Few events in the tech industry have produced more punditry and prognosticating than Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, which finally became official Thursday night.
Republicans, libertarian-minded CEOs, and Musk sycophants are heralding Musk as a free-speech white knight bent on making Twitter great again—woke liberals be damned. Democrats, journalists, and tech elites are collectively authoring a eulogy for decency and discourse on their favorite platform—rest in purgatory.
Here’s my mundane take: I have no idea what will happen to Twitter. And neither does anyone else. Maybe even Musk included.
For all the upheaval initiated by Musk over the past six months—launching a dramatic takeover bid, publicly bashing Twitter executives, backing out of the deal, backing into the deal—Musk has yet to unveil anything close to a cohesive plan for the company.
In fact, the Tesla chief has, at times, done the exact opposite, sending diametrically opposed signals about his intentions for Twitter.
In the weeks after making his initial bid in April, Musk, when speaking about his interest in Twitter, said: “I don’t care about the economics at all.” In a since-deleted tweet from the same month, Musk wrote that Twitter shouldn’t have ads, because “the power of corporations to dictate policy is greatly enhanced if Twitter depends on advertising money to survive.”
Yet on Thursday morning, Musk penned a paean to marketers, writing that “advertising, when done right, can delight, entertain, and inform you.” Given that ad sales account for nearly 90% of Twitter’s revenue, do those sound like the words of someone who doesn’t care about the economics of his $44 billion purchase?
Musk has sent similarly mixed signals about content moderation.
In past tweets and public comments, Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist” who defined free speech as “that which matches the law.”
Yet Musk has also said tweets that are “wrong and bad” or “destructive to the world”—comically vague standards for which he’s offered little definition—should be deleted or hidden. Then, in Thursday’s message to advertisers, Musk said Twitter “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape” and “must be warm and welcoming to all.”
When Musk has floated noncontradictory ideas for his reign over Twitter, he’s been frustratingly opaque with any details.
In the spring, Musk pitched making Twitter into a subscription-based system, one in which corporations and influencers are essentially taxed based on their reach. But it’s been crickets from Musk about the proposal ever since.
At an all-staff meeting in June, Musk floated the potential for making Twitter into a global version of WeChat, the super app through which enormous amounts of China’s digital economy flows. To date, Musk has offered no clear path—let alone a boulder-and-quicksand-filled path—for reaching such heights.
In fact, Musk has truly made just one decision so far of serious consequence at Twitter (potentially two, if he directed the apparent reinstatement of Ye’s account). According to multiple reports, Musk fired four Twitter leaders Thursday night: CEO Parag Agrawal, with whom he clashed in the run-up to his takeover bid; chief legal counsel Vijaya Gadde, whose views on content moderation diverged from his; CFO Ned Segal; and general counsel Sean Edgett.
The firings are fair enough. It’s Musk’s company, and he gets to choose who’s in charge. But as of Friday morning, Musk hasn’t said squat about who’s leading the company or how ascendant executives will carry out his vision. Sure, Musk has only been in charge for less than 24 hours, but he’s surely had these pink slips on his desk for months. (Bloomberg, citing a source familiar with the matter, reported Musk plans to assume the CEO role for now.)
In this vacuum of certainty, Musk’s champions and critics alike are sketching their own stories online for Twitter’s fate. It’s a quintessentially human exercise, yet one not worth the pixels it’s printed on.
At some point in the not-too-distant future, Musk will have to stop talking and start acting. At this point, who knows what he’ll do.
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Did you expect anything less? Apple topped analysts’ earnings and revenue estimates for the latest quarter, even as sales of the newly released iPhone came in below Wall Street forecasts, Bloomberg reported Thursday. Apple executives said the company is largely weathering the macroeconomic issues pummeling other parts of the tech industry, helping produce a record quarter for revenue. Investors shrugged off concerns about soft iPhone sales, pushing Apple shares up 8% in midday trading Friday.
An early lump of coal. Amazon issued a holiday-quarter revenue outlook Thursday that fell far short of analysts’ expectations, sending shares of the tech conglomerate down 8% in midday trading Friday, the Associated Press reported. Company officials projected revenue totaling $140 billion to $148 billion in the upcoming quarter, short of Wall Street predictions of $155 billion. Amazon’s third-quarter revenue came in fractionally below analyst expectations, though the company turned a $2.9 billion profit after two straight quarters of losses.
It’s going to get ugly. Intel announced plans to slash spending next year by $3 billion, in part through a “meaningful number” of layoffs, after issuing a disappointing outlook for the upcoming quarter, Barron’s reported Thursday. The chipmaker topped analysts’ earnings estimates for the third quarter and met revenue expectations, but fourth-quarter revenue forecasts came in well below Wall Street’s consensus. Most semiconductor companies are warning about a sharp decline in demand tied to a slowdown in personal computer and other consumer electronics sales.
A place to pin some hopes. Pinterest bucked the trend of brutal earnings for social media companies, announcing quarterly earnings and revenue that comfortably topped analysts’ expectations, Reuters reported. Pinterest posted an 8% year-over-year increase in revenue, its slowest growth in two years, but the gains were better than Wall Street forecasted amid an industrywide slowdown in ad sales growth. Shares of Pinterest rose 8% in midday trading Friday.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Few chips left to play. President Joe Biden’s attempt to impede China’s semiconductor industry will eventually produce some form of retaliation—but the options at Beijing’s disposal aren’t ideal. As the Wall Street Journal’s Jacky Wong wrote Friday, the Chinese government has few clear-cut choices for responding to new American export controls, which are designed to stop the flow of advanced semiconductors into the republic. President Xi Jinping’s administration could target American companies reliant on Chinese manufacturing, but any such sanctions likely would harm the republic’s already tenuous economy. China also could deploy its own export controls, but those restrictions might accelerate efforts to onshore tech manufacturing in the U.S.
From the article:
There are no easy options for China, but the way in which the country responds will be a key signal on how the two superpowers’ fencing match will evolve in the new era of Biden and Xi.
The sweeping U.S. restrictions on technology exports this month came while China’s leaders were busy preparing for the critical twice a decade meeting of the ruling Communist Party. Beijing will now need to consider how to respond given how far-reaching the chip curbs are: They will set China’s semiconductor industry back years, effectively crushing President Xi’s hope to become more self-sufficient in chip making if they are strictly enforced.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Mark Zuckerberg won’t say these two words anymore, and it’s a clear sign of how panicked he is by TikTok, by Kylie Robison
This longtime HBO exec is strategizing the future of streaming at the new Warner Bros. Discovery, by Emma Hinchliffe
A former IBM finance leader is on a blockchain-based mission to get central banks to use digital currency, by Sheryl Estrada
Companies like Apple often invoke the spirit of their late founders—done wrong, this habit can come back to haunt them, by Lila MacLellan
Putin could try to shoot down Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites, by Christiaan Hetzner
Cyber responders are outnumbered and under pressure as they defend our modern way of life, by Laurance Dine
BEFORE YOU GO
Lamentations of the rich and famous. Let’s pour out some Dom Pérignon for tech’s biggest billionaires (or toast their misfortunes, if that’s your cup of tea). As Fortune’s Sophie Mellor reported Friday, the richest executives in tech have seen tens of billions of dollars in wealth wiped out by this year’s bloodbath on Wall Street, which crescendoed with this week’s carnage. Meta cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has lost about $100 billion (at least on paper) in the past 13 months, with $11 billion vanquished on Thursday alone after he pledged to double down on the metaverse. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has seen his nest egg nearly cut in half to a mere $110 billion from its July 2021 peak, the result of investors unloading the company’s stock amid a slowdown in e-commerce growth. The list goes on, if you’re looking to feel that peculiar mix of schadenfreude, jealousy, and anger.
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