Elon Musk Won’t Let Twitter Go

Elon Musk, when he needs to, will be fairly philosophical—as in February,  when he gave an extended speech about his imaginative and prescient for the longer term from his rising SpaceX spaceport in South Texas. “It is very important—essential—that, over the long term, we become a multi-planet species, and ultimately even go beyond the solar system, and bring life with us,” Musk mentioned, standing in entrance of a prototype of a large, gleaming rocket meant to in the future journey to the moon and Mars. “The creatures that we love [can’t] build spaceships, but we can, and we can bring them with us.” And the considered turning science fiction into actuality? Musk loves it. “That’s what fires me up the most, is like, Let’s go out there and find out what this universe is all about,” he mentioned. “How did we get here? What is the meaning of life?”

He additionally is usually a gleeful agitator. Final week, whereas NASA astronauts ready for his or her trip on a SpaceX rocket, Musk—contemporary off of changing into Twitter’s largest shareholder—requested his followers whether or not the corporate ought to drop the W from its title. (It’s a boob joke.) At the moment, throughout an interview at a TED occasion, Musk mentioned he didn’t have some grasp plan for Twitter and normally simply tweeted no matter he discovered humorous whereas sitting on the bathroom. However he stands able to plonk down $43 billion to purchase the entire thing and take the corporate personal. “Since making my investment I now realize the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form,” he wrote in a letter asserting his intentions to amass the corporate. “Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it.”

Which Musk is displaying up right here—the thinker, or the agitator? In some methods, Musk’s Twitter pitch is basic Musk: He has recognized an business through which he believes individuals aren’t doing issues proper; he believes he can do it higher; he’s going to throw some cash at it and get to work. That is exactly why Musk based SpaceX and invested in Tesla almost 20 years in the past, after he made tens of millions from early web start-ups. Within the case of Twitter, Musk needs to alter the corporate’s method to free speech. And simply as he has carried out along with his different corporations, he’s manifesting “I alone can fix it” vitality and elevating that purpose to the extent of civilizational significance. “My strong, intuitive sense is that having a public platform that is maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization,” Musk mentioned within the TED interview, in his first public clarification of his want to purchase Twitter.

Or Musk might simply be aiming to earn money off of his present Twitter shares, or just attempting to harass these customers who vowed to give up Twitter fully if Musk began calling the photographs. But when he’s actually severe about it, this would be the inform: if Musk begins speaking about the way forward for social media far more typically, and with the identical spark that he makes use of for his largest desires.

It’s unclear precisely how Musk is planning to provide you with the cash; he has a couple of choices, together with promoting some Tesla inventory. Earlier in his profession, Musk poured tens of millions of his personal cash into his corporations, together with $100 million into SpaceX and $70 million into Tesla. “Short of building an actual money-crushing machine, Musk could not have picked a faster way to destroy his fortune,” the journalist Ashlee Vance wrote in his 2015 biography of Musk. Clearly, he didn’t; he’s now price many, many extra billions of {dollars}. Nonetheless, he appears to have set limits on the quantity of private cash he’s prepared to place into these ventures. Final 12 months, the day after Thanksgiving, Musk despatched a company-wide e-mail criticizing SpaceX workers for not shifting quick sufficient to supply rocket engines for the Starship program. “We face genuine risk of bankruptcy if we cannot achieve a Starship flight rate of at least once every two weeks next year,” he wrote. He didn’t appear to be keen to make use of his private fortune then.

When high-profile billionaires resolve to spend a bunch of their cash on one thing that appears frivolous to the remainder of us, like a mega-yacht or journey to house, it is not uncommon for individuals to ask, “Well, why not spend that money on [insert pressing earthly problem here] instead?” Even SpaceX’s arguably noble ambitions will generally immediate grumbles that Musk appears detached to earthly issues that might make Earth unlivable earlier than another cosmic calamity. However for individuals who see Tesla as an vital participant within the combat towards local weather change, and for individuals who imagine that SpaceX is the way forward for house journey, Musk’s new fascination with Twitter looks as if a baffling distraction. Within the house group, eyes have in all probability popped on the value Musk is prepared to pay for Twitter: $43 billion is sort of double NASA’s annual funds. And but Musk is the way forward for American house journey: NASA has given SpaceX billions in funding to develop the know-how that the USA makes use of to ship astronauts to the Worldwide House Station. It is usually paying SpaceX to develop the particular touchdown gear to place People again on the moon. The storied house company created a future through which Musk is indispensable, and there’s no query that if and when astronauts go to Mars, SpaceX will play a giant half of their journey.

And Musk appears to genuinely care about house journey: I bear in mind watching him choke up at a NASA press convention in 2019 whereas he talked in regards to the Apollo moon missions. “Humanity landing on the moon, man, that was maybe the greatest thing ever,” he mentioned then. And when that emotional second handed, Musk spoke with urgency: “We should have a base on the moon, like a permanently occupied human base on the moon. And send people to Mars, and build a city on Mars. That’s what we should do.” Why spend all that cash on Twitter?

Maybe Musk has some further time on his arms. His Starship effort is at the moment twisted up in regulatory issues which will take months and even years to resolve, stopping SpaceX from conducting the launch assessments at its South Texas spaceport that Musk had envisioned would start quickly. Expending that further bandwidth on Twitter wouldn’t simply be passing the time; it might have an actual value to his present enterprises. Any financing deal must rely ultimately on his holdings in his different corporations, the place a lot of his worth is wrapped up. He additionally would have a complete new enterprise to run: How a lot time would Musk commit to his new challenge? Would Musk, a infamous workaholic, dedicate himself to studying the ins and outs of a social-media community as he did an electrical automobile or a rocket engine?

Twitter is a far much less concrete challenge than Tesla and SpaceX. A Musk-run Twitter might need extra in frequent with certainly one of his less-known ventures, Neuralink, which Musk hopes will, within the brief time period, construct units to assist individuals with mind issues and, in the long term, join human brains to computer systems. Social media, particularly Twitter, has already carried out a commendable job of getting our brains hooked on computer systems. By shopping for Twitter, Musk might exert extra management over the less-physical realities of our world—over what we all know and the way we predict. If Musk had been answerable for Twitter, he would have an incredible quantity of affect over the best way individuals eat data on-line. His function would make Jeff Bezos’s possession of The Washington Submit appear nearly quaint. Possibly that sort of management over Twitter, which Musk describes as “the de facto public square,” is price it for him.

Watching Musk within the TED interview in the present day, it struck me how haltingly he spoke about his rationale for buying Twitter in contrast with the best way he talks about rocket science. Or vehicles: “I think I know more about manufacturing than anyone currently alive on Earth,” Musk mentioned in the present day, referring to how a lot time he’s spent on Tesla’s manufacturing unit ground, along with his attribute modesty. One might argue that Musk is watching what he says as a way to keep away from making some regulatory fake pas, however that looks as if a beneficiant interpretation for a person who in the present day referred to the workers on the Securities and Change Fee’s San Francisco workplace as “those bastards.” It’s extra possible that he’s on less-sure footing. With SpaceX and Tesla, Musk is within the enterprise of constructing bodily issues. At Twitter, he would have a chance to form the world in a extra ethereal manner. That is new territory for Musk—and, if the sale truly goes by—for the remainder of us too.

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