Stop normalizing Musk (and why “work harder” isn’t going to do it for Twitter)

Twitter icon decayingOne of the most disheartening things about the Musk takeover of Twitter is how his malignant narcissism is being treated as normal. Even sadder, celebrated, by a small but vocal contingent of people who are still inexplicably fans of a person who’d happily have them thrown into a wood chipper if it meant an extra profit – or just for fun.

In a better world, Twitter’s employees would’ve locked arms and simply refused to take his orders. If Musk wanted someone fired, let him figure out how to get access to the systems to do so. Let him take personal responsibility for the consequences. See how long he can keep the site up solo.

Advertisers shouldn’t be pulling out here and there, they should’ve canceled all spend with Twitter until Musk goes away or at least gets out of Godzilla on cocaine mode. It’s disappointing to see any company still willing to help prop Twitter up. [1]

Instead, people keep normalizing his behavior or talking about it like it’s Business As Usual (BAU). Since his dark cloud descended over the birdsite, a lot of virtual ink has been spilled by pundits mulling over his actions as if they were standard business operational decisions. They’re not. Whether Musk actually believes that any of this will make Twitter profitable or if his intent is to burn Twitter to the ground, I can’t tell.

More importantly, it doesn’t matter. Musk, and those who’ve backed this play, need to fail and fail hard.

There’s a saying I’m fond of, “you teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.” (I think Tony Gaskins said this.)

Usually this is deployed at an interpersonal level, one on one relationships. But we ought to apply this at societal level as well. Do we want temper-tantrum throwing billionaires wrecking things or disrupting thousands of people’s careers and lives on a whim? Because, right now, we’re reinforcing the idea that this is just BAU.

Other business leaders are taking notes. Musk has set a bar for behavior that, apparently, corporate America will tolerate. That (some) workers will tolerate. That society will tolerate.

Work harder isn’t the answer anyway

For those folks cheering at the sidelines for Musk’s message of “everybody’s going to have to work harder” bullshit, sit down.

Maybe Twitter could wrangle its way to profitability by being smarter with fewer resources. But I see the real problem as Twitter being a service that everybody likes, but few are willing to spend money to use. Which leaves advertising as the primary source of revenue, which puts Twitter at odds with its users (a.k.a. “the product”) and all the inherent problems with advertising as revenue.

Twitter’s value is as a commons. That’s easy to abuse, but hard to monetize. “Twitter Blue” and other schemes aren’t the answer. Neither is firing most of the company and then abusing those left behind. Twitter isn’t a widget factory, and “work harder and longer” isn’t going to squeeze out more money.

Again, it wouldn’t excuse Musk’s actions even if it were a strategy that could work, but it’s sad that this approach seems to have so many fans who think that the problem with tech businesses is that they’re too well-staffed and people just aren’t working hard enough anymore.

Twitter’s problem, social media’s problem, is that its attraction and utility are either things people won’t pay for or have been conditioned to expect for free. That is not something that can be solved by workers pulling longer hours for fear of their jobs. (“Don’t be afraid of your job” is a lesson my dad taught me at an early age, and I wish more people had as well. A topic for another time.)

Musk is the world’s best advertisement against the existence of billionaires. No single person should have the kind of unchecked influence and impact that Musk has, even if that person had good intent. I like to think I’m a reasonably decent and moderately competent human being and under no circumstances should I be allowed to run a space program, car company, and social media commons simultaneously. Much less a malignant narcissist with the impulse control of a toddler on cocaine and a severely impaired moral compass.

[1] Note that I am explicitly not calling on everybody to delete their Twitter accounts, for various reasons. Don’t blame those who do, don’t blame those who don’t. While staying on Twitter could be seen as BAU, it also is an important network for many, and quite a few folks are using the service to harass and displease Musk, which is all well and good. Plus normal levels of traffic are likely to tax the degrading infrastructure more so… do what makes you happy, I suppose.

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