Elon Musk’s deal to buy Twitter has been met with surprise, derision, and gnashing of teeth — and an overwhelming amount of well-intentioned but poorly-informed commentary and analysis.
As someone who has followed the company closely since its inception and has had a chance to talk in depth about technical topics with Jack Dorsey and the company’s other founders over the years, I have a different view.
Here’s a series of common questions regarding the deal and the relationship between Dorsey and Musk about which I see the most errors and misconceptions.
Q: Jack Dorsey is launching “Bluesky,” a new social network to compete with Twitter. I’ll just join that instead!
A: Sorry to disappoint, but Dorsey played a key role in Musk’s deal to take Twitter private. The two are good friends. And Bluesky is an initiative launched by Twitter. In April, Dorsey wrote, “In principle, I don’t believe anyone should own or run Twitter. It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company. Solving for the problem of it being a company however, Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.” [Update: Dorsey did not transact his shares in Twitter, and now holds equity in Musk’s venture.]
Q: Uh, if “no one should own or run Twitter,” why did Dorsey advocate selling it to Musk… I’m confused?
A: To get it out of the hands of Wall Street investors, and turn it into a “public good at a protocol level, not a company.” Dorsey and Musk believe it can do more good for humanity if it’s an open technology than if it’s a company owned by any one person or by Wall Street investors trying to maximize profits for shareholders.
Q: What do you mean, a “public good at a protocol level?” What even is that?
A: The foundation of the Internet is built on protocols that we mostly take for granted now. TCP/IP and HTTPS enable the web. Modern e-mail is built on top of SMTP and IMAP protocols. Usenet newsgroups are built on top of NNTP. Dorsey envisions a foundational “Twitter” protocol that anyone can implement and run. This would need to become a formal Internet standard, which requires going through the Internet Engineering Task Force’s “Request for Comment” (RFC) process. This can take a long time. This is what Bluesky has been working on starting to map out.
Q: But the Bluesky website says its Beta is “launching soon.” Doesn’t that mean it’s close to ready?
A: It means they’re ready for you to start experimenting with some ideas. It doesn’t mean it’s close to being a “product” or “useful,” or some sort of viable competitor with any other product or service. And as of yet it’s difficult to know exactly what a service might look like. Eventually, it might form the basis for a new implementation of Twitter that would replace the current product, and it could be open for others to interoperate with — if they can build a functional and useful protocol, which may take years.
Q: This all sounds crazy. Doesn’t Musk want to make money by owning Twitter?
A: The goals are more ideological in nature. Musk and his backers believe that the global geopolitical arena was being warped by too much “woke” ideology and censorship, and wanted to fix that by first restoring voices that had previously been silenced —and then implementing technical and algorithmic solutions that allow each user to get the experience they want. They think this can “solve” the problems that people cite about social media content. Making money, they figure, will come from the secondary effects of enabling “free speech” and the possibility of building other services like payments and replacing government on top of such an app. Plus the company’s social graph data is a goldmine for other businesses that may wish to benefit from detailed knowledge of the makeup of society.
Q: Uh, isn’t it naive to think that there’s a technical solution to harmful content? Isn’t that likely to lead to more radicalization and cultish behavior?
A: Yes, it’s completely naive and they are being willfully ignorant of the harmful side effects of content. It is a kind of tech fundamentalist solutionism that posits that for any difficult problem, there must be a technical solution. Many sociologists and cultural scholars would argue differently.
Q: What does Dorsey mean, “I trust [Musk’s] mission to extend the light of consciousness?”
A: This is a reference to “longtermism,” the heavily marketed philosophy being promoted by Musk and his friend William MacAskill that asserts the only thing that matters is humanity’s future in space, and that the only goal of the living is to maximize the number of future humans alive, as well as the number of artificial intelligence instances that could possibly exist in the future. This mandate is most often used to brush aside calls for improving conditions and alleviating suffering among the living here on Earth now. Because, the theory goes, giving a poor person a blanket isn’t likely to be as useful for the future of humanity as building a rocket to Mars. Longtermism is heavily influenced by “Russian Cosmism” and is also directly adjacent to “Effective Altruism.” Musk’s stated mission, which he intends to fulfill in his lifetime, is to “make humanity a multiplanetary species.” The anti-democratic urge in longtermism is rooted in the belief that “mob rule” will lead to nuclear annihilation; we should, Musk thinks, be guided by “wiser” minds — like his and Putin’s apparently.
Q: Okay, so Musk and Dorsey are collaborators in some weird Mars cult, and don’t actually care about making money from Twitter?
A: Yeah, you’re getting it. Musk also seems pretty interested in helping advance Putin’s “multipolar world order,” which is why he plays footsie with QAnon and MAGA accounts, and pals around with Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. “How are things going in Bakhmut?,” Musk asked Medvedev.
Q: So this is why Musk has been so supportive of the Russians lately? I thought he was on Ukraine’s side, since he helped them out with Starlink?
A: It’s best to look at Musk as a kind of power broker between multiple parties, including Ukraine and Russia. SpaceX was made possible by laws passed by Dana Rohrabacher, Putin’s favorite Congressman. He really doesn’t like the US government, the SEC, and our politicians, and all things considered, he’d probably prefer to replace all of it with an app — call it “X,” the everything app. Elon might say: “Do we really need a government, or could everyone just vote with an app? Be honest.”
Q: So Musk wants to overthrow governments, and Dorsey is helping?
A: Don’t be so dramatic. Everyone knows that the only way to advance society is through technocracy. Musk’s grandfather, Joshua Haldeman, was involved in the technocracy movement in Canada in the 1930’s and was arrested — because it was seen as a threat to the government. The philosopher James Burnham wrote in his 1941 book, “The Managerial Revolution” that society should be run by technical managers, not elected politicians. Russian “methodologists” and “political technologists” concluded the same thing in the 1990’s when they realized that “democracy” would just lead to mob-rule by populists. Democracy, they concluded, must be managed. This is what Putin has concluded, also.
Q: So Putin, Musk, and Dorsey share the same vision?
A: It’s complicated. All seem to think a “multipolar world” is a good thing, because after all, shouldn’t Russia get to do its thing and not be bothered by anyone else? That’s “free speech” and opposes “cancel culture,” right? So yeah, that’s aligned with Putin. But Putin himself doesn’t support free speech; his government censors wildly, but it does support speech that breaks the hegemony of the Western elites. As do Musk and friends. This is internally inconsistent.
Q: Back to the money thing… won’t advertisers balk at all this potential chaos, and won’t Twitter’s business model suffer?
A: Musk and the people backing all this are more interested in reshaping the global order than in earning fake “fiat currency.” Their real goal is to usher in “hard currency” and re-base global currencies around scarcity and physical assets. So no it really doesn’t matter much what happens to Twitter’s ad model in the meantime. It will probably do alright, and they can probably find other ways to make money, like adding in payments and weird Dogecoin schemes.
Q: How is Twitter going to help them kill off fiat currency? You mean like replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency?
A: As the Russian “methodologists” will tell you, it’s incredibly important to control the information space if you want to alter the real world. As the world plunges deeper into war and economic chaos in 2023–2024, there are real (perceived) opportunities to advance cryptocurrencies and asset-backed tokens to replace the dollar. Whether any of this is realistic or not remains to be seen, but this is what they’d like to pursue — Musk and his deal backers in particular. [Update: Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal announced he is the second largest shareholder in Twitter; Saudi Arabia has long sought to unseat the dollar as the reserve currency.]
Q: So this is why Musk seemingly “overpaid” for Twitter? He and his backers want to use it as a tool of information warfare, to kill off the dollar and help usher in Putin’s “multipolar world?”
A: Yes, that’s why they “overpaid” for Twitter. Because the end goals have nothing to do with Twitter or its ad model by itself. It’s merely a means to an end. Musk is likely to join forces with Trump’s Truth Social and Kanye West’s Parler to try to control much of the information space. And they’ve got the threat of Putin’s nukes to force the issue.
Q: So isn’t Musk’s ownership of Twitter a national security risk? Shouldn’t the deal have been stopped on national security grounds?
A: Yes, this is all a national security risk and the deal should probably have been stopped. The fact that it wasn’t is reflective of either fecklessness or capture of the US government.
Q: Can Musk and his friends really do all this? Should we really be worried? It seems so far-fetched.
A: That remains to be seen, and it’s unlikely they can achieve all they’d like to on the timeline they’d prefer. It will likely take years to make Bluesky into a viable product. However, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try. As for the broader anti-government agenda, as we’ve seen with January 6th and other attempts to challenge government, even unsuccessful efforts can be incredibly damaging. It’s worth monitoring the direction this takes and, the effects that it has on society and democracy.
A few other minor corrections to popular commentary on the deal:
- Musk will just manipulate the stock price to make money. There is no more public-facing “stock price,” it’s a private company now. $TWTR is no longer a thing.
- Boy, Jack really screwed Elon by making him overpay. No, Jack basically asked Elon to buy the company and Elon set the price. Jack owned around 2.4% of Twitter. It’s not clear if he even transacted his shares, or kept them. [Update: Dorsey retained his stake in Twitter, valued about $1 billion.]
- Parag is smarter than Elon, he forced him to overpay. Eh, I’m sure Parag did his job, but as CEO he was really responsible for operational concerns. It was the company’s Board and legal team that brought it to a successful close. Parag got his agreed-upon severance package.
- Elon never really wanted to do the deal… but they forced him. No, he wanted to do the deal all along, for the reasons I outlined. He might have liked to force some disclosures or lower the price. At some point, the delay and expense of potential litigation wasn’t worth it.
For the record I think Elon is a sociopath, and that this all is going to end in disaster — I just couldn’t stand seeing so much shallow, poorly informed analysis proliferate. So I’ve done my best here to set the record straight.
Ultimately we are dealing with the fact that social engineering through control of the information environment is an inevitable reality—the only question is who has the means and moral authority to do it. (I’ve written a whitepaper about this set of concerns here.)
If democracy-minded people don’t seize control of the information environment, powerful sociopathic autocrats will do so instead. We leave a power vacuum open at our peril, and at the moment, Musk and Putin are the ones with the most will to fill it.
For additional background: Read my piece Paranoia on Parade: How Goldbugs, Libertarians and Religious Extremists Brought America to the Brink, which outlines many of the ideological and historical underpinnings of this movement.
I’ve known Jack Dorsey since 2007 and was the first external developer to utilize the Twitter API, for a project called Twittervision, which was featured in the Museum of Modern Art in 2008. I’ve done a lot of data visualization and data-driven journalism using the Twitter API since then. I’m currently focused on investigative journalism about information warfare and threats to democracy. Follow my work at davetroy.com.