our children, and ourgrandchildren, to create the kind of change that he hopes to see on some of the most pressing current issues.

    On Sunday’s episode of What Next: TBD, Will, Bob, and I had a wide-ranging conversation about the increasingly influential worldview of longtermism and where it sometimes falls short. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

    Read the conversation at Slate.

  2. bostonboomer says:

  3. bostonboomer says:

  4. bostonboomer says:

  5. dakinikat says:

    I live in a state where the arguments should be longtermism, but the greed of the oil and gas companies and the politicians they buy are all about greed.

  6. NW Luna says:

  7. bostonboomer says:

    For anyone who is interested, Musk has officially taken over at Twitter.

  8. quixote says:

    Sexist, misogynist, racist, unbalanced gumball of a techbro knows he’s the best for steering the far future of humanity. Understanding of the present optional. What could possibly go wrong?

  9. NW Luna says:

    IIRC there was something posted the other day that the previous Twitter owner/management was going to lay off about 75% of staff? Not much outrage about that (from looking at the media), but there is if Musk’s going to do it.

    Musk carrying a sink in reminds me of the high school nerd trying to make a joke that others will find funny.

    “…Twitter as a place where I can go to get the latest news and opinion, but those days may be over after tomorrow night” Whyever? Unless the people you follow leave Twitter it doesn’t seem to be a concern.

    Censorship — The prior mgmt already did plenty of censoring and discriminated on the basis of sex.

    That’s from 2018. Take a look through the thread and see what women (and a few men) are banned for. There are 100s and 100s more now. If Musk doesn’t ban people for stating biological facts, well and good.

    • NW Luna says:

      Here’s another typical example:

      • bostonboomer says:

        It was Musk who said he would lay off 75 percent of the workforce. If Musk turns Twitter into a “free speech” he’llscape like 4Chan, no serious journalists would stay and women would not be safe from harassment. Musk is a misogynist, so he won’t protect women. We’ll have to wait and see.

        • quixote says:

          That’s my guess, too. And letting the Orange Garbage back on, days before the election, with the media absolutely utterly totally incapable of ignoring him no matter what, that’s going to be disgusting.

          Although, who knows. Maybe it’ll motivate even more Dem turnout. As you say, have to wait and see.

    • NW Luna says:

  10. NW Luna says:

    OK, here’s something non-political. I couldn’t wait for Caturday.

  11. Enheduanna says:

    I was recently watching a YouTube video (Anton Petrov) about the effects of space on the human body…and it ain’t good. Besides radiation, zero gravity does things to the body that last a long time, including to the brain. It literally drives you crazy. Musk is an idiot about space exploration.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Doesn’t it affect your bones?

      • Enheduanna says:

        Yes! The effects of space on the human body are horrendous in so many ways. Until we invent artificial gravity we aren’t going anywhere for any length of time. Even Apollo astronauts suffered. Plus we’d need fool-proof radiation shields.

        Another game-stopper is the distances. Even if we could go as fast as the speed of light, it would take just one minuscule dust particularly to hit a spacecraft and destroy it (at those speeds).

        • Enheduanna says:


        • quixote says:

          Artificial, well, not exactly gravity, artificial weight is not that difficult if you have a spinning spacecraft. That has other problems, though. It’s a pretty small world, so the Coriolis effects become interesting. (E.g. youtube, about 3 minutes in. It’s also kind of fun to watch the whole thing as they try to figure out how to walk or do anything. It affects _everything_.)

          Maybe, since the Muskmelon hasn’t bought youtube yet, he hasn’t noticed any of those videos.

    • NW Luna says:

      Yes, too many health problems that can’t be overcome given our present technology. Short periods don’t cause too much damage, but humans cannot take more than that.