Discover more from Molly Wood Media
We've all been a little unclear on the concept ...
The concept of "ownership," that is. Elon Musk *owns* Twitter. Privately, and more important, personally. The sooner we get clear on that, the sooner we can tackle the real issue.
I’m going to point out something that’s become pretty blindingly obvious in the past few weeks. Elon Musk owns Twitter. It’s a private company, and there’s no board of directors, advisors, there’s no trust and safety content moderation team, nothing. There is only Elon, and what he feels, wants, experiences, and decides.
If you’ll recall, I noted back in my first issue that it was already getting a little weird to post on Twitter since Elon bought it. I hate to quote myself (just kidding, I love it), but I wrote that it felt like “pooping at someone else’s dinner party.” In the intervening weeks, Musk has put on an absolute Eddie Murphy clinic. It’s his house. If you don’t like it, you can get the f*ck out. There’s no process, people. There’s no check and balance. There’s no universe in which you can sit around on Twitter indefinitely to call him out or try to get famous or promote your brand or get him to stop doing whatever he feels like doing at any given time. Twitter is arguably no longer even a business. It is now property, and Elon is the sole and singular ruler of the realm. Whatever it used to be is over. I realize it’s hard to conceive of, but it’s time to conceive.
Thanks for reading Mollywood! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Look through this lens at the “decisions” that have happened at Twitter lately:
banning journalists by claiming they were endangering his child
lifting those journalist bans via Twitter poll (but only after running another poll first because the first result wasn’t what he wanted)
blocking links and mentions to competing platforms (this one is just hilarious and I don’t expect it to last but I screenshotted the hell out of it)
reinstating all the horrible accounts that all his horrible friends have gleefully told him were unfairly shadow-banned in the first place
obliquely accusing a former employee of pedophilia (after, of course, said employee criticized him in public)
banning a once-friendly journalist who said he wasn’t being that cool anymore
The list actually goes on longer than I even want it to. But guys. These are not decisions. These are tantrums. This is not a business. It’s a quite-literal bully pulpit. Please remember that back in 2016, Elon Musk personally canceled an order for a VC’s Tesla Model X who’d written an unflattering blog post about a Tesla event. He said the author was “super rude.” The behaviors we’re seeing might be worse, but they’re not new. (I’ll tell you what, though, I wouldn’t want to be a Tesla owner who was also critical of Elon on Twitter. Yikes.)
But actually, Elon isn’t even the point of this newsletter. The point is that no one should have so much money that his tantrums become the news about the news in the place where so much news is aggregated. The second point is that anytime someone with this much money starts buying up media, we should be a lot more skeptical.
Sure, Elon is acting out the worst-case scenario of billionaire ownership of a major means of communication. But any number of billionaires could flip a switch and change the face of media overnight. Check out this list of billionaires who have bought major media properties over the past decade or show. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post. He might not mess with it now (that we know of), but folks, he owns it. The time could easily come when he does whatever he wants with it. Laurene Powell Jobs owns The Atlantic. Sports magnate John Henry owns the Boston Globe. Sheldon Adelson owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal and has apparently already tried to pull an Elon with the coverage there.
In one of my favorite examples that should probably be a way bigger story, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor bought the Minnesota Star-Tribune. Among the things he said about that purchase was that he thoughts its coverage was too liberal. And just as I was leaving Marketplace, Glen’s daughter Jean Taylor took over as CEO of American Public Media, Marketplace’s parent company. So you have one billionaire family effectively in charge of both of the biggest media outlets … in a swing state!
The LA Times and San Diego Union-Tribune have the same billionaire owner, Fortune and Fast Company were bought by billionaires.
Obviously, we know that a small number of very, very rich people control all kinds of publicly traded media empires, too. The Murdochs, Viacom and the Redstone family, the Sulzberger dynasty that’s controlled the New York Times since 1896, the Sinclairs, Bloomberg. All have various degrees of ideological influence, but ultimately some version of business mores and journalistic legitimacy govern (“some version,” I said), and they operate with at least the veneer of a broader base of decision-making than One Checkbook (“The veneer,” I said.)
But back to Bezos and Benioff and Adelson and their ilk. There are always doomsday predictions whenever a billionaire comes along and buys a media company. Just like there are always doomsday predictions when a dangerous new technology is developed or a company pushes the bounds of privacy or AI or brain-controlled implants or full self-driving technology (just saying). The tendency is always to laugh at the Cassandras, because social norms and rules and “the way things have always been” always prevail, right?
Well, Elon is the worst-case scenario made real, and the truth is, we tried to tell you. If the past decade of American life hasn’t demonstrated that norms are weak, black swan events are real, and a very rich person who doesn’t care about rules can kick you right the f*ck out of his house, I don’t know what will. But next time some hectoring buzzkill tries to warn you that things could go terribly wrong, believe them.
Bits and bobs
Postscript: All that said, I actually think the best thing that could happen to American journalism is that all the journalists get the heck off of Twitter. So. Silver lining? If it descends into a right-wing nazi echo chamber, maybe it won’t get so much attention if it’s not serving as the de facto assignment desk for most major publications.
About those Linktrees: A friend (shoutout, Lindsey!) pointed out that the ban on not promoting competing sites includes Linktree, the “link in bio” service that people use to push to their … well. Work, a lot of the time. Artists and musicians in particular rely on Linktree and so do brands and creators of all sizes who use it to promote their work on social media. So, in addition to making Twitter inhospitable to journalists or literati or liberals or advertisers, this new policy just made Twitter inhospitable to anyone with work on external websites that they would like to market on Twitter. I mean. This one legitimately is hilarious. Here’s the screenshot in case it’s gone by the time I publish this.
MOVING ON: I’m now annoyed to have spent so much time on this. Can we all agree that if Twitter weren’t totally uninhabitable, we’d all be tweeting about how iOS 16 has completely ruined speech-to-text? What’s with all the weird commas and periods inserted into every sentence completely haphazardly? I’m glad we at least got the ability to edit iMessages, but I live my life on speech-to-text, and it is a disaster! Someone, call someone! Help!
White Lotus: I finished Season 2, and I won’t spoil it. But I will say that it made me want to re-watch Ted Lasso. I know these two things have nothing in common and that’s the point. The thing I loved about Ted Lasso was how every time it could have behaved like TV, it didn’t. It didn’t drum up silly dramas that could only exist because characters didn’t say things out loud when they had the chance. It didn’t create tortured scenarios with characters behaving utterly illogically (or even uncharacteristically) just in service of moving a story forward. White Lotus did do that. We got a lot of drama and tension, yes, but I have a hard time staying engaged with a show when it relies on unbelievable actions by its characters. My favorite example of this is the movie Prometheus, where an experienced group of explorer astronauts detours to an alien planet, determines the air is breathable, and they all promptly take off their helmets as though they’ve never heard of viruses, microbes, or bacteria. You lost me, guys.
Anyway. Mike White is a genius, but he used some lazy TV tropes to get to the level of suspense in Season 2, and I thought it was a bummer. Can’t wait for Season 3 though!
World Cup: NO MANUFACTURED DRAMA, THERE!!! My lord. What a game. Viva Messi!
No newsletter next week, I’m headed to New York for the holiday break (unless I get inspired on the plane, of course—call it a solid 50/50, come to think of it). I write this on the first night of Hannukah, so happy Hannukah to all who celebrate (I’ll be having latkes with the relatives tonight!). Have a wonderful Christmas, relax, stay safe, and oh hey, did I mention I’m on Post? https://post.news/mollywood … see you there, I guess!
Thanks for reading Mollywood! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.