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Elon Musk is the Basil Fawlty of social media

someone who wishes Twitter didn’t exist, I am obviously an enormous fan of Elon Musk. He seems to be running it like one of those central London pubs that get bought by property developers who then have to prove the business is unviable in order to win planning permission to turn it into flats. I apologise for the length of that simile, but it’s an interesting comparison. Those stealth-saboteur landlords have to keep it plausible. The business must fail by doing the sort of thing an idiot might sincerely believe would succeed. Live music, an open mic night, potato wedges instead of chips, that sort of thing.

Musk’s Twitter approach is very plausible. He tried to back out of taking over the firm, but then there was a court case and he was forced to buy it and it was both intergalactically expensive and losing money at a dazzling rate. Hence he seems desperate to cut costs and ramp up revenue. On the face of it, that’s a solid business strategy. Well, almost – it would be, but for the word “seems”. All businesses, whether they’re losing money or making it, want to cut costs and increase revenue, but they have to be wary of seeming too much that they do – especially if they’re in the leisure sector. Even the property developer’s pub must stop short of advertising that they’re now selling worse beer at a higher cost or that they’ve got rid of most of the kitchen staff so you should expect long waits if you order food.

The key difference between Musk and the property developer is that he doesn’t have anything to gain from his business being driven into the ground. Unless Twitter’s headquarters are built on an undiscovered diamond mine or portal into the afterlife, its only significant asset is its share of online activity – its access to the attention of hundreds of millions of people. That is its equivalent of real estate and, with his every action, Musk puts it in jeopardy.

A good example of this happened on Monday. A man called Haraldur Thorleifsson tweeted Musk saying: “9 days ago the access to my work computer was cut, along with about 200 other Twitter employees. However your head of HR is not able to confirm if I am an employee or not… Maybe if enough people retweet you’ll answer me here?” Well, he did. He asked what work Thorleifsson had been doing and they had a brief exchange on the subject that ended with Musk tweeting two laughing-face emojis. Not in a nice way. Shortly afterwards, Twitter’s HR confirmed to Thorleifsson that he had been fired and Musk went on to slag him off on the platform, saying he “did no actual work”, used a disability as a bogus excuse and was “independently wealthy”. Then he got such hell from the internet he ended up making a garbled backtrack 15 hours later.


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