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The Elon Musk Freakout

Left melting down over what he's doing to Twitter -- but user experience seems unaffected by his cuts. What does that say?
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The policy changes underway at Twitter by its new owner are roiling the commentariat. This is the lead story right now at The New York Times:

Hours before a Thursday deadline that Elon Musk had given Twitter employees to decide whether to stay or leave their jobs, the social media company appeared to be in disarray.

Mr. Musk and his advisers held meetings with some Twitter workers whom they deemed “critical” to stop them from leaving, four people with knowledge of the conversations said. He sent out confusing messages about the company’s remote work policy, appearing to soften his stance on not allowing people to work from home before warning their managers, according to those people and internal emails viewed by The New York Times.

All the while, two people said, resignations started to roll in. By the deadline, 5 p.m. Eastern time, hundreds of Twitter employees appeared to have decided to depart with three months of severance pay, the people said. Twitter later announced via email that it would close “our office buildings” and disable employee badge access until Monday.

The exits added to the turmoil at Twitter since Mr. Musk, 51, completed his $44 billion takeover last month. The billionaire has laid off half of Twitter’s 7,500 full-time workers, fired dissenters and told employees that they need to be “extremely hard core” to make the company a success.

On Wednesday, Mr. Musk gave Twitter’s remaining employees just under 36 hours to leave or commit to building “a breakthrough Twitter 2.0.” Those who departed would get the three months of severance pay, he said. He positioned the move as a way to make the company the most competitive it could be, though the action also provided an opportunity to further cut costs and purge the firm of disaffected workers.

The shedding of so many employees in such a compressed period has raised questions about how Twitter will keep operating effectively. 


Well, what is "effectively"? I have seen no change at all in my Twitter experience since Musk took over. Does "operating effectively" mean the stifling censorship that had been a common experience of conservatives using the site stays in place? A lot of people on the Left seem to think that without that, Twitter can't do what it's supposed to do. Does "operating effectively" mean that whinybutt Millennials and Gen Z employees get to trash their boss on Twitter and on its Slack channels? Musk has been firing people who do that, as he should. It is one thing to give constructive criticism within a closed environment at one's place of employment; that sort of thing is important for the healthy functioning of the business. But it is quite another to believe that employees should have the unlimited right to tear down their boss and his business in public. Since when, in the history of the world, has that been permissible? The sense of entitlement of those Twitter employees is appalling. It seems to be generational, though. The young Jacobins working at major newspapers behave this way too, as I recall from the Summer Of Floyd. It causes a toxic work environment. If you despise the mission of the company and hate its leadership, whatever the company is, then leave. This idea that you should still be able to collect your paycheck while denouncing your paymaster publicly is cracked. It's the childish mentality of the college student who hates his parents and tells them so, but still expects them to pay his bills.

Hey, I was once that college student! In the mid-1980s, a photo of me turned up on the front page of the city section of the local paper, protesting against the CIA recruiting on campus. My father told me that if anything like that ever happened again, I was on my own, financially. I, age 19, thought he was a monster. Of course he was right -- not necessarily about the CIA, but in asserting his right to set limits on my behavior, as I was dependent on him. I remember going to a very liberal professor I liked and respected, to gripe about my dad's edict. The professor said, well, if you feel that strongly about it, then stop taking money from him, get a job, and pay your own way through college. You can do this, said the professor, and it might be good for your character. Of course I didn't do that. I didn't care enough about my causes to make that kind of sacrifice. I did learn something important about the real world from that experience, though. So will the young Twitter dissidents.

This old cartoon from SPY magazine captures the dynamic well.

I can't say I'm a huge Elon Musk fan -- the transhumanism stuff unnerves me -- and his buy-a-blue-check scheme has been a disaster. I've had a blue check for a decade, not because it's supposedly prestigious, but because as a media figure involved in controversy, it was important that people be able to know when something was tweeted by me, versus an imposter. Musk's new policy obliterates the usefulness of the blue check. Overall, though, I don't care what he's doing with Twitter, and so far, I even support it. He might make it better. Jack Dorsey seems to have run the place like some cross between a commune and a progressive college in the Pacific Northwest. I never was suspended by Twitter for anything, but people I know and people whose accounts I like were, for the most trivial reasons. The tyranny of thin-skinned progressives administering the site was deeply annoying, and if Musk is purging his company of those people, well, good -- it will make Twitter operate more "effectively."


What would an "effective" Twitter be? As I see it, a forum for the exchange of as wide a variety of information as is possible, without giving voice to hardcore bigots, extremists, violent people, and other kinds of malicious commenters. Sure, Twitter progs would say that's what they were trying to keep out, but I would draw the line in a far more permissive way than they would. It's not necessary impermissible bigotry to allow someone to say Christians are bad people, or transgenderism is mental illness, for example. Nor is it bad to permit Twitter users to question the official narrative from public health officials, or anybody else. If the Covid event taught us anything, it's that we should not silence dissenters. I trust that when things settle down at Twitter, Musk will allow far more free speech than Dorsey did -- and that's a good thing!

Maybe there's something going on here that I don't see (so I reserve the right to revise my opinion), but what this looks like to this longtime Twitter user is that the censorious Left is losing its control over one of the world's most important communications platforms, and that seems to those people like catastrophic injustice. Half the employees of the company have been fired, but whaddaya know, the thing still works! What does that tell you?

It is interesting as a social phenomenon to watch so many on the Left melt down over what's happening to Twitter. They seem to think that they owned it. The closest thing in my experience to this was the grief -- it's not too strong a word -- that I felt watching NPR go from being liberal to progressive. I fell in love with NPR in the 1980s, in high school, when I was liberal. Though I later became conservative, I still had a lot of affection for NPR, and was a loyal listener, and even for some years a financial contributor. Though it was liberal, it was generally fair, and informative, and even entertaining. At some point in the last fifteen years or so, it got woke. Real woke. It became unlistenable. I never was under the illusion that the Right "owned" NPR, or anything like it. But it did feel like, I dunno, my thing. I felt a personal connection to its hosts and many of its programs. I felt like I learned things about the world that I wouldn't have learned anywhere else. For a long time it's been constant Radio Moscow lectures on the evils of whiteness, transphobia, and all the rest. Losing NPR mattered to me. It was like losing an old friend. There is nothing to replace it.

But you know, life goes on. Twitter will survive. I think it will even be better. And if not, well, it's not the end of the world. Gotta say that the more things like this I see on Twitter, the more firmly I stand on Team Elon:

UPDATE: A thread that shows why Musk's $8 blue check policy has been a failure:


It would have been understandable had Musk started charging a fee for the verification process. But by making a blue check available to anybody who paid the $8, he destroyed its value.

UPDATE.2: A reader cautions:

I've worked in tech recruitment. This whole Twitter thing looks like a disaster to me. A business can deal with rocky times, but this seems to be much more chaotic.

Not that I particularly care. I rarely check Twitter and I think society as a whole may be better off without it.

That said, there's a reason young Silicon Valley employees and tech workers elsewhere have so much power. They have skills that are in high demand. They can walk away and many apparently are walking away from Twitter. They will likely find new jobs without much difficulty. As a tech recruiter, I had to work hard to get people on board. It's very competitive. You can't walk in and start threatening these people. One of our big fears, for instance, was pissing off someone at Amazon and then they come in and hire up all of our people. 

The one caveat is this: the market isn't quite as hot as it once was for tech skills. I was working in recruitment up until August and I noticed a shift in July and August: I didn't have to do active search as much. Applications were coming in and that was mostly meeting our goals. Then after August, I was taken off recruitment and assigned elsewhere. I don't have my finger on the pulse of the job market the way I did before. 

So maybe Musk will meet Twitter's needs without too much problem.

But I have my doubts.