Elon Musk actually sits down and talks to 'government-funded media' the BBC
Plus: RIP Twitter Inc – it's X Corp now
Updated "I said BBC could come [to] Twitter, then, to my surprise, a reporter shows up," Chief Twit Elon Musk announced this morning.
The result was an hour-long retrospective on Musk's first six months at the helm with the BBC's North America technology correspondent, James Clayton, which was broadcast live on Twitter Spaces as well as recorded by the Beeb.
What started as fairly good-natured conversation inevitably turned sour when Clayton pressed Musk on his decision to reinstate multiple banned accounts and the supposed proliferation of misinformation on the platform.
But there were plenty of valuable insights from the horse's mouth as well, as far as Musk can be believed anyway. One such was his admittance that he would have walked away from the takeover deal if he could.
"It really is quite entertaining, it's like soap opera," he said, and didn't we all know it at the time. "Because when I first made the offer ... they were like, 'HELL NO, YOU CAN'T BUY TWITTER, WE'D RATHER DIE. WE'D, LIKE, CHEW ON CYANIDE BEFORE BEING BOUGHT.' That was their initial response."
Of course, Musk then had a change of heart, ostensibly to do with the amount of bots or fake users. "And then they said, 'NO, YOU MUST BUY US, GUN TO THE HEAD, YOU HAVE TO BUY US.' And I'm like, are you the same people who said you'd rather die than be bought? Doesn't that seem odd?"
On the bot situation and that $44 billion price tag, Musk likened it to buying a warehouse full of goods and being told that less than 5 percent could be broken, but on closer inspection it was more like 25 percent. "You'd be like, huh, that's not what you said."
Clayton dug further: "Did you [buy Twitter] because you thought a court would make you do that?"
"Yes. Yes, that is the reason."
"So you didn't actually want to purchase it even when you said you were going to?"
"Well, not at that price! ... It's not super complicated."
"I'm not sure you've said that before."
"Cue a whole bunch of court cases ..."
The discussion also touched upon the BBC's spat with Twitter for labeling the broadcaster as "government-funded media," which Auntie vehemently disagrees with, having written to the social network this week to resolve the issue "as soon as possible."
"The BBC is, and always has been, independent. We are funded by the British public through the licence fee," it said.
To that, Musk admitted he knew the BBC was not "generally thrilled about being labeled state media" and said it would be changed to "publicly funded," for the BBC and the US's NPR, though we'll have to wait and see if he follows through.
NPR has said it will quit Twitter after being labeled state media. The US broadcaster is unhappy with the labeling as it instead relies on donations, grants, and sponsorship; only a tiny fraction of its funding comes from the American government.
"I actually do have a lot of respect for the BBC," Musk said, suggesting that he is not above trolling respectable, venerable media orgs for shits and giggles.
Musk also walked through Twitter's successes and new features introduced under his leadership, saying: "Usage is up, growth is good ... the site is working fairly well, and we're doing it with a small fraction of the original headcount."
He dismissed long-running concerns that the website would eventually collapse due to brain drain from the deep layoffs Musk made in engineering and other departments. Twitter now runs from two datacenters instead of three, a cost-cutting exercise Musk said was achievable thanks to an "80 percent" improvement in the efficiency of the platform's core algorithm.
"We're actually on Twitter right now, so it must work," he quipped.
But it hasn't all been fun and games. Musk confessed that it's been "really quite a stressful situation over the last several months" and that the "pain level has been extremely high, this hasn't been some kind of party."
On layoffs, Clayton took Musk to task over the lack of notice employees were given, but the world's second richest man was defiant. "The gravity of the situation is perhaps not well understood ... At the point at which the transaction closed, Twitter was tracking to lose over $3 billion a year, and had $1 billion in the bank, so that's four months to death, so this is your starting position."
Asked whether it was reasonable to paint the job losses as "uncaring," he said: "The issue is that the company is going to go bankrupt if we do not cut costs immediately, so this is not a caring/uncaring situation – if the whole ship sinks then nobody has a job."
Clayton observed: "You're framing it in a way that it had a few months to live; you're quite a rich man."
"I sold a lot of Tesla stock to close this deal," Musk shot back. "I did not want to sell the Tesla stock."
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The atmosphere became more adversarial when Clayton claimed that he had seen more "hateful content" on Twitter since Musk took over. The former CEO ("My dog Floki has taken over," he claimed at one point) asked the journalist to name a single example, which Clayton failed to do, much to the delight of the "free speech absolutists" on the platform. It was not a good look for the BBC in front of the baying hounds and worsened as Clayton squirmed through Twitter's policy change on COVID-19 misinformation.
"COVID is no longer an issue anymore," Musk said. "Does the BBC hold itself at all responsible for misinformation regarding masking and side effects of vaccinations? And not reporting on that at all? And what about the fact the BBC was put under pressure by the British government to change editorial policy, are you aware of that?"
It then became unclear who was interviewing who. Away from political flash points, however, Musk claimed "most" advertisers had now returned to Twitter and the platform could be on track to become "cash flow positive" as soon as this quarter. It's an entertaining bit of TV at the very least, and can be viewed in full here.
Twitter Inc 'no longer exists'
In other news from tech's most chaotic takeover, it appears that Twitter Inc is no more.
In April 4 filings submitted as part of US right-wing conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer's racketeering lawsuit against Twitter and Meta, which both banned her from the platform (she's banned from pretty much every app you can think of, but is back on Twitter), lawyers wanted to point out that Twitter Inc is no longer a defendant.
They write: "The undersigned counsel for Defendant X Corp, as successor in interest to named Defendant Twitter Inc, hereby states that Twitter Inc has been merged into X Corp and no longer exists. X Corp is a privately held corporation. Its parent corporation is X Holdings Corp. No publicly traded corporation owns 10 percent or more of the stock of X Corp or X Holdings Corp."
Musk has referenced this "X" before, claiming in October: "Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app." While the SpaceX and Tesla mogul has never elaborated further, commentators suspect he'd like to ape China's WeChat, which offers "everything" from social networking to messaging to ride sharing, food deliveries and more. X.com was also the name of Musk's business that was spun into PayPal.
WeChat works because it is a China-only business. It's a walled garden owned by Tencent, which, by virtue of its massive data empire, has made it the de facto messenger app of the Middle Kingdom. Getting something similar to work in the Western world – where you have the Facebooks and WhatsApps and Telegrams and Ubers and Deliveroos etc – would be difficult, not least because of all the competition watchdogs sniffing around constantly. Facebook and Twitter, as well as a host of other Western internet services, are banned in China so WeChat's dominance is pretty much state approved.
Considering that Musk reckons Twitter is only just getting back on the straight and narrow, and not forgetting that he obliterated the workforce, "X, the everything app" looks set to remain but a twinkle in a flaky entrepreneur's eye for the foreseeable, not to mention that it's in all likelihood completely unworkable. ®
Updated to add
We've noticed the BBC is now labeled as publicly funded on Twitter.