Is Elon Musk really going to walk away from Twitter?


he end of Elon Musk’s tumultuous era as CEO of Twitter could be in sight, after the world’s second-richest person decided to put his continuation in the role to a referendum on Twitter. At the time of writing, with nearly 1-and-a-half million votes cast, 57.3 per cent of respondents want him to step away.

“As the saying goes, be careful what you wish, as you might get it,” Musk tweeted later, adding that “those who want power are the ones who least deserve it”.

But is he really going anywhere? And if so, is that what he wants? Those hoping for a cathartic scalp may find themselves disappointed.

First, it’s important to remember that Musk doesn’t cease to own the company just because he drops the CEO title. It’s still his property and he will continue to have enormous influence on how the company runs, no matter who has the business card with ‘CEO’ embossed on it.

That would be true of any company, but is doubly so for Twitter, where Musk holds enormous influence via his 122 million followers. It’s easy to imagine him ‘innocently tweeting’ his disapproval about a policy change from the company’s new CEO and letting his followers apply a groundswell of pressure for change (even before the takeover, he was trolling the previous management.)

Secondly, while millions of people may give the a virtual thumbs down, the outcome could still be what Musk ultimately wants. Historically, he’s created polls on things that he’s already decided to do, and then claimed it as some kind of democratic victory.

He signalled that he wanted former president Donald Trump to return to the platform months before putting it to a public vote. And, while he seemed to follow Twitter’s advice when asking if he should sell 10 per cent of his Tesla stock last November, critics noticed that he had already signalled his plans to sell beforehand and had scheduled the offloading of $1.1bn two months previously.

In the case of continuing as CEO, Musk has previously stated that he only wanted the position to be temporary. “I expect to reduce my time at Twitter and find somebody else to run Twitter over time,” he told a Delaware courtroom, while defending his $56 billion Tesla pay package in a shareholder lawsuit.

In short, this may be something Musk planned on doing anyway, but why waste an opportunity for engagement and democratic kudos? If it was something he was dead set against, it’s unlikely Twitter’s populous would get a say. Notably, the UN’s proposal of how a fraction of his wealth could end world hunger never got a vote, and his pledge is yet to be actioned.

Despite all this, there is a sense that Musk is finding the job a lot less entertaining than he might have predicted. “You must like pain a lot,” he tweeted in reply to someone offering to take over Twitter with no salary. “One catch: you have to invest your life savings in Twitter and it has been in the fast lane to bankruptcy since May. Still want the job?”

As unappealing as Musk makes it sound, no doubt there will be plenty of applicants for the vacancy, should it emerge in just over an hour’s time.

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