Elon Musk has Twitter because he has Twitter

It also doesn’t surprise me that a resume like Musk’s coexists with a penchant for mania, obsessions, resentment, union busting, and vindictiveness. Extreme personalities are rarely on the edge of the bell curve just because of benevolence. But Twitter unleashes his worst instincts and rewards him with attention, fandom and money… So much money — for indulging them. The fact that Musk used Twitter so skillfully for his own purposes does not exempt him from his behavior there, like Trump. A platform that rewards those who behave violently or even simply recklessly is a dangerous thing.

But all too often, that’s what Twitter does. Twitter rewards decent people for indecent behavior. The mechanism by which this happens is not a mystery. The engagement follows sharp retaliatory strikes, bold statements and vicious dunks. “I’m disappointed that Bill Gates made a bet against Tesla, a company that shares his values,” lame tweet. “Bill Gates = Boner Killer” became a viral hit. The easiest way to score points is to worsen the discourse.

Twitter has survived and thrived because it has never been the way I describe it here. A lot of what you can find there is funny, smart and cute. So many on the platform want it to be better than it is and are trying to do so. For a long time, they were joined in this endeavor by Twitter executives who wanted the same thing. They liked Twitter, but not much. They believed it, but they were also a little shocked by it. It was this fundamental tension between what Twitter was and what many thought it could be that kept it in balance. Never ever.

Musk’s announced agenda for Twitter is mostly confusing because of its modesty. He suggested an edit button, an open source algorithm, anti-bots and… something… to protect free speech. I tend to agree with tech writer Max Reid who predicts that Musk “will strive to keep Twitter at the same level and in the same ways as always, because, according to Musk, Twitter is actually not bad at all.”

Musk shows how he wants Twitter to be by how he actually operates on it. You will recognize him from his tweets. He wants her to be who she is, or even more anarchic. Where I may not agree with Reid is that I think it would be a bigger cultural change for Twitter than anyone can imagine if the host of the service acted like Musk did; so that the owner of the platform accepts and embodies its excesses in a way that no previous leader has done.

How will Twitter feel for liberals when Musk taunts Senator Elizabeth Warren on a platform he owns and runs like “Senator Karen“? Would they be willing to enrich him by providing free labor to his company? Conservatives are now celebrating Musk’s purchase of the platform, but what if, faced with a deepening crisis of campaign disinformation, he goes to goblin mode against right-wing politicians who thwart his hopes of non-intervention in moderation or threaten his climate change agenda?

What’s it like to work on Twitter when the boss uses his account to fight the SEC or fight a tax bill he doesn’t like? Unless Musk changes his behavior radically and implausibly, I suspect his ownership will amplify the controversy on Twitter to an unbearable level. What will follow is not the collapse of the platform, but the right size of its influence.