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How Elon Musk accidentally bought Twitter then singlehandedly burnt it to the ground. (or Goodbye Twitter, Hello Mastodon!)

Elon Musk standing in the street in front of a burning building

Elon Musk: “Burn it down. Burn it all down!”

The debacle occurred at light-speed, a fast-moving disaster that stunned supporters and left critics saying, “Told you so”. It’s like Elon Musk is stumbling around a darkened Twitter headquarters, feeling around in a room full of buttons, accidentally pressing them at random, then muttering “Oops, sorry” when something blows up. Here’s how a lunatic genius singlehandedly burnt Twitter to the ground.

First, a brief history of Twitter

In 2006, Jack Dorsey was a computer programmer at the Odeo podcasting company when he told his coworkers about an idea he had for a group chat application built on the SMS protocol. Odeo executives liked the idea and allowed him to develop a prototype as an internal application for Odea employees. They called it twttr.

The Twitter we know was spun off into its own company a year later and Jack Dorsey was chosen to be its CEO. By 2007, Twitter was seeing 60,000 tweets per day. The tide really turned in 2008 when a marketing display at SXSW conference became the talk of the show. Interest in the platform grew and by the end of that year, the number of tweets per day had surged to 300,000. The company went public on November 7, 2013. Five years later, Twitter had more than 3 million monthly active users.

Twitter became the darling of big business who especially loved the idea of #hashtags. Advertisements could incorporate catchy hashtags and the public encouraged to use them in their tweets. If a hashtag went viral, a company could recognize huge dividends from a small investment.

Today, Twitter has nearly a half-billion active users.

An even briefer history of Elon Musk

Born of money and privilege, Elon Musk is believed to have an IQ of around 150, well into the genius range. His lack of empathy can be attributed to autism, not stupidity (Musk revealed on live TV that he had Asperger’s). He’s easily the smartest moron in the room.

A series of breaks filled Musk’s pockets with cash. Musk dropped out of Stanford University in 1995 to co-found the online city guide software company Zip2. In 1999, Zip2 was acquired by Compaq for $307 million and Musk co-founded X.com, a direct bank, with the money. X.com merged with Confinity in 2000 to form PayPal. In 2002, with $175.8 million from eBay’s acquisition of PayPal, Musk founded SpaceX, a spaceflight services company. Using his snowballed hoard of money, he invested heavily in Tesla, founded The Boring Company, and co-founded Neralink and OpenAI before deciding to purchase Twitter as his own personal plaything.

The day Twitter died (or, that time when Elon Musk accidentally bought a social media company)

“My head is completely spinning right now. I honestly did not think this was going to happen. When Elon Musk announced the bid, I thought I was in Crazyville. When it seemed like he might actually go through with the purchase, I thought things were getting even crazier. And when he actually announced that Twitter accepted the bid, I was just astonished.”

Derek Thompson – The Atlantic

The death of Twitter unofficially began on April 14, 2022, the day Elon Musk made an unsolicited offer to purchase Twitter for $43 billion. The following day, Twitter directors announced a “poison pill” strategy to stem the hostile takeover. Twitter wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

Elon Musk in front of a burning building holding his hands up

On April 20, Musk disclosed that he had secured financing provided by a group of banks. The funding included billions of dollars in loans and $20 billion in cash equity from Musk, to be provided by sales of Tesla stock and other assets. Independent investors kicked in another $7.1 billion in equity.

The amount borrowed was staggering. It represented seven times the company’s 2022 projected cash flow. Banks hesitated and Tesla shares fell off 12 percent. Within days of the offer, Musk was forced to sell $8.5 of Tesla shares, losing $21 billion in the process.

By April 25, rumors circulated that Twitter was ready to accept Musk’s offer. The next day, Twitter’s board publicly and unanimously accepted the buyout offer for $44 billion. As part of the deal, Musk was prohibited from disparaging the company or tweeting about the acquisition. Musk agreed, then immediately announced he lacked confidence in Twitter’s management and that he was considering reducing their pay.

Two weeks later, on May 13, Musk tried to get out of the deal, revealing that he had placed the deal “on hold” in the wake of reports that 5 percent of Twitter’s daily active users were spam accounts.

Ah, come on. I was only kidding. Do you really think I’d be dumb enough to pay $44 billion for Twitter?

Elon Musk casually strolling past firemen and a burning building

After 2 months of wrangling, Musk announced his intention to terminate the acquisition. Twitter launched a lawsuit against Musk and Twitter stock plummeted. Musk made a desperate private offer to purchase Twitter at the reduced prices of $31 billion and $39.6 billion, both of which the company rejected.

On October 3, Musk’s legal team informed Twitter that Musk had changed his mind and decided to move forward with his proposed acquisition at the originally agreed-upon price of $54.20 per share, on the condition that Twitter drop its lawsuit.

In the afternoon of October 27, Musk and Twitter closed the deal, with Musk tweeting “the bird is freed”. In a TED interview, Musk said he aimed to make Twitter a “platform for free speech around the globe”, hailing free speech a “societal imperative for a functioning democracy” and insisting that he had not made the offer to increase his wealth. By the following month, Musk had fired an estimated half of its workforce and demanded the remaining employees put in “long hours at high intensity” to make up for the loss. The death spiral had begun.

Elon Musk decides what is “free speech” and what is not

Like most social media networks, Twitter has never completely allowed open free speech on its platform. The account of President Donald Trump was suspended for inciting a violent insurrection and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green was kicked off the platform for spreading COVID misinformation. A nonprofit transparency collective, similar to Wikileaks, was suspended after leaking hacked documents to journalists. Twitter has booted Russian corporations and far-fight militias from the network. They’ve even censored articles from the New York Post.

Elon Musk was to be Twitter’s savior promising a reversal of suspensions and a return to free speech and open dialog. Then Musk started booting left-leaning accounts from the service and threatening to release private communications between Twitter and various public figures. Soon accounts that did nothing more than criticize Musk were suspended.

Yes, the Twitter ship is sinking

The chart below shows the change in Followers for the most followed account on Twitter – @BarackObama. The blue arrow points to the day Elon Musk purchased Twitter. Similar losses occurred on accounts across the Twitterverse.

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Celebrities are leaving Twitter in droves. Elton John, Jim Carrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Shonda Rhimes, Gigi Hadid, Toni Braxton, Sara Bareilles, Jack White, Trent Reznor, Erik Larsen, Tea Leoni, Liz Phair, Alex Winter, David Simon, Ken Olin, Jameela Jamil were among the many celebs who announced their exit from the platform.

In the face of Musk’s content-moderation follies, advertisers are fleeing the platform in vast numbers too. Media Matters for America reported that half of Twitter’s top advertisers had left the platform. Seven others had slowed advertising to almost nothing. According to NPR:

“Chevrolet, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Ford, Jeep, Kyndryl, Merck & Co. and Novartis AG all issued statements about halting Twitter ads or were reported and confirmed as doing so. The others ceased advertising on the platform for a significant period of time following direct outreach, controversies, and warnings from media buyers.”

And let’s be clear, Twitter has only turned a profit in two of its sixteen years. Any monetary loss whatsoever is a death knell. Musk is clearly a disaster for the company.

Goodbye Twitter.

On December 14, 2022, Twitter banned a litany of journalist accounts, pretty much just because they made fun of him. But the banning of any Mastodon links was the final straw for Geek Slop. A platform that proudly proclaimed itself the voice of the people, the free speech platform for left- and right-wing nuts, killed all links to its competitor. Don’t believe me?

We heard links to Mastodon were being banned but we had to test it for ourselves. We started with a simple draft tweet using TweetDeck. Nothing nefarious, just an attempt to nudge people over to the Mastodon platform.

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The attempt produced this unusual error message.

12 17 2022 11 36 39 AM

So, we moved over to Twitter to send it out directly. This error popped.

12 17 2022 11 37 40 AM

While at the bottom of the page, was this bizarre warning.

12 17 2022 11 38 04 AM

No doubt, links to Mastodon were being blocked. Goodbye Twitter.

Hello Mastodon.

Mastodon logo

Luckily for hardcore Twitter users, there is a viable alternative – Mastodon. Mastodon is microblogging service similar to Twitter. There are notable differences however – and those differences make it an even better option than the OG itself.

Mastodon is free and open-source. Nodes (instances) are self-hosted, independent, and joined to the same network. Nodes can create their own code of conduct, terms of service, and even moderation policies. This lets users join server communities to their liking. And once a message is posted from an instance, it becomes available almost immediately on the entire Mastodon network.

Mastodon is also a part of the Fediverse ensemble of server platforms that use shared protocols that allow users to interact with users on other Fediverse platforms such as PeerTube and Friendica.

Mastodon is crowd funded. That means, wait for it.. There are no advertisers.

Mastodon has multiple modes, selected by the user in the Mastodon preferences. In single-column mode, it looks much like Twitter. Turn on advanced mode and Mastodon looks like TweekDeck.

Mastodon posts (also called, somewhat jokingly, “toots”) can include up to 500 text-base characters, 220 more characters than allowed by Twitter.

How to dump Twitter for Mastodon

By December 2022, Mastodon had already reached 2 million users and is growing exponentially fast. The platform is simple and easy to navigate. The signup process is an exercise in frustration.

First, archive your Tweets – fast!

The idea of Twitter disappearing into oblivion grows every day. Your first step should be to archive all of your tweets.

To archive your tweets, open Twitter Settings and Privacy from the navigation bar. Click on Your Account, then Download an archive of your data.

images 3.fill .size 2000x1004.v1666963029 600x301 jpg

You will likely be asked to further authenticate your account. Then click Request Archive on the Download an archive of your data page.

It can take 24 hours or longer for the file to be ready, at which point you will receive either a push notification on the mobile app or an email to your connected account. Of course, downloading your archive of Twitter data won’t delete your account — you’ll have to do that separately. We’ve tested it on Geek Slop’s account however, and have yet to receive our archived data.

How to sign up for a new Mastodon account

Next, sign up for Mastodon. Mastodon is a great platform – all the best parts of Twitter rolled into one. Signing up for a new account, however, is a real mess. This is because the platform is decentralized – both a boon and curse for its viability.

To begin, head over to the Mastodon website and check out the list of servers. Find a group that aligns with your interests. Understand however, that all servers interact with each other. You will see and post messages from your instance and receive and send messages to all the other instances automatically. Your server/instance is not an island unto itself.

Some instances let you create an account immediately while others require you “apply” for an account. Remember, these are independently hosted so each instance can make their own rules for new accounts on their instance.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter which instance you choose because all servers interact with each other. Joining a particular server doesn’t mean you’re restricted from seeing certain content. It just means that it is the specific server that’s supporting and moderating your account. And if you change your mind later, you can easily transfer your account to another server.

Another consideration is the server’s moderation policies. Each server admin can moderate content however they like. The only rule is Mastodon’s “Server Covenant” which dictates all servers have “active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia”.

Once your account is created, you can choose “local” to see only posts from people within your server or “Federated” to see posts from all servers that your server knows about.

Mastodon needs only one thing to ensure success

Mastodon needs only a single feature to ensure its success – stability. Every instance has the ability to defederate (isolate) other servers it does not agree with. In addition, if your Mastodon server/instances closes down, you lose everything – posts, followers, and everything else is deleted. There is no master server that backs everything up. Only the server you are on is responsible for your data.

Someone big needs to volunteer to run a root instance of Mastodon, preferably someone like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a not-for-profit free speech organization with the money to establish a foundational Mastodon instance while vowing to keep their noses out of its business. Yeah, that’s a big ask.

Image Credits

Elon Musk standing in the street in front of a burning building via Photosonic AI with usage type - Self
Elon Musk casually strolling past firemen and a burning building via Photosonic AI with usage type - Self
Elon Musk in front of a burning building holding his hands up via Photosonic AI with usage type - Self

Featured Image Credit

Elon Musk standing in the street in front of a burning building via Photosonic AI with usage type - Self
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