Elon Musk wants a way out of Twitter
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. A Merry Christmas to you all. A happy Hanukkah, just kicked off. Happy holidays to everybody. I'm delighted to close out the year with a Quick Take, getting us kicked off this rather cold, blustery, very bright sunny day in New York. Hence the sweater, it feels like a layered kind of day. And with everyone talking about the meltdown that is occurring every day on Twitter, I might as well weigh in.
Most recently, Elon Musk, the owner, the CEO, not the founder of Twitter, asking everyone online should I step down as CEO saying, "I will abide by the results of this poll." The answer 57.5% saying yes, 42.5% say no. They want him to step down. Probably a lot of Tesla shareholders weighing in on that. Let's not pretend that this is in any way a real or useful poll. You can of course, vote all you want with your burner and your fake accounts. What happens if the 12 hours of the poll happen to be 12 hours when you are mostly sleeping, depending on what your time zone is around the world? Well, you are kind of out of luck. I mean, you snooze, you lose. That's what they say. Not to mention the bot problem, and all of the people on Twitter that aren't really Twitter, they aren't really people. Of course, they get to vote too. It's all performative. Of course, Rasmussen had Elon ahead by four, and they turned out to be a little bit wrong, but that happens frequently.
No. Look, clearly, he wants a way out, otherwise, he wouldn't be posting something like this. And it seems like a good idea. I mean, my God, this guy is the CEO of three different major corporations. I'm the founder of one that's considerably smaller, and I'm not CEO because I understand that if you actually want to focus on the things that you're good at, in my case understanding global affairs, you can't also run a company at the same time. Now, look, maybe Elon has extraordinary energy and focus, and Lord knows he's an incredible entrepreneur, but running three separate companies, one of which you didn't found and you don't understand the inside of, as opposed to the other two, where he really does understand the nuts and bolts and the substance of it incredibly well, is clearly a bridge way, way, way too far. He's just surrounded by too many people that won't tell him no or are incapable of telling him no or just blowing sunshine up his ass. And that means you're much more likely to make bad decisions and deciding to run Twitter as clearly one of them.
Tesla stock is down some 60% from the highs. I saw it bounced, I think it was 5% when the Twitter poll results came in, because as I said in the opening, those are people that really want him back focusing on a world-changing corporation, which is kind of a big deal. I do think, by the way, that there's a very, very serious free speech problem out there, including on Twitter. But I don't think that's an Elon problem. I think that's a business model problem. That's a social media problem. That is a problem that comes from privately owned platforms, where the people that participate are the product. The only way you make money is by maximizing the time that is being spent by the product on the platform. So you can sell that product and sell that data to advertisers and other corporations.
That is not a model that in any way would promote free speech. In fact, in many ways, it's antithetical to free speech. The A/B testing that needs to happen on those platforms is about how do you addict the product? How do you ensure that the product spends more time on those platforms? Also, how do you bolster those platforms, even if it's not with people? So you're not incented to verify your accounts, you're not incented to take bots out because that artificially inflates your numbers and improves the output, improves the business model. None of which is good for free speech.
Now, I do think that Twitter's gotten a little worse since Elon has taken over, in part because check marks no longer really mean anything. It used to be that a checkmark was a sign that whoever it was that was in charge of moderation in Twitter believed that you were a public figure of note, meaning a celebrity or an expert or a corporation or whatnot, but it had some level of importance. It was a quick pneumonic that you could use to say, oh, I should pay more attention to this. Now, today, having a check mark either means that, which is again far from an ideal way of determining who's important or not, but it at least is an explainer. It can also mean, no, you just paid $8 and you could be absolutely anybody to have your Twitter blue. The only way you figure that out is if you go and click a second time to see which it actually reflects. Of course, that is something that most people aren't going to do and even if you do do it, it's after you've already gotten that internal sense that, oh, I should pay more attention. So that makes this less efficient as a platform.
Also, a lot more ads are showing up and you don't know it's an ad until at the bottom when you see promoted by. So again, the first experience you have is, oh, this is content I want to see and then you find out it's not really content you want to see. So I think at the margins, it's gotten a little bit less product friendly over the last four or five weeks, but the free speech experience is largely the same from my perspective. I will say it was kind of cool that Taylor Lorenz was suspended for 12 hours since people got enormously excited about that. Not at least of which was Taylor Lorenz. But okay, that's, that's a cheap thrill for those of you that are on social media. It's not seriously exciting or meaningful.
Nor am I expecting government intervention to matter. I think it's entirely too difficult. It's possible that you'll see TikTok have significant regulations against it, though I doubt it'll be removed. But that has nothing to do with social media problems for free speech that just has to do with the fact that it's Chinese-owned. And a lot of people are concerned about the Chinese government having access to that data.
No, the big question for me is the future of decentralization. Right now we have a governance model where you have a small number of corporations and the individuals that own them that have access to all of this data, might personalized artificial intelligence in the near term, undermine that model when you have individual bots that work for you that can scour the entire internet and give you a news experience, a media experience, a social media experience that you curate as opposed to the sovereigns in the tech space curate that. That would be a radical transformation of the space that would deeply threaten those that own these social media and other tech platform monopolies.
The other broader, longer-term question would be whether the blockchain undermines data surveillance by taking privacy and giving it back to individuals. I think the former might be three years away. The latter is probably more like 10 or 20, but at least for the foreseeable future, this is a very serious problem.
So that's a little bit for me, my take on everything, Twitter, social media, and democracy. And I'll talk to y'all real soon.