Back in the prehistoric era (2016), a small group of Times reporters and editors, including myself, met with Elon Musk at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne.
Musk spoke mostly about his idea of transporting humanity to Mars as an escape route from our global warming-beleaguered home planet. That was his big passion back then. He was reserved and thoughtful, almost persuasive.
It was evident that he had thought a lot and thoughtfully about the subject. He handed out coffee mugs that said “Occupy Mars.” People took him seriously.
As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for as you may get it.
– Elon Musk urges Twitter users who voted for him to step down as CEO
Flash forward six years. Today’s Elon Musk appears to be aiming for the World’s Biggest Jackanapes trophy. (Choose one of the following Merriam-Webster definitions: “a rude or conceited fellow” or “a cheeky or mischievous child.”)
We rightly try to avoid psychoanalysis of prominent newsmakers. But Musk’s role as owner and chief executive of Twitter appears to be having a profound impact on his public behavior and even his patience.
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On Sunday, he released one of his informal Twitter polls, asking users if he should step down as head of Twitter and promising: “I will stick to the results of this poll.”
When the poll ended, the 17.5 million respondents voted yes, 57.5% to 42.5%. As of this writing, he hasn’t kept his promise, but an hour after opening the poll, he tweeted: “As the saying goes, be careful what you wanthow you could understand it.”
He also noted that there is no post-Elon succession plan and implied that whoever took the job must be a masochistwhich would not surprise anyone.
Musk has often used user surveys to validate decisions already made. In November 2021, he asked Twitter followers to vote on whether to sell 10% of his stake in electric vehicle maker Tesla, the core of his personal fortune.
He promised to stick to the results, in which respondents said the sale was in favor of about 58% to 42%. Coincidentally, however, he had filed disclosures prior to the survey showing that he had already committed to selling a sizeable chunk of Tesla stock.
Musk released his resignation poll after a tough week in which he suspended a number of prominent journalists and commentators from Twitter, falsely claiming they had released real-time information about his personal whereabouts that he said could facilitate stalkers. He restored the accounts after conducting a poll encouraging him to do so.
He then issued an ukase ban on tweets promoting several competing social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Mastodon – the latter an increasingly popular haven for Twitter users dumped by Musk’s management.
Within hours, the tweet and a Twitter page announcing the policy were taken down, possibly over the possibility that the policy would violate European Union regulations on social media companies.
Musk’s suggestion to withdraw from Twitter may have been prompted by the apparent impact on Tesla stock of his adventure with the social media company.
Since Musk’s Twitter on Feb. 10, Tesla has suffered a market slump on Feb. 27, with shares down almost 33%. That’s part of a longer slide of the company’s stature as a high-tech darling. Tesla peaked above $381 per share in November 2021, when it was one of the most valuable companies in the world with a market cap of about $1.2 trillion.
Since then, Tesla shares have fallen 60%, including 57% this year alone. Its market cap was around $477 billion as of Monday.
Shares closed up 0.2% on Monday, but they were up slightly by midday Monday, perhaps due to investor relief that Musk’s stepping down as Twitter CEO could put his attention back on Tesla.
That would be important because Tesla is facing headwinds it hasn’t faced in several years, particularly increasing competition in the electric vehicle space from legacy automakers like Ford, General Motors, BMW, and Audi. They march into a room that Tesla has had almost all to himself for a long time.
Tesla’s sales appear to have slowed in recent weeks, possibly due to buyer concerns about the economy.
However, Twitter is awash with comments from Tesla owners and potential buyers saying they would avoid the product going forward out of distaste for Musk’s outspoken right-wing swing, as reflected in many of his recent tweets and policies.
Musk’s public standing may follow in the footsteps of Donald Trump, another once-celebrated icon who now faces increasing skepticism, even ridicule, from his former supporters — and whose tolerance when his whims are thwarted is extremely limited.
The deterioration of Musk’s public image can be seen online, where he has become the subject of internet memes that treat him with anything but civility.
One is the scene from the German film Der Untergang about Hitler’s final days in the bunker, resubtitled hundreds, if not thousands, of times to show Hitler bursting into anger over Trump’s 2020 election loss and the Dallas Cowboys’ defeat to Green Bay, even the “Downfall” parodies themselves.
In the latest iteration, Hitler – ahem, Musk – goes ballistic about declining respect for Twitter since its October 1st. 27 Takeover of the platform, especially after his followers tell him that the Twitter CEO resignation poll he published “didn’t go your way.”
He rants, “All my old supporters are turning against me, and the only ones who still like me are MAGA losers and Russians…” (Warning: Not entirely safe for work.)
Another meme posted to Twitter itself on Sunday is captioned “nfl version of Elon’s Twitter deal.”
It’s a clip from the final comic opera of Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and the Las Vegas Raiders, in which Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson tries to dodge a tackle that would end regulation time in a tie by scoring Teammate Jakobi throws a cross to Meyers, who goes sideways again – into the hands of the Raiders’ Chandler Jones, who carries the gift of a win into the end zone.
Whether Musk’s stepping down as Twitter CEO could help halt the platform’s abandonment by users who once relied on it for curated debates is unknown. After all, he’s not talking about selling Twitter or giving it some sort of confidence in isolating it from his personal eccentricities — not yet.
The platform’s finances are under pressure from looming debt payments and the flight of blue-chip advertisers. That could prompt Musk to either hand Twitter over to more professional management or lead it to even more erratic policymaking in search of revenue.
Musk’s 2016 interview was interesting and insightful, even if his thoughts on colonizing Mars were a bit wacky. Today, following Musk is like stepping into the right self.
Still, Musk’s CEO poll and his promise to stick to the result suggest Twitter is about to turn the page. If it’s a chapter with no mention of Elon Musk, that will come as a relief to many of its users, and perhaps its own investors.
And also to this columnist who was involuntarily involved in this mishap but was nevertheless forced to write about almost every twist.
I have better things to write about, believe me. I… just can’t… resist… looking. …