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Elon Musk may discover that space travel is easier than running the world's most influential social network, said Nick Bilton in Vanity Fair. The mercurial billionaire's hostile $44 billion bid for Twitter was grudgingly accepted this week, and less than nine years after going public, Twitter will again be "private under Musk's leadership." The question everyone is wondering about is, What now? Likely, a return to Twitter's more freewheeling roots. "Twitter employees used to say that they simply sold a microphone for people to speak into, and it wasn't up to them to decide what people said into that microphone." But the company's policies changed over time as Twitter's role in fueling the country's divisions and hatred became clearer. It's now up to Musk to decide "if he's OK with the platform he now owns being used to rally protesters and try to force a coup against America."
"With his signature mix of mayhem and winking jabs," Musk kept everyone guessing at his intentions, said Cara Lombardo and Liz Hoffman in The Wall Street Journal. Twitter's board was rightly skeptical he could secure the financing to pull off his $54.20-per-share bid, considering his notorious 2018 tweet claiming he was ready to take Tesla private. But once he certified the financial backing — including $21 billion of his own money — Twitter's bankers "delivered an opinion that the company could struggle to get to Musk's offer on its own." Twitter's board recognized that "Twitter has failed to take advantage of its high profile," said Robert Cyran in Reuters. Now Musk must divine a viable business strategy. Interest on the loans alone could amount to roughly $1 billion annually — more than Twitter's cash flow last year.
Musk is pretty good at what he does, said Matthew Winkler in Bloomberg. "Among the 10 largest publicly traded companies, Musk's Tesla is No. 1 in growth the past decade with revenue increasing 260-fold to $53.8 billion." Its market value is now four times that of Toyota. He has simultaneously built a space-exploration startup, SpaceX, that's worth $100 billion. "Too often, Musk makes the news for the wrong reasons," but he "has no equal" as a maximizer of shareholder value. Musk has "proved himself to be an extraordinary entrepreneur and businessman," said Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. However, "cars and rockets are responsive to engineering prowess." With Twitter, the product is people. And humans "bite back in a way that software and hardware do not."
Musk has said his interest in Twitter isn't about money, said Kara Swisher in The New York Times — which makes predicting what he will do with it all the harder. Musk's views on unfettered speech suggest that the ban Twitter imposed on Donald Trump last year will be lifted. But reinstating Trump won't solve the myriad business issues — including the failure of Twitter's subscription efforts and the reluctance of advertisers, who, "already exhausted by controversy, will not welcome a more toxic Twitter." Put it all together, and "that's a lot of complexity," even for Elon Musk.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here