What is that the loony Elon Musk up to now?


Musk revolutionized the auto industry by demonstrating that electric cars can be stylish and speedy (for the affluent). He is in the process of revolutionizing the aerospace industry by demonstrating that rocket rides can be stylish and speedy for the super-duper affluent.

These two businesses are compatible and Musk's considerable and quirky acumen contributed. Automobiles and rockets both require advanced engineering, design sensibility, rigid regulatory systems, complex supply chains, and precision delivery, to name but a few. These are industries where control is king. Every element has to be overseen by unforgiving hierarchical governance systems.

Like his progenitor, Steve Jobs, Musk has an uncanny genius for hardware and the software that runs it.

But Twitter? Twitter is a micro-platform for people to say stuff, 99.9999% of which is not even worth the aphoristic "penny for your thoughts."

Musk says he's going to champion free speech. Twitter has somewhere around 217 million accounts. They have suspended — temporarily or permanently — 360,000 accounts. That’s less than 1/10 of a percent. Check out the list: known terrorists, violence-inciting activists, racists, miscreants, Justin Bieber, and Jack Dorsey (Twitter founder and CEO). You can’t say anything you want, even on a soap-box in Hyde Park. That Twitter has suspended so few accounts is robust evidence of its commitment to free speech.

Musk is going to crack down on "spambots." Have you checked your email, cell phone, or What’s App lately? Good luck with that crackdown. The moderation software infrastructure and oversight to counter spam in the social media atmosphere are gargantuan. If AT&T and all the other phone and internet providers, which have decades of experience in this domain, can’t figure this out, how will a newly purchased Twitter do it?

How can Musk achieve these things without putting draconian control measures in place? He's going to have to double the staff and create a reporting hierarchy that will far exceed anything that exists in social media. Twitter’s market capitalization — already below newcomer Snap — will dive even deeper, and the appetite of the Wall Street asset fund manager will be sated by another tech investment.

Musk can't do what he's promised. How do we know that? Wall Street. Twitter's price of shares didn't even move after the announcement that Musk had bought it. That's because the analysts know that Musk — as impressive as he is — doesn't have the skill set to do anything meaningful with Twitter.

If this were someone other than Musk — a Carl Ichan-like character — I'd assume this was a private equity deal designed to clean Twitter up and then dump it on Amazon (who desperately wants a footprint in social media) or Facebook (who acquires companies like Instagram for cross-marketing purposes).

But here’s the difference. Icahn and others of his ilk were about money; they were investors who surely got rich but helped us get some Do-Re-Mi, too. In contrast, Musk is a crusader. His value proposition is freedom of expression, which many around the world feel needs to be curtailed, not expanded. He is a self-appointed evangelist without a church, much less a religion.

Elon Musk has strayed from his lane by purchasing Twitter. It is mainly his money — his contribution to the purchase was less than 10% of his $275 billion net worth — and if for whatever reason Twitter goes belly up, our democracy won't crumble. We might have to wait until morning to learn of Kim and Kanye's ongoing what-ever-it-is. That's not a violation of free speech, though it would derail our degenerate desire for daily voyeurism. We can survive without that.

But, do what you Musk.

James Bailey is a professor of leadership development at George Washington University