If a week is a long time in politics, in tech – particularly on a real-time microblogging platform like Twitter – it is something like an eternity.
A week ago today Elon Musk made huge cuts to Twitter’s staff, leaving half of the company’s 7,500 workers out of a job. The decision wasn’t entirely unexpected – and nor was the madness we’ve seen since. Musk seems to relish being an agent of chaos: to use the tech bro term, he’s a “disruptor”, and unapologetic about it – because he thinks it gets things done.
In that sense, there are parallels between him and another radical revolutionary brought in to shake things up and kickstart a new era: Liz Truss. And just as with Truss’s time in Downing Street, we’re starting to see a perceptible shift from the chaos theory Musk revels in to simple, total chaos.
Like many in the UK I’ve been a passive observer of the last few years of politics, staring agog at rolling news channels as reporters claim that each new twist is “unprecedented”. We watched as Truss’s plan to overhaul the way the country’s economy worked unravelled exactly as the experts had warned. Once it became obvious the experiment had failed, the chaos was unstoppable.
With the Musk takeover, I’m one of those reporting on each twist and turn. And I cannot be clearer: the severity and breakneck shifts in the story signal we’re in a new stage.
Catastrophic revelations about Twitter seem to surface every hour. Rather than being grateful for being saved from Musk’s layoffs the remaining staff are mutinous. The company is soon likely to be in breach of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules on privacy, according to one of Twitter’s own lawyers.
Resignations are going in, then being rescinded: most recently Twitter’s head of adverts, who in the space of 36 hours stood alongside Musk in a crucial call with advertisers designed to reassure them that the platform had a future, resigned, then unresigned. It feels, much as in the last days of our last two prime ministers, that events are leading the people, rather than people leading the events. And as we know from bitter experience, when you’re in that position the end is usually nigh.
While I’ve prepared my own lifeboat from the sinking Twitter ship by moving to Mastodon, I remain less pessimistic than those who think these are the death throes of the platform. Yes, Musk has said that Twitter faces bankruptcy – the result of him buying a company that already struggled to be profitable at an over-inflated price to make a joke – but too many people have too much invested to simply allow Twitter to come crashing down in the immediate future.
Still, I don’t think it’s feasible for the SpaceX entrepreneur to continue leading Twitter. Advertisers are now alienated, and his reputation for running the business is shot. He’s facing open rebellion from staff and seems to have no answers to Twitter’s thorniest problems. He is trying new features that former Twitter staff who surveyed users tell me have already been tested and abandoned because the evidence showed they don’t work.
Current employees don’t want to work for him. Former employees refuse to return when asked. Advertisers don’t trust him. Users don’t trust him. A change is needed.
He’s a lame duck and needs replacing. I’m not yet sure what the big tech equivalent of the podium placed outside 10 Downing Street is, but it feels like they’ll be getting it out soon.