Musk’s BBC interview: What we learned
What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought? For most people, it is probably a house or a car. Maybe something luxurious that you decided to splash out on to treat yourself.
For me, my most expensive purchase was my home. And despite paying what feels like far too much some days (hey, that’s London for you!) I still get a sense of gratification every time I unlock my door, because I enter something that is mine.
For Elon Musk, his acquisition of Twitter cost more money than most people can even imagine spending – even in London, $44 billion would buy you a lot of homes! But based on the Tesla magnate’s interview with the BBC this week, he has yet to take much pleasure from his blowout.
It has been six months since Musk carried a kitchen sink over the threshold of Twitter HQ, and the self-appointed chief Twit took the opportunity to sit down with the BBC’s James Clayton to discuss the rollercoaster ride that the social media company has been on since.
He says the takeover “hasn’t been some kind of party” and explained that the decision to lay off 6000 staff, around 80% of Twitter’s workforce, as “not fun at all”. For the second richest man in the world, the pain level of the whole experience has been “extremely high,” he said.
Despite the challenges Twitter has faced, which has ranged from plummeting value (Musk delisted Twitter after the takeover but a memo from the boss suggests it is worth less than half of what he paid), redundancies, and several severe outages, Musk was surprisingly upbeat during the interview. Was that a nervous laugh or was he just pleased to be there?
Well, no. In fact, Musk even admitted he wasn’t at all pleased to be at the helm of the social media platform. As reported by TechInformed last year, Musk was desperate to get out of the Twitter purchase (he claims the former Twitter management had given false active user numbers, leading him to over value the company – something they deny).
During the BBC interview Musk confirmed something the world already suspected – Musk only went through with the deal because he expected a judge would have forced him to close it.
He has even taken to sleeping on a sofa in a library somewhere in Twitter HQ, such is the stressful life of running the social media giant (though he is no longer CEO – he claims now to have given that job title to his dog, Floki!)
He downplayed a lot of the criticism that has been directed his way. Asked about Twitter’s performance in the face of a reduced staff base, he acknowledged the company had reduced its compute capability from three data centres to two but argued they have now overcome those speed bumps.
He also pushed back against claims that disinformation and hate speech has grown on the site, challenging Clayton to provide him with evidence. Musk’s stance on Twitter took pure delight when Clayton failed to offer and solid examples, with the Musk himself accusing the BBC man of lying.
The problem is, Clayton only had 20 minutes notice for the interview (surely a power move by Elon). With even the slightest bit of digging, examples are easy to find. According to research by the Anti-Defamation League and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, for example, there has been a general spike in hate speech on Twitter in the period since Musk’s takeover.
With six months at the helm, more than two thirds of staff gone, and the company now “breaking about even” according to Musk, the question is, what next?
He himself didn’t offer any great insight into where he sees Twitter going. When he first took the reins, Musk suggested it would move away from the advertising revenue model that had funded Twitter’s growth, but he sounded almost relieved when claiming all the firm’s advertisers had returned after initial boycotts over changes Musk implemented.
Musk said: “We could be profitable, or to be more precise, cash flow positive this quarter if things keep going well. I think almost all advertisers have come back or said they are going to come back.”
Does that mean the future is bright for Twitter? Musk certainly will hope so, but he isn’t set to shy away from the controversial battles and decisions that have dominated his tenure in charge.
Just next week, the billionaire will remove legacy verification (or blue ticks) from accounts that have not signed up to the Twitter Blue. Last time Musk adjusted the verification process, it led to a raft of fake accounts mimicking verified businesses by signing up to the service.
Musk rolled out the $8 subscription service at the end of the last year, But the new service swiftly fell victim to impostors – with users parodying everyone from Pope Francis to George W Bush. The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co was forced to apologise after an impostor account tweeted that insulin was free. Nintendo, Lockheed Martin, Musk’s own Tesla and SpaceX were also impersonated as well as the accounts of various professional sports figures.
His only option is to double down on his investment – with Musk promising to plough money into powerful computing hardware updates. He also said Twitter will explore generative artificial intelligence at a time when ChatGPT has been dominating tech headlines.
Will it work? As ever with Musk, you cannot rule him out – he built Tesla from what was effectively a small start-up into the most valuable car company in the world, and he has also transformed the space industry through SpaceX. In the coming months, Musk can finally start to enjoy his takeover of Twitter.
Subscribe to our Editor's weekly newsletter