On today’s show, we start with 10 Good Minutes on the extremely funny and very chaotic saga of Elon Musk vs. Twitter. Last week, Musk bought enough Twitter shares to become the company’s largest individual shareholder. Then, Twitter announced that Musk would become a board member. Then, Musk tweeted a bunch of embarrassing things about Twitter, suggesting the platform was “dying” and that its headquarters should be converted into a homeless shelter. Then, Twitter announced that Musk would not be a board member. What is happening?! Casey Newton, the author of the Platformer newsletter, joins the show to share his reporting and speculation. Part of their conversation has been excerpted below.
Next, we welcome back Paul Poast, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, to talk about why we should fear Russia even though its military has “stunk” so far, why the next chapter of the war could be even bloodier, and when the war might finally end.
Derek Thompson: So last week, Elon Musk announced that he had become the largest individual shareholder of Twitter. The company made it known that he would be joining the board of directors in exchange for not buying up more shares of the company, and joining the board of directors would theoretically also keep him from firing off a barrage of embarrassing tweets about the company. Immediately after that, Elon Musk started firing off a barrage of embarrassing tweets about the company, including one about how none of Twitter’s biggest accounts, like Justin Bieber, do any tweeting. He appended to that observation the question, quote “Is Twitter dying?” He then wrote that Twitter’s headquarters were basically empty and should be converted into a homeless shelter. And the third step of this domino effect was that the CEO of Twitter announced Sunday night that—surprise, surprise—the guy tweeting about how Twitter is dying is not going to join the board of directors at Twitter. Casey, what did this letter say? What were the most interesting, bizarre, funny parts of this letter?
Casey Newton: I mean, it was all sort of interesting and funny in just sort of keeping with the general outlines of this story, but you know, you go through it line by line and there are weird things that stand out. You know, I think that the line that raised people’s eyebrows the most was the idea that Twitter had told Elon he was gonna need to take a background check. And that that might have inspired some fears in Elon, although it’s like Elon has done so many things in the foreground that I don’t know what was gonna come out in the background check that was really gonna scuttle this whole thing, but that was sort of thing no. 1. But really the wording of all of it is strange, you know, Parag [Agrawal] says like, well, here’s what I can share, you know, which suggests that maybe there was more that was happening behind the scenes. Parag also says there will be distractions ahead, suggesting that maybe we’re expecting some more hostilities from Elon toward Twitter. So a lot’s still up in the air, but in the annals of Twitter history, this is truly a historical milestone of absurdity.
Thompson: This letter from the CEO of Twitter, from Parag Agrawal, it really is like a corporate iceberg, like for the 5 percent that you can see in this letter, you’re like, “What is the 95 percent that we cannot see?” I love the fact that it says, as you mentioned, quote, “We announced on Tuesday that Elon be appointed to the board, contingent on a background check and formal acceptance.” Like why put that in the letter unless you wanna very subtly, uh, shiv Elon. I thought this was my favorite part. I’m quoting from two different parts of the letter. Part 1, quote: “The board and I had many discussions with Elon about joining the board. We were excited to collaborate and clear about the risks,” yada, yada, yada. In Part 2: “Elon shared that same morning he would no longer be joining the board. I believe this is for the best.” Within approximately five sentences, he says we’re really excited about Elon Musk joining our board. Also, Elon Musk didn’t join our board. Also, it’s good that Elon Musk didn’t join. Like, pick a door here, man. What did you make of that?
Newton: I mean, I think that mirrors the experience that most people have about Elon Musk doing things. Just like, “Oh, that sounds good.” And then you think about it for five seconds. Like, “Actually, is there anyone else who could do this?” So I think Parag is sort of being very relatable there.
Thompson: I’m interested in what you think Musk’s own motivations are here. My sense is that he was offered a choice and the choice was something along the lines of, “Elon, you can join Twitter as a formal and respectful member of the board of directors, or you can tweet whatever bullshit you want about the company.” And Elon was like, “That is the easiest decision of my life. I am going to enjoy my 9 percent of this company. And I choose to tweet.” I mean, how much of this do you think is just, uh, Elon not wanting to be tied down, tethered by the rules that naturally come with the sort of fiduciary obligations of being on the board of directors?
Newton: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s obviously true, but all that was obviously true before he bought 9 percent of Twitter and before he agreed to join the board, right. So, you know, folks keep calling me up and asking me to explain Elon’s rationale here. Like the only thing I’m convinced of is that there actually was no rationale. You know, when this first happened, I compared the whole thing to like Loki buying an ant farm, you know, just like a mischievous trickster god who, like, wanted to run experiments on some, you know, population of puny creatures. And to me, that is what this entire thing has felt like. There has not been one logical thing that has connected. It is just a series of events and a bunch of journalists trying to impose some sort of narrative on it that seems remotely plausible.
This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity.
Host: Derek Thompson
Guests: Casey Newton & Paul Poast
Producer: Devon Manze