If brevity is the soul of wit, what could be wittier than a poop emoji? That thought may or may not have factored into Elon Musk’s decision to have Twitter deploy the pictogram in response to all messages sent to the company’s media relations email address. I would ask, but I don’t want to get pooped at.
At least the address is giving some response now. When Musk took over Twitter, he disbanded its press department, having done the same thing at Tesla a few years ago. Since then, journalists have been partially hamstrung when writing stories about Twitter—our training and our readers demand that we reflect the various opposing sides of any story, but one side is determined not to play along.
For someone with a fanatical following, the strategy is not without its benefits. Any imbalance of perspective in stories about Musk and Twitter can undermine those articles in the eyes of the faithful, giving them more reason to defend the object of their affection. As Steve Jobs’ Apple regularly demonstrated, ignoring the media can also reinforce the idea that a CEO or company is in a league of its own. Twitter’s CEO takes that a step further by owning the only platform on which a journalist can engage with him—in public, of course, which is no good for anyone working on a scoop.
Problem is, ignoring the media does not make negative coverage go away. Twitter doesn’t do itself any favors when it refuses to comment on—to take an example from the weekend—a report about how its paid verification scheme helped Russian propagandists spread disinformation about the Ohio train derailment. Meanwhile, Tesla’s reliance on its CEO as a sole spokesperson is less than helpful when the big story for its investors is Musk’s preoccupation with his new plaything, Twitter.
Jobs could treat the media like dirt because, for all his faults, he was a great communicator who maintained enough mystique to draw the masses into his reality distortion field. Everyone wanted to know what he and Apple were going to do next, so journalists had to just suck it up for fear of losing access.
Musk, by contrast, is constantly telling everyone what he’s going to do, often before failing to follow through. Meanwhile, the image he projects has morphed from “visionary inspiration for Tony Stark” to “cartoon billionaire with a vicious streak and chronic lack of focus”—the inflection point came around five years ago, when he baselessly accused a British cave diver of being a pedophile, before incorrectly tweeting that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private.
Judging by his shock when he was roundly booed by the crowd at a Dave Chappelle show a few months ago, Musk has—or had—quite a different idea about how people outside his fanbase perceive him these days. And a damning new Washington Post report, about how Musk’s impetuous management has undermined Tesla’s “full self-driving” program, suggests many of his employees share that perception.
Someone in Musk’s position should be hiring rather than firing professional communicators—and the companies he runs are too important to dodge accountability. People will continue to have legitimate questions about what Twitter and Tesla are up to, and it’s the media’s job to get answers. Funny as the poop emoji may seem when lobbed at reporters, the target is ultimately the public.
Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman.
Make videos using just words. A.I. startup Runway announced its Gen-2 video model that it says can generate video with text. This model builds on the company’s work with its first video model that helped users generate edits to existing footage. Runway will be “providing broad access in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson told the Verge.
Gig apps question nominee for Labor Secretary. The Flex Association, a group representing Uber, Lyft, and other gig-work services, is concerned about Julie Su, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Labor Department. She had previously backed a California law that limited the definition of a gig worker. In a letter to Biden today, the group asked for an explanation from Su on how she would implement a proposed rule that could make it easier for workers to be considered employees “in a manner that protects independent work,” Bloomberg reports.
Cruise’s Origin to hit the roads. With or without NHTSA approval, GM's Cruise plans to test its autonomous 6-passenger shuttle vehicle on Texas roads in the coming weeks. The futuristic-looking Origin has no steering wheel, brake pedal, or other human controls on board. The company says it's able to begin public tests thanks to a clause in a 2015 Department of Transportation law that allows exemptions for “testing or evaluation” of non-compliant vehicles so long as the manufacturer does not sell them after the testing period.
ON OUR FEED
“Our company has long touted its commitment to doing right by its users and workers, and these commitments will show Alphabet adhering to the final line of its Code of Conduct: Don’t Be Evil.”
—1,400+ Google employees, in an open letter to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai asking for him to make public commitments such as freezing all new hires during the layoff process
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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OpenAI GPT-4 users win followers by sharing how they’re using it—including to start businesses in ‘HustleGPT challenge’, by Steve Mollman
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman warns that other A.I. developers working on ChatGPT-like tools won’t put on safety limits—and the clock is ticking, by Steve Mollman
Peter Thiel is swearing he kept $50 million of his personal fortune at SVB while his Founders Fund bailed on the bank, by Tristan Bove
I came to Austin for tech’s biggest party and witnessed a surreal scene as Silicon Valley Bank crumbled, by Kylie Robison
BEFORE YOU GO
Netflix doubles down on video games. Netflix is expanding its gaming portfolio with 40 new titles this year and 70 in development. The streaming service is promising indie darlings, award-winning hits, RPGs, narrative adventures, puzzle games, and more. Microsoft has also hinted at expanding its gaming offerings with an Xbox mobile gaming store. In an interview with the Financial Times, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said his team wants to offer its own content and that of third-party partners across any screen. “Today, we can’t do that on mobile devices but we want to build towards a world that we think will be coming where those devices are opened up.”
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