Opinion | Buying Twitter is one thing. Change it? Good luck with that.

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Elon Musk has always been seriously weird, but his quirks have rarely been serious. His periodic pleasures, such as pricing Teslas in bitcoin or considering taking the business privately, are simply equivalent to the billionaire getting a face tattoo – from the temporary tattoo stand at a school fair.

Having lived through and covered many of these brain spasms now, I initially found it impossible to pay much attention to his latest fashions. Yes, Elon, I’m sure you’re going to buy Twitter, take the moderation policies in and turn it back into a bastion of freewheeling, unhindered comments. It will definitely happen… right after you buy Disney and move Disney World to Altoona.

But Musk has gone and surprised me by putting up real pledge letters from actual bankers to fund the acquisition, and I’m starting to think he will actually buy Twitter. Since this does not make much economic sense, I really think he can make a difference by loosening Twitter’s content policies.

Now I’m still skeptical that it will happen. First, the board is hostile, which would make it difficult for Musk to close the deal. Second, there are plenty of reasons why Musk gets cold feet before any execution. I mean, I also preferred the old, outdated internet over today’s crowdsourced cultural revolution. But I probably would not risk seriously impairing my personal net worth to bring it back.

Musk has a lot more money than I do, of course – about $ 264.6 billion more, actually. But buying Twitter will cost him tens of thousands of billions plus significant financing and operating costs, which can run up to a billion a year. That’s a lot of money, even for him, especially since most of his net worth is illiquid, consisting of Tesla shares that would start to lose its value the moment he sold a noticeable amount.

And aside from these harsh economic realities, there are also difficult institutional realities to consider: Buying Twitter is not the same as making it what Musk wants.

Ordinary people tend to think of ownership and control as functionally the same; I have bought my house, I decide for myself if I want to renovate. But homeowners who make changes only need to worry about the local building authority, the reliability of their main contractor, and the laws of physics. They should not fight with 7,500 employees with their own ideas about what the house should look like – and which in many cases will fiercely oppose attempts at change.

Business renovations have a completely different degree of difficulty. There are certainly policies that Musk could change by promulgation, thereby immediately improving public discourse. He could change the algorithms to show us tweets in simple reverse chronological order, rather than promoting the tweets that are most likely to “engage” us, which would make users less likely to encounter the latest very engaging outrage. He could downplay advertising, which would reduce advertiser pressure to ban offensive speech. He could remove the retweeting features that promote the formation of cancellation mobs. All of these things would make a big difference – but they would probably also make Twitter a less viable business and cost him a lot of money.

And probably the hardest thing to fix is ​​the one thing that Musk’s fans (and maybe Musk himself) imagine he can reject: its moderation policy. Which brings us back to Twitter’s 7,500 workers.

Twitter’s formal moderation policies are just one of the factors that determine what gets banned; At least as important is Twitter’s corporate culture, and the sensitivity of employees who would make moderation decisions while Musk does not drive Tesla. No matter what rules Musk sets, they are the ones who will monitor the gray areas – and there will always be gray areas because no one, not even Elon Musk, wants one. really unmodified space where child pornography and spam tweets are pushed with libel and copyright infringement to our attention, displacing the interesting discussions we would like.

It’s so notoriously difficult to change a company’s culture that managers who try to turn it around sometimes remove it from circulation so they can start over: fire everyone and get them to apply for their jobs again, or move the company to one. other city that most current workers do not want to live in ii But these are not practical options with a company the size of Twitter.

The alternative is the slow and patient management work, changing the behavior one hiring and one meeting at a time. It can be done, but it’s hard to imagine it being done by a boss who has another, bigger, company to run. Even harder when that boss is the quirky Mr. Musk whose attention never rests on a project for a long time. The short attention span makes him an ideal customer for Twitter, but also a highly unlikely savior.

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