Members Only | April 3, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Musk sucks at Twitter, succeeds at fascism
It’s more a bad joke that’s gone on way too long than an evil plot – but at this point, what’s the difference? writes Jason Sattler.
Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter would rank among the worst business decisions in human history, if the goal were … business. But since the Tesla CEO has become increasingly fixated on the objective of empowering rightwingers and weakening democracy everywhere – especially in the United States – you’d have to say the acquisition makes some sense.
And it could help Republicans win 2024.
First, let’s concede the whole thing started as a bad joke – one of Elon’s characteristically awful attempts at being funny, which are generally either stolen from Reddit or paperthin cover for his flaccid attempts at dick swinging.
He’s teased the idea of buying Twitter since his favorite site for transphobes was told to remove a tweet for being, you guessed it, transphobic. He quietly bought a chunk of the company in early 2022. Then in April, blazingly high on the attention he’d been getting from this tease (and, likely, other combustibles), Elon decided to make an offer that included a pot reference that would’ve embarrassed a self-aware 11th grader.
Twitter’s board quickly locked the deal in. Elon soon recognized he’d offered way too much money and tried something entirely new to him – pulling out. But he was stuck in the joke (the way horrible joke tellers so often are) that he tried to have his lawyers save him. When that whole mess resulted in lots of embarrassment for almost anyone who had ever sent him a text, he completed the purchase with a joke that was extra bad, even for him.
His efforts at hollowing the company out of talent and cash flow have all gone as expected. The company is now worth about $24 billion less than he and his partners paid for it, according to Elon himself.
But his hopes of using the app to elevate America’s rightwing haven’t gone as well as hoped.
Donald Trump has thus far refused to return to the site thus far, despite Elon practically laying out a red carpet directly into Mar-a-Lago. A strategic dumping of company emails designed to generate some controversy only impressed guys who think not being barred from posting pictures of Hunter Biden’s dick is a crime. And despite his clear endorsement, or maybe because of it, Republicans had one of the worst midterm performances in decades.
Which has led to Elon’s latest escalation.
Unless it’s another one of his terrible jokes, all the “legacy” checkmarks that signaled an account had been verified by Twitter will be removed on April 1. The only way for an individual to get a checkmark is to pay the second richest person ever to live $7-$11 to be a member of Twitter Blue, which doesn’t actually verify you, or anyone, but allows you to get priority placement inside the app along with a slew of other embarrassing and barely useful features.
As a business, this product is as bad as Elon’s decision to buy it.
Twitter adopted the so-called “blue checks” to ward off lawsuits more than a decade ago. As celebrities flocked to the site, they got verified. Eventually, the checks were extended to nearly all working journalists, the symbol became a status symbol, often reviled and revered by the right, forced to reckon with the reality that most celebrities and journalists aren’t raging Republicans.
When Elon first added the checkmark to the Blue product, it was a chance to buy into some legitimacy.
Without any real verified accounts, a checkmark will almost mean the opposite of what it once did. It will mean you’re a sweaty tryhard Elon fan club member desperate for daddy’s love. And the plan to sell checkmarks to businesses at exorbitant rates seems doomed from the beginning.
It’s a comically terrible idea if you’re trying to make money or make up for the hundreds of millions of lost ad revenue Elon seems intent on never recovering. But it’s a genius idea if you want to hollow out democracy and shatter any ability of journalists to be seen as reliable information sources.
While Twitter is one of the smaller major social networks, it plays an outsized role in creating narratives about our political landscape, simply because so many journalists and opinion makers spend so much time there avoiding work.
Imagine the aftermath of the 2020 election, as Trump contested the clear results and fomented the eventual insurrection that delayed the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, without verified news sources. Or with “verified” news sources spreading the sort of wild My Pillow Guy lies that Fox went with, after backlash to correctly calling the Democratic ticket’s victory in Arizona compelled the channel to drool nonsense, like Rudy Guiliani at Four Seasons Total Landscape.
Would that have made January 6 even worse? Who knows?
Would Twitter taking the position that it should let potential disinformation about the Biden family fly free instead of attempting to limit foreign influence operations have helped Trump pick up the 44,000 or so votes in Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona that would have given him the electoral college? Maybe!
Unfortunately, we may find out how a completely garbled information landscape may benefit the right. Because that seems to be Elon’s only goal for the company.
Yes, it’s more a bad joke that’s gone on way too long than an evil plot – but at this point, what’s the difference?
He’s more like uber-rich Henry Ford buying the Dearborn Independent to spread fascist attacks on the Jews in the 1920s than his wannabe Tony Stark image of the 2010s.
Maybe he was radicalized by Democrats daring to mention a wealth tax or his trans daughter severing all ties to him. Or maybe this is who he always was as he sucked up our credulity and the largess of American taxpayers to make hundreds of billions? Again, who knows?
All we know for sure is that has money to burn, a disdain for “wokeness” (that floating signifier the right can’t define but uses to smear anything anyone does to help any minority group), and all the weed he could ever smoke.
Electing a Republican president who will almost certainly lose the popular vote for eight out of the last nine elections but can give the far right unending, remorseless control of the Supreme Court for the rest of our lives seems a better use of his time than making more money.
And it’s a lot easier than actually parenting.
So is the way that democracy ends? Not with a bang but a terrible punchline? We’re about to find out.
Jason Sattler, better known as LOLGOP on Twitter, is writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was a columnist and member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors from 2017-2021.