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16 November 2022

Bruce Daisley’s Diary: Twitter’s death spiral, the Qatar trap, and why watching Matt Hancock in the jungle is no fun

ELon Musk has lost $100bn in 2022, and would shed an additional $44bn with the demise of Twitter.

By Bruce Daisley

Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter has the energy of Liz Truss on a hen weekend. Musk first entered the office carrying a sink – a low-powered pun (“Let that sink in!” he tweeted). He then fired half of the company. Musk, who works remotely from his leadership roles at Tesla and Space X, has told the remaining employees he doesn’t believe that they can do their job unless they are in the office for a minimum of 40 hours a week.

The new boss’s overhaul of the blue tick verification process has been especially chaotic. Making verification universally accessible, rather than a status symbol, is a good idea. I worked at Twitter for eight years and there was frequent discussion about allowing anyone who has proved their identity to be verified – not least because it could have reduced anonymous abuse. Musk’s approach was significantly less rigorous: allowing anyone who paid the $8 monthly fee to be verified, no questions asked, no checks made. Within hours a verified Tony Blair account was shooting the breeze with a verified George Bush. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly lost more than $15bn market capitalisation (4.5 per cent of its value) when a newly verified account in its name announced it would henceforth be giving away insulin for free – something the firm scrambled to renounce as untrue.

Who wants to be a billionaire?

After two weeks of not speaking to his new company, Musk warned Twitter employees on 10 November that the firm might yet go bankrupt. If it does, it would mark a bleak year for him. He’s already lost roughly $100bn dollars of net worth in 2022, and would be shedding an additional $44bn with the demise of the social platform. He’s also become embroiled in Twitter-storm disputes with Democratic members of Congress, which could have serious financial implications for his firms. With his fortune shrinking so fast, some employees are beginning to wonder if buying Twitter could yet be the business decision that ends up making Elon Musk a millionaire.

Following Dua Lipa’s lead

Will anyone emerge from the Qatar World Cup with their reputation intact? On 13 November the comedian Joe Lycett extended his run of dazzling interventions by launching an appeal to David Beckham to renounce his association with the hosts. Beckham, Lycett reminded us, was “the first premiership footballer to do shoots with gay magazines like Attitude [and] to speak openly about your gay fans”, but was sullying his reputation by choosing to associate with “one of the worst places in the world to be gay”. The comedian offered to donate £10,000 to charity if Beckham disassociates himself from Qatar – and threatened to livestream himself destroying the money if he doesn’t. “Not just the money, but also your status as a gay icon will be shredded,” he said.

This came after an excruciating moment on Have I Got News for You this month, when Gary Neville was savaged for agreeing to travel to the Gulf state to commentate on the tournament. Neville, who always comes across as a principled, progressive voice, squirmed under the barracking. It seems the way to uphold one’s reputation is to take the approach of Dua Lipa. She denied reports she was lined up to perform at the event. “I will be cheering England on from afar,” she wrote on Instagram, “and I look forward to visiting Qatar when it has fulfilled all the human rights pledges it made when it won the right to host the tournament”.

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I’m a celebrity and I’m being bullied

In the battle against online abuse, one of the most toxic forums used to be video gaming communities. Researchers trying to address this realised that the perpetrators didn’t know they were the problem. When the abuse-hurling gamers were first told they’d committed an act of trolling, it generally elicited astonishment. Even though they’d just posted “GAY!” to their opponent, the player responsible didn’t view themselves as a troll – they’d seen it as just “banter” until they were informed otherwise.

Despite initially thinking a ritual taunting of Matt Hancock sounded like an uplifting way to get through the cost-of-living crisis, I now feel differently seeing him being given abusive challenges by the viewers of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! After the tragic death of Caroline Flack in 2020, social media was flooded with posts preaching that we needed to #BeKind. The same people are now subjecting the hapless MP to nightly humiliations. Like the gamers, maybe we need to consider the possibility that we are the bullies.

Bruce Daisley’s latest book is “Fortitude – Unpicking the Myth of Resilience” (Penguin). He was European vice-president for Twitter between 2012 and 2020

[See also: Is this the end of Twitter?]

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This article appears in the 16 Nov 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The state we’re in