Twitter users voted Elon Musk out. But CEO or not, he’ll still call the shots
Even if the multi-billionaire owner accepts his user poll and stands down, his machinations seem likely to ruin the company
‘What has made it all the more surreal is that, throughout this never-ending car crash, Elon Musk has consistently tweeted every few hours.’ Photograph: Dado Ruvić/ReutersTue 20 Dec 2022 09.12 GMTLast modified on Tue 20 Dec 2022 13.52 GMT
Since its launch, few people have embodied the worst of Twitter like Elon Musk. The site is a magnet for the self-involved, the kind of people who think a few likes and retweets confirm that they are always right; the types who walk through life with blinkers on and a mirror fixed directly in front of them.
Through relentless efforts to be seen as funny, tweeting stale memes and tired jokes, and his transparent desperation to be liked, tanking his own stock price to delight his followers, Musk’s Twitter persona was infamous. But it was also a common type on the site: someone eager to be seen as in on the joke, a lovable troll, but, crucially, someone who is also actually bad at using Twitter on a basic level. The adulation of his diehard fans sometimes masked the fact that most people don’t like these kinds of characters online.
If this wasn’t glaringly obvious before Musk bought Twitter, it is now. There has been little respite from the chaos of Musk’s Twitter since he took over just under two months ago. He is the constant centre of attention. He has fired employees and tinkered with core features as if on a whim. Accounts mocking Musk have been suspended, and hate speech has soared in this short space of time. As a result, advertisers have fled the platform, leading to “massive” drops in revenue.
What has made it all the more surreal is that, throughout this never-ending car crash, Musk has consistently tweeted every few hours, seemingly incorporating advice he receives from random users into the platform with almost immediate effect, and pondering major business decisions out loud to an audience of millions.
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But this tumultuous few months reached a frenzied climax this weekend – which may mark the end of Musk’s time as Twitter’s chief executive. On Thursday and Friday, several of the most prominent journalists covering Musk were suspended from Twitter after Musk claimed they had “doxed” him by sharing posts from a longstanding Twitter account that tracked where Musk’s private jet had flown (this type of flight record is legally public and not in violation of privacy laws, but the private jet account was also suspended).
Shortly thereafter, users began to notice Twitter was marking posts linking to a competitor site, Mastodon, as “unsafe”, removing tweets containing these links and preventing users from posting new ones with links to the site. The weekend ended with a poll posted by Musk himself late on Sunday night asking: “Should I step down as head of Twitter?”, saying he would “abide by the results”. The option “yes” won with 57.5% of the more than 17m votes. Whether Musk is sticking to his word is yet to be confirmed – though he has been active on the platform, replying “interesting” to several users who suggested bots voted in the poll, and tweeting that only paid subscribers would be able to vote in future.
‘Musk is not alone: mass job losses at Meta, after a year spent tinkering with Instagram and the metaverse, had many asking if Mark Zuckerberg had lost his touch.’ Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
Though many predicted that Musk’s Twitter deal would be a disaster, few could have guessed it would have been quite as disastrous as this. But Musk is not alone: 2022 has seen some of Silicon Valley’s most famous tech CEOs lose what sheen of “genius” they still clung to. Mass job losses at Meta, after a year spent tinkering with Instagram and the metaverse, had many asking if Mark Zuckerberg had lost his touch. Redundancies at Amazon, after Jeff Bezos repeatedly blasted himself alongside various celebrities into space, have had a similar effect.
In the case of Musk, the embarrassment he is experiencing may feel like a satisfying bit of schadenfreude. However, although Twitter is small compared with the likes of TikTok or even Facebook, it is – as Musk is keen to emphasise – the internet’s town square. And it has now been decimated as a result of his ego.
Though it seems unlikely that he expected it to go so badly, Musk stepping down as chief executive may have always been part of the plan. During his testimony at a trial surrounding his remuneration package at Tesla on 16 November, Musk said he didn’t want to be CEO of any company – not just Twitter – and that his role within the platform was temporary, with plans to eventually appoint someone else to the role. He has done this before: Musk ran a Twitter poll last year asking users if he should sell some of his Tesla stock, only for it to be revealed he had already agreed to sell a portion several days before posting the tweet.
The past six weeks has solidified Musk as Twitter’s worst character, unmasking the desperation behind the trolling persona he has long projected. It feels fitting that the end of his tenure would come with a giant poll of his own making asking people to say whether they liked him or not. But even if he isn’t in the CEO role, Musk will remain Twitter’s owner after he steps down, with a new chief executive of his choosing. The only difference may be a Twitter now being destroyed behind closed doors, rather than one whose destruction is live-tweeted, out in the open.
- Sarah Manavis is an American writer covering technology, culture, and society