, 04.26.2022 11:39 AM

My latest: Musk never sleeps

The great Calgary Herald writer Howard Solomon arched an eyebrow.

“Owners of media properties,” said Howard, “should be seen and not heard.”

There was general agreement about that, in the Herald newsroom, and we all soberly nodded our heads.

Except, even as a lowly summer Herald student and general assignment reporter, I knew that the media world Howard Solomon described wasn’t actually the media world we all lived in. And besides, as I learned much later, having an owner — of a newspaper, of a radio or TV station, of a social media platform — was much more preferable than having no owner at all.

And, really, the issue isn’t having an owner of a media enterprise. The issue is having the right owner.

Which leads us, in a circuitous fashion, to Elon Musk and Twitter. Is the former the right owner for the latter?

You’ve heard of Musk, of course. He went to Queen’s University for a couple years and is now the world’s richest man — Tesla, Starlink, etcetera. Twitter, meanwhile, is a social network platform that offers “micro-blogging” in the form of “tweets.”

On Monday, it was announced that Musk had reached an agreement to buy Twitter for $44 billion. Immediately thereafter, forests were felled to print thumb-sucker analyses of what Musk Twitter would mean for free speech, politics and Donald Trump.

Some conservatives, who believe that Musk is one of them, think it’ll be a brave new world. Some progressives, who are suspicious of Musk, were encouraged by his (typically) amorphous promise to start “authenticating all humans” — which, they thought, possibly meant eliminating bots and trolls and fraudsters on Twitter. Who, most agree, have rendered Twitter a cyber-sewer.

Me, I’m not so sure either side is right. At any media company I’ve worked for, all of us ink-stained wretches always feared the arrival of new owners. We’d fret about whether they would try to censor and control what we write. We’d wonder if they’d make us walk the plank.

But, almost inevitably, the new owners would stay on their side of the newsroom, preoccupied only with the bottom line, not the black lines. (Which has always been my experience at the newspaper you clutch in your sweaty maulers, by the way: Not once — not once, ever — have the owners tried to control what I write.)

Musk, I suspect, is about to learn some of the same media lessons. If he messes with Twitter overmuch, he’ll wreck it. And then someone else will come along and start something new, and everyone will go over there.

For Musk, Twitter is potentially problematic for another reason: It is wildly popular among the two constituencies who can have a measurable impact on his various enterprises — politicians and journalists. Both politicos and hacks love Twitter because it resembles a Rorschach pattern of our tiny craniums: It flits all over the place, it’s bit-sized, and it’s nasty.

If Musk takes a hacksaw to Twitter, politicians and journalists will start sniping at him even more than they already do. Journalists, as a collective, can maul Musk’s reputation in and out of the market — and the politicians, acting at the behest of the journalists, have the regulatory power to make life complicated for Internet-based companies like his.

There are other problems: Personally, I think Musk is possibly insane to spend that much money on a social media platform that — unlike Facebook and Instagram — has never really figured out how to make money. And, whether he likes it or not, civil and criminal speech laws will still have the final say over what he puts online.

But, for me, I think the pearl-clutching about Elon Musk Twitter is — like Musk himself — a bit overblown. If he can do just one thing — eliminate anonymous accounts whose bile have made Twitter a perfectly awful place for many, women in particular — he will have improved people’s lives.

In the meantime, however, some of us will remember Howard Solomon’s wise words about media owners.

And we will comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the media universe, like the Internet universe, is simply too big for one person to control.


  1. Steve T says:

    The most interesting facet of Elon Twitter will be advertisers.

    That’s how revenue is generated, and if Elon lets all manner of hateful, false, or nutty postings on Twitter, you can be sure advertisers will stay away. The same may be true for higher-profile individuals (celebrities; athletes; politicians; reputable journalists; etc…)

    Maybe that doesn’t matter to Elon, when/if he takes the company private, but eventually it could turn Twitter into a weird ground of random fringe rantings that most folks don’t pay much attention to.

    All the criticism of “mainstream” media, etc.. ignores the fact that it is mainstream for a reason. The opposite of mainstream is fringe.

  2. Pipes says:

    Hmm, I don’t know man. Look at his expressions. I think Musk looks at Twitter as would a mischievous little boy with a firecracker.

    But what do I know.

  3. EsterHazyWasALoser says:

    Maybe he is just going to flip it a couple of years and make a profit. IMHO, it is just another thing for the chattering class to get exercised about. For those of us in the real world, not so much.

  4. Well, no one will get to call him The Antichrist as others have already done. I suspect he’ll find that somewhat of an improvement once he takes over.

    Remember this allegedly is also the guy who said that Tesla would go bankrupt? Maybe, maybe not.

  5. ted says:

    no one, but no one, in the james and jenny front stoop demographic (or something like that) gives a shit about twitter.

  6. Robert White says:

    I don’t know about Twitter because I don’t follow it, but I do follow Tesla as a company with the largest capitalization industry wide.

    Tesla motors are overpriced, and used old Electric Fork Lift DC Electric motors are far cheaper.

    If I ever build an electric car I will not use Tesla manufactured motors. The future belongs to Volks Wagon IMHO.

    Musk is spinng too many plates in the air as a businessman.


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