Elon Musk made a LOT of headlines Wednesday November 29, at his appearance at The New York Times DealBook Summit, where he told companies that were pulling their advertising dollars from X/Twitter, in VERY profane terms, that he didn’t need their money.
Since Musk purchased Twitter in April 2022, he changed the name, fired hundreds of employees, made a mess out of the blue check verification system, lost thousands of users, and watched the value of the platform plummet.
And that’s just for starters.
Musk’s Tesla stock shares have taken a recent hit, one of his SpaceX Starship rockets had to be blown up during a recent test flight, and his personal reputation has taken a huge hit.
Ben Mezrich is a New York Times bestselling author whose new book Breaking Twitter: Elon Musk and the Most Controversial Corporate Takeover In History was recently published. He theorizes that Musk didn’t break Twitter. On the contrary, Twitter broke Musk.
JIM MONAGHAN – There are two people who come to mind immediately as I read through this book, and those would be former President Donald Trump and George Steinbrenner. The comparisons between those two and Elon Musk, and I think it’s really post-Twitter Elon Musk really comes to mind.
BEN MEZRICH – That’s amazing. And, you know, I think you’re absolutely right. And it’s crazy to me because before Twitter, just a year ago, Elon Musk would have been compared to Edison and Einstein. Now he’s Donald Trump and George Steinbrenner. It really is an amazing transformation, which is why I say Elon Musk didn’t just break Twitter. Twitter broke Elon Musk. He’s become this character that’s larger than life, but is doing things that’s pissing off half the country over and over and over again. And it’s a spiral down. And that’s what I detail in the book is things happen again and again and again that drive him into this place that we’re at now.
JM – You go into a scene in January of 2020 where Musk appears via conference to the Twitter employees, and he’s talking about how he’s worried about someone’s trying to manipulate the system, meaning the Twitter system, and he’s warning of bots and fake accounts. And that’s exactly what’s happening. My Twitter feed, Ben, is just full of just one bot and conspiracy theorist after another right now.
BM – It’s completely insane. Yeah, he went in with good intentions. He really believed that Twitter was a place that should be about free speech and that should be about truth and was being overrun by moderation and bots and this sort of thing. And he immediately scared all the advertisers away. Right? And that’s the first thing that happened. He retweeted a conspiracy theory about Paul Pelosi getting beaten with a hammer and why that happened, and it was crazy. And that scared the advertisers away. Then he got rid of the Blue Check system, which was the only way we knew where anybody was a real person or not. Threw that out the window right away. And the thing just devolved into the point we see today, which is completely about outrage. It’s an outrage engine. It’s full of bots. It’s full of hate, and it’s impossible to use.
The PR hit to Musk’s image
JM – How much of a PR hit do you think Elon’s taken over this?
BM – I think it’s completely destroyed his reputation. I think that he had Walter Isaacson write his big glowing biography to attempt to resuscitate that reputation, and it’s not going to work. I think he’s trying very hard to get away from that, but in the end, he’s got to jettison Twitter to make it go back to who he was. I really don’t think he’s the same person to most people, and he has his fans. He has this 100 million person fan base which will support him enormously no matter what he does. But the people who used to be his fan are no longer his fan.
JM – How much do you think he’s worried you just said he’s going to have to let go of Twitter. How much do you think he’s worried about losing money? Because he will lose money on the deal. And a lot of it.
BM – Honestly, for him, it’s not the money. It’s more about the scoreboard. The guy’s the richest man in the world. He’s going to make a fortune on SpaceX and Twitter. I mean, SpaceX and Tesla, no matter what he does with Twitter. But he can’t lose, and he is losing dramatically, and I think it’s very important to him. There’s a scene in the book where he gets so upset by everything that’s happening that he locks himself in a conference room. And the Twitter people are so nervous, they actually want to call in a wellness check to the San Francisco police because they’re afraid he’s going to hurt himself. I truly think this affects him. And it’s not about losing money, but he needs the site to make money because otherwise it’s a loss. Otherwise it’s a failure. And all of these banks that invested in it are going to lose money. And so it needs to make profit, which is why you’re seeing it turn into this crazy subscription-based, it’s all about money now. It’s all about how do we get money out of our users? And that’s not at all what it used to be.
Who plays Elon in the movie adaptation?
JM – You’ve had the experience of having some of your books turned into movies before. This one reads like a movie script. When the movie does come out, who plays Elon Musk?
BM – I mean, that’s something we’re discussing right now. We’re actually meeting with actors now. The actor strikes over. I love Ben Affleck. I think he’s amazing and I think he could play a great Elon. I think Sasha Baron Cohen, who’s a wonderful actor, could do it. People have talked about Brendan Frazier as someone know you need someone with size because Elon is a very large man and that’s actually part of the story. He’s intimidating. He uses his size in conferences and things like that. I don’t know. I’ve heard a lot of different names thrown out there.