In the excoriating misery that is the “Elon Musk bought Twitter” discourse - an institution which has disproven any sense we had between 2016 and 2021 that it couldn’t really get much worse - there have been a couple of brighter spots I’ve appreciated.
Firstly I often ponder about the power of defaults. I’d wonder about what would happen if society ever decided to reverse some of the more ingrained ones. For example, what if if each month the norm was that you actively opted in to your job if you were happy to keep it, rather than the more conventional awkward and emotional opt out scenario.
Another big one is my eternal curiosity about what would happen if the threat of immediate poverty wasn’t there. That might reduce the incentive to stay with your current employer, however unsatisfactory they are, purely on the basis that they’re slightly less dreadful than the prospective life of penury might be.
Happily Elon managed to address both at the same time. He emailed all Twitter employees to let them know that they had to click on a link if they wanted to keep their job; very much an opt-in workflow. Let’s hope that by some magical force everyone read and understood the email by the deadline. Also this is likely illegal in many countries Twitter has employees in, but, you know, Elon.
He also seemed to offer 3 months pay, no questions asked, for those that didn’t want to opt in. Additionally, this is a company where many folk were likely well-paid enough to have some savings (citation needed I accept). Those who held any Twitter stock might in fact be richer than they’d ever been before given how much above market value Elon was forced to buy the company for.
I should note that it’s not all upside; I dare say many of the staff weren’t in a particularly privileged position - the company did not survive on elite coders alone. I also felt especially sorry for people on the kind of foreign visas that require you to keep working or be deported, not least because he’d fired half the company even before he got to this point.
The consequence? Well, it seems like thousands of employees - more than half of Twitter’s entire staff - decided to take the offer and quit. Whole departments in some cases.
Of course this particular situation is very confounded by having the knowledge that if you choose to stay then you do so in the knowledge that your new boss will be something of an egomaniac madman who not only goes to sleep next to an unsettling display of mostly Americana each night but made it very clear that you will have to sacrifice all other aspects of your life so you can do ‘extremely hardcore’ work and be subjected to his fire-at-will tantrums. So I suppose to answer my underlying questions I’d really need to wait for a more natural natural experiment.
The other entertaining thing was when Elon chose to make one of the most consequential and controversial social media moderation decisions of the recent era - whether to allow Donald Trump back in - via, of course, an unconstrained Twitter poll. It gave him the result I imagine he wanted, albeit only by the same kind of margin as the Brexit referendum ended up having - many of us Britons cannot see the numbers 52 and 48 next to each other without a slight flash of anxiety.
He then reinstated the Trump account together with a declaration in Latin - “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” that in its original context means the virtually the opposite of what I imagine he was aiming to project. Translating to something like “The voice of the people is the voice of God”, the earliest known usage of that fragment was around the year 800 in a sentence which in fact reads as “…those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always close to insanity”.
On the subject of “close to insanity”, in any case Trump was all ‘no thanks, not interested’. I first assumed this was because he was either in a huff that he was subject to the whims of another dangerous weird billionaire, or too busy coming up with some semi-illegal scheme to keep on reducing the voteshare that the US Republicans get by virtue of being their presidential nominee.
But now I understand that he’s just literally not allowed to tweet in his usual style as part of his contract with his current maelstrom of a social network - possibly the most incorrectly named site on the internet - Truth Social. Not to say he won’t break the contract; he has of course plenty of form conducting unethical and likely illegal business practices.
Ok, that’s more than enough on that subject. Honestly I have wasted a lot more time reading about Musk and Twitter in recent times than I should have. But then again I have heard this article is good…must resist, must resist.