Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter is inspiring elation in some users and panic in others, but there’s still time for the whole deal to fall apart. On the latest Pivot podcast, Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway discuss why that remains a live possibility.
Kara Swisher: The man behind Twitter’s big purchase might regret pushing that button. European regulars have warned the new owner that Twitter will have to comply with the E.U.’s moderation rules, which are very severe. They’re not the only ones trying to tie his hands. He’s also banned from tweeting disparaging marks about Twitter and its employees, according to a clause in the buyout agreement. That didn’t stop him from mocking Twitter’s chief legal officer, Vijaya Gadde, on Wednesday. He’s also engaged with tweets from prominent right-wingers, attacked another employee, and all kinds of stuff. He’s been doing a lot of virtue signaling to the right, which is interesting. He posts funny things, but a lot of it is really quite odious.
Scott, the most unlikely part of this whole week is that you had a civil exchange with him on Twitter. He wrote, “Truth Social, terrible name, exists because Twitter censored free speech.” Scott agreed. Elon wrote back, “Should be called Trumpet instead.” I wanted to call it Mindspace. But anyway, what’s going on here? You said on Monday that this isn’t a done deal. So did Bill Cohan when I talked to him this week.
Scott Galloway: Well, just so I can really stick my neck out there and be wrong over and over again — I don’t think this deal closes, Kara. I think this is what happens. I mean, the mocking of the chief — you have a guy who’s bought your company, and your new boss, the owner of the company, is a threat to you. He might start tweeting angry things about you or disparaging things. And have you seen her feed?
Swisher: Let’s just be clear because what he said is he didn’t like the decision around the Hunter Biden laptop. What happened was he unleashed an army of trolls.
Galloway: Yeah, but he should know that.
Swisher: It’s a criticism many have. Look, they made a mistake there. They absolutely did. But Elon is pretending he doesn’t have an impact. And then his troll army, the troll part of his army — not all of it, by the way, I’m going to be very clear — went to town on this woman.
Galloway: I really think you suffer from both sides–ism here.
Swisher: Scott, I’m the first person who said “this is appalling.”
Galloway: At this point, he should recognize that when he says something critical of a woman who has a big public profile, she is going to get massively harassed by his army of Tesla Taliban. And it all comes back to something you said that really struck me: When you’ve never been threatened, you have difficulty understanding the threats presented by your activity in your company. And the reality is I can go out and say fairly provocative things and no one threatens to rape me.
Galloway: And I don’t feel, quite frankly, I just don’t feel physically threatened. I feel like I could kick the shit out of most of my trolls. I think most women, when they’re walking around a neighborhood, have to think about their physical safety. And I don’t think these guys, these white guys in their 50s, have any ability to say, “Well, maybe just because it doesn’t threaten me, it’s not threatening to other people.”
So this is what you have — you work at a company and you’re worried about the new owner saying something that’s going to really fuck up your life. And this is the mistake and the miscalculation he has made — he’s giving the far right a big fat bear hug. Who buys Teslas? Democrats who want to be more attractive to people. “I’m rich and I care about the environment, have sex with me.”
Swisher: Like yourself, but go ahead.
Galloway: 100 percent. The people buying Teslas are going to be predominantly left wing, and he’s decided to bear hug Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene? Oh, and by the way, look what’s happened to Tesla stock since he decided to leverage it for his misadventures and free speech. This is what’s going to happen. You know who does not want this deal to close? Elon Musk.
If the stock continues to go down, Jamie Dimon and James Gorman are never going to put themselves in a position to go on an earnings call and say, “We lost $3 billion because we lent Elon Musk money, and Tesla’s down 90 percent, and he can’t pay back his margin loans.” So if that stock gets cut in half from here, he’s going to get more calls saying–
Swisher: So first of all, the stock is down 24 percent for the past month, 23 percent for the past six months. So it’s not going the right direction for him, and it’s got to. It’s got to, it really does. That said, there are other means of doing this. He’s the richest guy in the world. They can find the money in some fashion.
Secondly, I just want to say — you don’t think I think this is important. I was urging many top Twitter executives to at least say something. Because here’s the problem — people aren’t attacking Jack Dorsey who, like it or not, even though he pretends he didn’t make the decision, made the decision. He was the CEO of the company, and you don’t get a part-time hall pass. He made every one of these decisions Elon and many others are attacking, but they aren’t attacking him. They’ve picked the woman of color who was very critical to decision-making. Let me just be clear. She’s the chief legal officer. But ultimately it’s the CEO that should be responsible. And Ev Williams spoke up about it. Costolo went out on a limb like I couldn’t believe: “Bullying is not leadership.” The former PR person broke out that meme that Elon put up. Jack invited her on the show.
Jack was the CEO that they’re complaining about, and she gets attacked. Not astonishing. The reason Musk is doing this, ultimately, I think, is not necessarily to create this frenzy around her, which has happened, but he’s trying to get her and others to leave so that doesn’t have to pay them. They’re going to have to make significant layoffs of Twitter to make these numbers work.
Galloway: So he’s trying to bully people using 81 million followers? You think he’s that bad?
Swisher: That’s what I think.
Galloway: What is he, David Zazlav?
Swisher: He also is virtue signaling to the right because he needs their support of this deal so that if there’s any problem, he’s got it. He also is looking out for his other businesses because these people will be in power after the next election. They will.
Galloway: Huge miscalculation.
Swisher: I’m just telling you, this is what I think he’s doing.
Galloway: Marjorie Taylor Greene does not buy Teslas.
Swisher: Not Marjorie Taylor Greene, but he’s embracing a lot of that side.
Galloway: Who on the right owns a Tesla?
Swisher: No, I’m talking about other things. He’s got other businesses with the government, Scott. Big businesses.
Galloway: Okay. So he’s going to alienate 50 percent of people? I don’t buy that this is in any way a good move.
Swisher: Hello? Facebook did it. Facebook did it with the Trump administration.
Galloway: Facebook embraced both sides. It’s been rubbing the small of Charles Schumer’s back for years and been giving money to Democratic candidates.
Swisher: That’s fair. But the other thing this does is refocus away from Tesla’s stock. It keeps them away from focusing on other problems he’s got. And then lastly, this idea that the disparagement clause — everyone’s like, “Oh, now he’s broken it.” It doesn’t matter. It’s a stop sign for him. And just like with the SEC, he can blow through these stop signs and nobody does anything about it. So this deal’s not blowing up because he’s insulting these executives.
Galloway: Well, hold on. It’s going to blow up because he’s going to decide not to close. In the last couple weeks Tesla has lost the value of four Twitters, even at this elevated price. It’s lost $250 billion of market cap.
But this comes down to something much more base. I don’t think this deal is illegal. It’s a capitalist move. I think legally, the DOJ and the FTC won’t stop it. I think the SEC might make it harder, to make it as an example, but I think ultimately it’s difficult for them to stop. The root problem here, in my view, is that there are 81 million mostly men that follow this guy and look to him as a role model. And he has perverted the notion of masculinity. And he has defined masculinity as aggregating power such that you can dunk on people and follow the Hollywood version of masculinity: “I’m Mel Gibson or Sylvester Stallone. And if anyone dares wrong me, it’s all about retribution, and I am coming.” And people love the dopamine hit. People love the memes. People love the dunking. But here’s the thing: Masculinity is your ability to acquire strength and skills such that you can protect and advocate for others. This guy is literally the king of little-dick energy. This is not masculinity. This couldn’t be more opposite from being a real man. You don’t use your power to go after a woman of color. You protect people. That’s the whole point of being a man.
Swisher: The people who are his fans, someone like Keith Rabois, say that someone’s got to point out how bad this was, and someone’s got to be responsible. I’m just going to tell you their little excuse.
Galloway: They’re not pointing fingers at Jack, per your comments. They’re not pointing fingers at the white guy.
Swisher: Yeah, they aren’t. That’s my point. Here’s Ben Shapiro: “Elon Musk has committed nothing except more transparency and more free speech. The left is melting down, which shows two things: they hate transparency and free speech. They always assumed Twitter opposed both, then gaslit everyone that Twitter wasn’t biased.”
Galloway: Are they horrified at Peter Thiel’s shutting down a media firm? Literally suing it out of existence? Are they just horrified at that? This is the ultimate mendacious locker room of some Über-white libertarian country club.
Swisher: Right. It’s an interesting situation. Someone said, “Going forward, every employee at Twitter must be asked bluntly, ‘Are you in favor of free speech when you hate that speech?’ If the answer is no, they should be asked to leave.” That’s another thing. It’s like the Soviet fucking Union with these people.
Galloway: It’s this Taliban mentality. You can go on Twitter right now and say that trans people are a crime against humanity and we should make their hormone therapy illegal. You can say that women are an inferior gender and like being physically attacked. You can say that Black people have a lower IQ. You can do all of this on Twitter. What exactly do we need to be freed up to do on Twitter right now? What is being held back? The only thing I can figure out is Trump.
Musk will use this as the excuse when he walks. He’s going to walk for economic reasons, and he’s going to walk because all of a sudden people are actually going to start looking at the second-order effects of his tweets on this company and what it means when he’s in control of these algorithms. The absolute benchmark here is Mark Zuckerberg and the algorithms at Facebook, and that has not worked out well. And you’re going to see him decide, for economic reasons, to leave. But he’ll couch it in some right-wing bullshit. “I tried to save it, and I’m a victim of the left wing.” You can see how this plays out.
Swisher: There’s no mention of Jack among any of these dudes, and he ran the company. He was CEO. They’re like, “Oh, he was taken over. He was held hostage.” Maybe that’s the reason for the beard. I don’t know. But come on. Look, I happen to like Jack Dorsey, and I think he’s always been a thoughtful person, but he was CEO, boys. That’s who your CEO was.
What’s interesting about it is that Musk did back off and started to move into funny Tweets yesterday, I noticed. Just more amusing ones, and some product ideas and stuff like that. But this was virtue signaling. And they’re so insecure and, I’m sorry, dickless that they love when someone touches them. That’s all. I just don’t know what else to say. It sounds really dirty but that’s the case. Sorry.
Galloway: Jack put out this tweet, and I retweeted it. It said, “Twitter is a collective consciousness of our society,” or something like that. And just me retweeting that, immediately …
Swisher: “Light of consciousness.”
Galloway: The first message I got was, “Fuck you, you fucking fuck,” “Tool,” and, “Yes, communist.” So that’s the collective consciousness of the world right now? Maybe it is. If it is, it’s pretty scary.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.