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Science + Tech

Please Advise! Why Did Musk Buy Twitter?

Can anyone make sense of this $44 billion ego flex? Dr. Steve chirps up.

Steve Burgess 26 Apr

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

Elon Musk has reached an agreement to buy Twitter for $54.20 a share, a total price of about $44 billion. What effect will this have on the medium?


Bird Watcher

Dear BW,

The news of Elon Musk buying Twitter prompted an outpouring of shock and outrage, almost all of it expressed on Twitter. Many tweeted that they would leave Twitter. There may have been people not on Twitter who said they were glad they were not on Twitter but no one heard them because they weren't on Twitter.

There's a certain Yogi Berra “No one goes there anymore, it's too crowded” aspect to these vows. But we shall see if people make good their threats to flee. No doubt any flood of refugees leaving Twitter will head for Canada. It will be a shock when they discover they have not escaped, and we have indoor plumbing too. Also, Roger Stone works here now.

But who is really behind Musk's takeover? Dr. Steve believes it was probably Big Caps Lock. Musk has dropped hints about allowing Donald Trump back on the social media channel. The banishment of Trump from Twitter caused a steep decline in all-caps usage — allowing him back would be a boon to shouty typing and the keys that make it possible.

Trump told Fox News he won't return anyway, having started his own social media channel, Truth Social. Interestingly, news of Musk's Twitter takeover brought even more woe for the already woe-begotten Truth Social, dropping its stock price another 12.9 per cent. That's cold. Bad enough that little Donald had to say: “I don't even want to be in your stupid club, I'm going to start my own club,” so now Twitter has to go over to Donald's treehouse and give him a wedgie.

Whatever else it might do for Musk, paying $44 billion for Twitter — a 38 per cent premium over the stock price for a company that is far less profitable than giants like Google and Facebook — is not many analysts' idea of sound business practice. Twitter would not be the first company to sink under the weight of takeover-related debt. Thus there is speculation about how Musk can squeeze more money out of the service. Charging 0.00001 cents for every use of the Spider-Men Pointing at Each Other meme would potentially double the profit margin within weeks. Also, consider charging Marjorie Taylor Greene for every spelling mistake.

Watching Musk and others of his elite financial class is a conceptual study in the function of money. At the level most of us occupy, money is about survival, security, and with any luck, some comfort and leisure. Up in Musk's low-Earth orbit money becomes something else entirely — a means of manifesting one's desires and insecurities, exhibiting personal proclivities on a global scale. Why does Musk need to buy Twitter? Can't he just tweet? Can the man even eat a hot dog without buying the global rights to ketchup? Prudence be damned — Musk is like the anti-Warren Buffett. Most tycoons allow their children to squander their fortunes but Musk seems intent on blowing it all himself. Vanity, thy name is Elon.

At this point, Citizen Elon is just asking for a 21st century Orson Welles to caricature him. “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper,” said Charles Foster Kane, and Musk has merely upgraded the dream. Musk even hooked up with a singer, albeit one who didn't need his promotional help. Perhaps one day we will discover “Rosebud” was his electric toothbrush, or perhaps some neighbour kid's Mr. Microphone.

Disenchantment aside, Dr. Steve is not among those proclaiming their departure from Elon's new toy. Regardless of who owns it, Twitter is a worthwhile medium. Think of the sewer system — not pleasant, but necessary. And just as public health officials measure COVID levels from waste water, the stream of Twitter can reveal a lot about the current state of public affairs. Or as a prominent Twitter user once put it: “Covfefe.”  [Tyee]

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