Elon Musk is running out of options to turn Twitter around

If you’re one of the Twitter users who fled to Mastodon after Elon Musk bought the service, we’re sorry to inform you that you missed one of the best hours of hell.

Over the weekend, Musk was incompetent (his $8 blue check service came, didn’t work, disappeared again), indecisive (managers are trying to bring back some of the employees he laid off), and intemperate (he forbade the comedian Kathy Griffin’s account for “impersonating” him, resulting in so many parodies, Musk was briefly not even close to the first search result of your own name). A widely shared tweet captured the feeling of total upheaval:

On Monday, Musk returned to his usual posts, similar to those of Trump, which generate outrage. He endorsed the Republican Party (again), shared a meme that used an image of a Wehrmacht soldier in WWII, and posted and deleted a joke that was apparently about masturbating to Mastodon. But users were taking notice, and one of the things they noticed was that Tesla stock kept falling after he tweeted. Musk was literally getting poorer. ($TSLA hit a 17-month low on Monday).

By the time you read this, Musk may have posted half a dozen new offers to take control of the narrative. But the so-called mathematical narrative stubbornly refuses to be changed. And the math says that even Elon Musk can’t afford what all this is costing him, especially when the value of his wealth is largely held by Tesla investors.

“Twitter news just keeps getting worse,” Gary Black, a top Tesla investor and Musk ally, wrote on monday. “Elon’s best engineers shouldn’t be running Twitter… Elon’s threats aren’t helping.”

Beneath each distraction is the underlying fact that Musk can’t tweet: He bought a business that relies 90 percent on advertising. He already has lost the trust of advertisers while trying to woo them. she has talked about going”thermonuclear“Whatever brand goes, and even that’s not as bad for advertisers as the sense of instability Musk wraps around himself like a cloak. Every outrageous tweet is a step in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, even if the “$8 for a blue check” plan made financial sense, Musk already botched the launch. He has allegedly reversed collection accounts that already have blue checks. So where will the money come from?

This is the question we should ask ourselves on an internal FAQ from the Twitter sales team, first reported by The Verge. The team claims that 15 million more people are using Twitter every day since Twitter last reported the number of daily users in the second quarter. That doesn’t necessarily mean Musk’s antics are drawing a crowd: He’s barely been there for two weeks, let alone two quarters.

But suppose they are. It’s still a mob of Bugs Bunnies bashing CEO Elmer Fudd and horrifying tweets of him over the head with giant slapstick hammers, along with darker political chaos from a growing MAGA mob that Musk favors with replies. How many major brands want to be associated with all of that, exactly?

Musk also can’t just fire his way to success. Twitter’s annual operating expenses for 2021 were $5.6 billion. That was before the debt Musk forced Twitter to take on as part of his deal, the servicing of which will cost the company up to $1 billion a year.

The service is bleeding $3 million and the losses are mounting every day, hence the panicked hasty dismissal of what internal documents called “approximately 50 [percent]” from the company. We don’t know how many of them are being rehired, or hiring their services at a higher rate as they threatened, or how much severance costs. (Thanks to state laws in California and New York, which require you to give a 60 and 90 days notice respectively, this is costing much more than Musk’s yes men, and yes, his inner circle is all men, he realized for the first time).

But let’s be generous. Let’s say Musk somehow finds the $1 billion a year in infrastructure cuts you’re looking for, and that you somehow get away with it without blackouts on a very popular social networking service that requires lots of expensive servers. Let’s say after the dust settles on the layoffs, you’re saving another billion or so a year.


Twitter’s layoffs are the deepest of a thousand cuts. This is where big tech is bleeding the most.

No advertisers, no successful subscription service (which Twitter Blue now definitely isn’t, it’s may even be costing the company money), Musk would still have a $3 billion-a-year hole left to fill. He would have to shove his Tesla shares into the open jaws of Twitter. In fact, it would probably be less expensive for Musk to just dump mounds of cash into an incinerator every day.

And if Musk and his inner circle institute a paywall for all of Twitter, as they are supposedly now discussing? That would likely be the death knell for a beloved service that relies on many users freely sharing information and creating content around the world. Musk probably figures we couldn’t resist the entertainment he would personally provide; he has, after all, a lot of time “Aspire[d] to comedy”.

But as this weekend showed, he’s also a sensitive, lashing-out guy whose own internal rules seem wildly inconsistent. After a certain point, that’s not entertaining, it’s just sad.

A Twitter paywall would be at least one way for Musk to back out of an extremely expensive personal hell before it cost him his title of richest man in the world. The economy killed Twitter, Musk could shrug, I do not. We would know the truth: the rich man breaks a shiny toy. But maybe, when he joins us all in whatever service is rushing to fill the void of Twitter, Mastodon or something else, Musk could save a little face this way.

One alternative remains: Musk sheds the character of the agent of chaos, the teen leader he’s cultivated for years, and actually behaves like an adult with some measure of responsibility to the advertisers who keep Twitter’s lights on. But don’t hold your breath.

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