Solomon: Musk's Ban of Journalists Shows He Is Losing Control of Twitter
On Thursday night, Elon Musk drew a new line in the sand by banning close to a dozen prominent journalists from Twitter.
While this was done under the guise of protecting Musk’s personal safety and privacy, the actual reason for the bans should concern every Twitter user and advertiser.
On Wednesday, Musk went after accounts that tracked people’s real-time movements. This was essentially a ban on accounts that tracked private jets, including his own. Musk not only banned these accounts but claimed to be taking legal action against the account that tracked his jet.
Then, late on Thursday, a number of high-profile journalists had their accounts suspended. The list includes controversial independent news personality Keith Olbermann, New York Times reporter Ryan Mac, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, Mashable’s Matt Binder, Steve Herman of Voice of America, and influential Twitter journalist Aaron Rupar.
Responses to the bans came from near and far — even the German government condemned Musk’s actions early Friday morning. Germany is seeking a clarification of the bans and an explanation as to how Musk sees this as permissible. A critically important point raised by German officials is that this “arbitrary locking of journalists’ accounts” prevents those suspended from following official German government Twitter accounts.
Other official accounts will surely follow Germany’s lead, arguing that the arbitrary bans of journalists are intended to suppress information and, as is the case in Germany, are illegal.
Attorney Michael Epstein commented, “What any social platform can and can’t do is determined by their terms of service. Where a platform acts contrary to its terms of service, it opens itself up to legal livability.”
From a practical perspective, the optics around what Musk did on Thursday are awful. Even if Musk walks back the bans on some or all of these journalists, the message he is sending to users — and, perhaps more importantly, to current and prospective advertisers — is that Twitter’s terms of service are made up as he goes.
While this is a horrible way to build the foundation of a stable company, it may prove to be an excellent way to drive Twitter to bankruptcy, which has been my observation of Musk’s intent over the past weeks and months.
All of this week’s machinations might simply be part of Musk’s endgame — to still own and control Twitter, but with an advantageously renegotiated debt burden.
This should serve as a reminder that Musk will soon have $1 billion in debt payments on his Twitter acquisition, which is unsustainable given Twitter’s market cap and revenue. If Musk is really intent on keeping Twitter long-term, tearing it down to its foundation while exposing it to the sunlight of truth, the legal protections of bankruptcy reorganization could be very beneficial for him.
There is no denying that Musk is feeling the pinch financially. This week, he sold another $3.8 billion of Tesla stock, bringing his total to a whopping $40 billion worth of Tesla stock sold in 2022.
There are similarities between the impact on Tesla of Musk selling this stock and the impact on Twitter of this week’s decision to ban journalists. Both decisions cause stakeholders to lose confidence in the company at issue.
Tesla shareholders and investors are worried that Tesla is trading at a two-year low with no realistic prospect for an immediate rally. Twitter users and advertisers are worried that the social media platform designed to be the public square is beginning to feel like a weird library with a very limited selection of books and a prohibition on talking.
As this week wraps up, it has clearly been a reality check for Musk. On Sunday, he was booed for an extended length of time after being brought onstage by comedian Dave Chappelle. Musk then went on Twitter the next day and claimed that the response was 90 percent cheers, which is far from the reality of the recording circulating around the internet.
All of this is evidence that Musk is afraid that he is losing control of his own narrative.
For someone who spent close to $50 billion to own the world’s most powerful social media platform precisely so he could control the narrative that would impact him personally and all of the companies he owns, this series of unanticipated setbacks will make for some very interesting Twitter-watching over the next days and weeks.
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