4D chess or folly? Musk stunts raise speculation about Twitter’s prospects

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Elon Musk enters Twitter headquarters with a sink following his takeover. Screenshot Elon Musk Twitter

4D chess or folly? Musk stunts raise speculation about Twitter’s prospects

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A string of surprising and controversial decisions by Elon Musk has drummed up tremendous interest in Twitter, but some allies of the billionaire and outside observers are wondering if his unpredictable style might be undermining the platform’s long-term prospects.

Musk’s handling of Twitter has become increasingly erratic in the past few weeks, shifting from making abrupt personnel changes to alleging that former executives are involved in pedophilia, with each of these events becoming a story on its own.

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Matters reached a climax on Thursday when the platform decided to ban five journalists who covered Musk for posting links to a private flight tracker.

Musk insists that the platform is thriving, and has appeared to relish in the commentary stoked by the controversies.

Yet is not clear whether Musk’s moves are strategic efforts to generate interest in Twitter, or reflective of personal whims that are detracting from his goals for the platform.

“Part is this is kind of like the ongoing Rorschach test of trying to figure out whether things that Mr. Musk does are all a version of a brilliant 4D chess maneuver or whimsical behavior,” Columbia Law School professor Eric Talley told the Washington Examiner.

As a hypothetical example of what sort of game Musk might be up to, Talley suggested that Musk could be conducting himself in a way calculated to unnerve the banks holding the debt he took out to purchase Twitter, allowing him to buy back the debt at reduced rates.

Musk, for his part, claims that Twitter use is up. “Twitter usage (by real humans) once again reaches all-time highs,” Musk tweeted on Friday.

And Musk, currently the world’s second-richest man, is no stranger to finding success by making sudden decisions. Musk has been a historically charismatic leader and regularly called for what appeared to be wild changes at his other companies. He’s also become invested in several strange interests, from the cryptocurrency Dogecoin to the world population decline.

Still, his management of Twitter has led to new doubts.

“I think, in a way, he’s trying to rationalize his purchase of this thing which he had second thoughts on,” argued Chris Haynes, professor and co-author of The Twitter Effect: How Trump Used Social Media to Stamp His Brand and Shape the Media Narrative on Immigration, “And now he’s saying, ‘Well, if I spent 40 or so billion dollars on this stupid company and, you know, I’m going to use it, you know, [for] personal and/or for professional ends.'”

Musk’s ownership of Twitter has been mercurial from the start. He agreed to acquire the company in April, only to try to rescind the offer months later, alleging Twitter misled about false user counts. A court forced him to uphold the purchase, driving his electric car company Tesla’s stock value down in response.

Upon taking over, Musk has made a number of major changes, including cutting thousands of jobs, pushing for a revamp of the company’s premium subscription service, and releasing internal documents to journalists.

However, Musk’s conduct has drawn more attention as he has become more political. He drew the ire of public health officials last weekend when he tweeted, “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” a reference to the use of pronouns to mark gender identity and also a jab at Biden adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been much criticized by conservatives for his role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Musk has been more active in commentating on national politics. He has backed a presidential run by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) while telling former President Donald Trump to “sail into the sunset.” Musk also promoted a peace plan between Ukraine and Russia that would require Ukraine to surrender parts of its land to Russia and remain neutral — an intervention that drew harsh criticism from Ukrainian officials.

Musk has also micromanaged Twitter’s content moderation. While he claimed early on that he would have a “council” handle content moderation decisions, that promise was soon forgotten. Musk eventually hosted a poll on his account asking if users wanted him to return former President Donald Trump to the platform. He also reinstated more than 62,000 accounts that had been banned. The billionaire stated in a Zoom call that he would primarily make content moderation decisions despite advertisers’ concerns about the practice.

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Musk has also turned his ire toward the former owners. He accused the former Twitter head of Trust and safety, Yoel Roth, of being involved in pedophilia — reportedly leading Roth to flee his home out of fear for his safety. Musk also got into a feud with former CEO Jack Dorsey over the platform’s handling of child exploitation.

Musk’s latest controversial decision, the move to ban prominent journalists, was not well-received by his supporters. “The old regime at Twitter governed by its whims and biases, and it sure looks like the new regime has the same problem,” tweeted Bari Weiss, one of several journalists involved in the release of the Twitter Files. “I oppose it in both cases. And I think those journalists reporting on a story of public importance should be reinstated.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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