That is unlikely, but give it to Musk — he is unpredictable and has the means. In his many statements, he insists he wants to turn Twitter into a respectful debating forum about essential matters. If he really believes it is doable, he still does not realize that Twitter’s format is for influencers like the Kardashians, Trump, or Musk to message their followers. It is not suitable for a naïve kid to tell Musk what everybody else can see, that the emperor has no clothes; Twitter, as it is, cannot conduct any constructive debates.
Trying to make sense of the turbulent Musk’s remarks, we might infer that when buying Twitter, he did not know that or expected he would figure it out somehow. Now he faces the blues.
Can Musk’s engineer’s mind help?
The interview with Ron Baron gives us a peak into how Musk worked on simplifying the design of Tesla. He has a shot with Twitter if he takes the same engineering approach. In this aspect, there might be a good reason for the massive layoffs in the first days of Musk’s reign. Liquidating immense unessential operations allows for checking how the platform could function without them. Further, what is critical in every restructuring task, it eases the cash flow. A few weeks later, Twitter still functions. It means that there was a method in Musk’s madness.
It is not about Twitter at all
Musk declares to make Twitter a sincere debating forum. Behind that claim is a silent assumption that we do not have a platform like that already because no one has tried. Nothing could be more wrong. In the United States, we do not have a forum for open political debates because none of the powers in the media and politics wants it. They all benefit from the ongoing standstill.
Every media outlet is related to some ideological orientation and does not present opposing views to the public. It is the same in major periodicals, radio and TV stations, as well as social media outlets like Medium or Twitter. For decades we have had unresolved issues like immigration and health care because, in the times of the best communication technology, we are unable to interact.
One can encounter many opinions in the media, but there are no places where they confront each other. Often, the most relevant facts and reasoning do not make it to the mainstream media. Again, immigration and health care are the best examples. Behind that media gridlock, there are interests of the most prominent American businesses. Tesla is one of them.
Musk has a personal stake in not fixing Twitter
Musk’s challenges are not business-related or technological. Real or assumed freedom of speech restrictions on Twitter before he bought it are not his biggest problem. He is facing the forces that make American politics dysfunctional. Even worse, he will need to decide between the freedom of speech and his wealth.
Behind every problem that America faces today are disputes about the government’s role. It is the case with the most igniting disagreements about immigration, health care, or climate change. But let us look at the government’s sponsoring of new technologies, like electric cars.
At times when America was great the first time around, Ford’s Model T was a terrific success without any government support. Musk cannot say that about Tesla. Electric cars are the future, but we should adopt them when the technology makes them affordable compared to those powered by combustion engines.
The success of Tesla and Musk’s wealth partially came from the government’s monetary incentives. On one side, it would be foolish not to get support from the government when available. On the opposite side, the government’s help for selected businesses to fulfill political objectives is a betrayal of the most fundamental American principle of the freedom of enterprise. If Musk wants authentic debates, he has to agree to a discussion of this issue.
What is the poll worth?
As it commonly is with radical changes, most observers saw the chaos in Musk’s decisions, some demanding his resignation as the CEO. So he opened a poll asking if he should resign. A majority of 57.5% votes were for Musk to resign. He quickly responded that he would resign “as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job!” The exclamation mark allows us to speculate that Musk might regret buying Twitter. He is wrong in presuming that only a foolish person would take his job. It is literally the contrary; Twitter needs a CEO with a vision.
Musk could easily reject the poll. Marketers know that dissatisfied customers are much more likely to speak up about their discontents. We can sensibly assume that Musk’s critics voted in greater proportion than those wanting to give him more time to try. By accepting the poll results, though conditionally, Musk indicated that he has been thinking about backing off.
Ignore the experts
Tweeting a lot did not make Musk a media expert. He needs to find professionals to help him evade beginner’s mistakes. Among thousands of tweets advising Musk on selecting a new CEO, I spotted one urging Musk to “focus on seasoned media execs.” I replied that he should not because, thanks to their “expertise,” no one trusts the media in the United States. Musk should forget everything the media gurus have been saying if he wants to succeed. If they were right, the United States would be in better shape.
Every media outlet promotes ideas crucial to them, but no one searches for the truth. The so-called media experts are wrong in claiming that there is no money in telling the truth. They would never express that so openly. They would talk about meeting customers expectation, what boils down to reciting to people what they already know and think, often erroneously.
The public is craving the truth. The money is in tenacity and integrity in delivering the truth. Musk must seek individuals with ideas to make money by bringing the truth to users. He must figure out how to make money by telling people they are wrong.
Should Twitter buy Medium?
It is physically impossible to discuss an issue in a 280-character tweet. There is no better way of demonstrating the case than in an essay. Videos or podcasts are inefficient, although today’s public might prefer them. Glancing at a lengthy article allows for a quick assessment of its value. It is hard to do that with videos or podcasts. Also, a written text, especially with links, allows an easy return to statements that are intriguing or require checking. Those are elements needed for constructive conversations.
Twitter is good for quick remarks or ripostes. They should refer to persuasive writing such as an essay to make them valuable. Responding to a suggestion of buying Substack, Musk tweeted, “I’m open to the idea.” Medium would be a much better choice. Thanks to its open format, it has much more potential. Substack seems to be a splinter of the mainstream media, with all its ideological ballast.
Then, there is the hardest part
Most difficult of all is in figuring out how to make people pay for telling them they are wrong.
The first step is to resolve a technological challenge, how to create an efficient debating algorithm where truth and logic flow to the top, regardless of who is talking. The media gurus would tell us that it is impossible, and the chaos on all the existing debating forums proves that. I have some ideas on how to do it, and as such, I had many opportunities to learn that we do not have functioning debating forums, not because it cannot be done, but because no one wants it. Musk has the position and the resources; he needs the will. Then, he will find a way to do it.
A fair debating algorithm will encourage people to prove their views by contradicting their opponents. It will be easier to accept the defeat if people believe that there is no bias in treating their arguments. As no one is always right or wrong, in some instances, participants would win and, in others, lose. But if neutrality is maintained, trust in the debating algorithm will build, attracting more people and money.
All the problems America experiences today result from the misinformation of Americans about the economy and politics. With the current collusion between the media and politics, we have a gridlock where politicians and media leaders are interested in keeping it like it is.
Americans lost trust in what the media tell them, so they tend to stick to what they know. But they feel that something is fishy. They might not realize how much they wish someone would help them sort things out. They do not want to feel dumb. This is an ample opportunity for Musk to get back his $44 billion with a profit.
But as old folks used to say, the simple things are often the most difficult to do.