The implosion of Twitter has been breathtaking to behold.
In less than a month, Elon Musk has managed to drive away hundreds of thousands of users, alienate advertisers, and fire half the social media company’s staff. His already disinformation-ridden service became rife with impersonation accounts thanks to a new (and now paused) blue-check policy that rendered verified accounts virtually meaningless. On Thursday, he issued a memo asking employees who weren’t prepared to be “hard core” in embracing his vision — whatever that is — to leave. As many as 1,200 workers seem to have taken him up on the challenge, prompting Musk to plead with some “critical” workers to stay.
Could it get worse? Almost certainly. Like a wounded and enraged beast, the platform seems capable of damaging many more individuals, institutions, and companies — not to mention truth and democracy — as it stumbles toward an increasingly plausible death. It’s all enough to make a rational person ask: Why? What does Musk possibly think this is all good for?
Theories abound, but let us suggest the obvious: It can’t actually be good for Elon Musk. His much-debated reputation — yes, he has, or at least had, admirers as well as detractors — is now in tatters. His massive net worth, now somewhat depleted by Twitter’s $44 billion price tag and the debt he has incurred, almost certainly will continue shrinking as Twitter bleeds money and he is forced to sell his Tesla stock.
So here’s a thought, dear Elon: Please sell the joint. Or at the very least, turn over the reins to someone who might run it competently. Take the loss, accept the defeat, and get back to doing things you actually seem good at: making cars and spaceships.
On the downside, you’ll lose some money. But was this ever about money? Arguably Twitter had already peaked. The future of social media seems to be in video, and right now, that means TikTok is the “it” thing. And this period of not-so-constructive anarchy has only caused Twitter users to try other Twitter-like platforms. The New York Times even ran a column providing tips on planning an “exit strategy” from Twitter along with advice on alternative platforms. Musk, who was rightfully concerned about bots on Twitter before, may soon own a platform where huge numbers of users are holding onto mostly inactive accounts simply to avoid someone else impersonating them.
Perhaps beneath his fevered tweets and managerial flailing, he actually has a brilliant vision for Twitter that will lead it out of this mess, bring it into profitability and make it the “digital town square” he promised it would become. But color us not optimistic.
On the upside, freeing himself from Twitter would give him the opportunity to focus his considerable wealth, brain power and energy on Tesla, which, despite whatever problems it has, is a genuinely worthwhile venture. The company’s investors are said to be worried that Twitter may be distracting Musk. Pushing the world to buy more electric vehicles, and legacy car companies to make more of those vehicles, is as important as it gets in these days of relentlessly rising carbon emissions. He has also wisely invested in improving battery technology, the Rosetta stone of clean energy technology.
If he does nothing else, pushing the auto industry into the 21st century would be a remarkable legacy. And even if he succeeded in fixing one already dysfunctional social media platform, it would, in the grander scheme of things, be less meaningful than helping to stop global warming. And let’s face it, he probably can’t.
On the other side of the coin, think of all the people who will be grateful if he keeps Twitter alive by simply giving Twitter up. For all its craziness, Twitter remains a useful platform for millions of people who are legitimately using it to disseminate everything from news and ideas to cat videos and recipes. Black Twitter, which has practically been in mourning about the impending demise of the platform, will be grateful that the community it created won’t be dismantled. Yes, the initial press will be bad. But if the platform survives and staggers its way back to some sense of normalcy, the world will move on.
This is what it comes down to, Elon: The world needs better and more electric vehicles, not an even more toxic social media platform. Though millions of addicted Twitter users professed to hate the platform before, they really, really hate it now. How about letting them return to simply hating it? That alone might be an improvement in the world. And we suspect that you’ll be happier, too.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.