Culture shock

Twitter could be reeling from culture shock under Musk’s ownership

Elon Musk is relaunching his $54.20 takeover bid on Twitter, possibly because he doesn’t want to go through legal proceedings that leak more embarrassing text messages. We’re not sure exactly why Musk is making the most dramatic corporate turnaround this year, but the vitriol that Musk and Twitter have hurled at each other should be quickly swept under the rug as the documents are signed. Twitter has confirmed that it has received his letter and intends to complete the transaction. The deal, in other words, could actually happen.

This lets us envision how one of the most influential social networks in the world will perform under Musk’s leadership. Civil liberty groups have already wrung their hands over how the site’s moderation will change, fearing a flood of hate speech and misinformation thanks to Musk’s bizarre and messy views on free speech. He wants people to express themselves more freely on the site but not when it comes to criticizing it, essentially.

How this unfolds is an open question. What is clearer is that if agreed, Twitter will experience culture shock. A company known for internal indecisiveness, where product decisions move at a glacial pace because managers are obsessed with consensus, will likely transition to a fast-paced, autocratic structure. Musk will push Twitter to pursue seemingly impossible goals in ridiculous time frames. Staff who scoffed at the idea of ​​working for Musk will soon be reeling from heavy demands.

Musk, for example, said he wants to authenticate all real humans on the site. He could therefore ask engineers to reduce the total number of spambots from around 5% to less than 1%. While other CEOs might give them a few years to do so, he might set himself much stricter goals. Musk has a habit of asking the impossible of his companies, while creating a reality-distorting field for the rest of us about what they’re going to accomplish. In 2019, he told investors that by 2020, Tesla would put one million driverless robo-taxi on the roads, capable of driving anywhere in the world in all conditions. It never happened. In the same year, he said his Neuralink chip would go into a human brain by 2020. So far, only monkeys have implants.

He’s not all puffy. Musk revitalized America’s space program by putting a rocket into orbit and landing it. It pioneered a global revolution in electric cars and gave Ukrainians internet access with its Starlink satellite internet offering.

But Musk has a history of overpromising. “Self-driving” Teslas have made dangerous mistakes, and thousands of owners have paid $15,000 for “fully self-driving capability” that effectively requires them to remain engaged in the operation of the car. Somehow, Musk kept dangling carrots before our eyes, telling us that science fiction is upon us. He was doing it again on Friday, when unveiling a humanoid robot at a Tesla event last week on artificial intelligence (AI).

“Last year it was just a person in a robot costume,” he said. Which was true. In 12 months and from scratch, its engineers had built a robot capable of traversing the stage with slightly bent knees, wires snaking around the actuators. behind metal limbs and joints.

There was nothing groundbreaking about the robot, but Musk’s engineers had done a stellar job in the race to develop the technology in such a short time.

As he stood on stage during Tesla’s presentation on Friday, he seemed to make more predictions on the fly. Tesla would sell millions of robots, for less than the cost of a car, he said. “I would say less, probably less than $20,000,” he said. (The cheapest human-sized robot costs nearly $150,000.)

Twitter staff should expect similar pressures and will need to find creative ways to make Musk’s public statements make sense. During Friday’s robot presentation, for example, one engineer bragged that the Optimus robot could simply use Tesla’s autopilot technology to navigate offices. The company didn’t mention that Tesla’s driving system was trained on videos of roads, not inside buildings or factories. This made the team’s demonstration of a robot gently placing a package on an office worker’s desk a complete fantasy.

Expect Musk to expand similar tactics to Twitter, promising quick and sweeping rule changes while demanding that product managers figure out how to make them work. The great unknown is how his bold claims will play out in the realm of politics and free speech, a field more nebulous and unpredictable than engineering.

It will also have a harder time pushing Twitter staff to pursue its lofty goals; his contentious back and forth with the company means he begins his leadership with a huge confidence deficit. He will have to earn the respect of the employees if he wants them to carry out his demands, which could be Musk’s biggest ambition yet.

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology.

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