How Elon Musk makes a hashtag of Twitter

Today, I come to praise Twitter, not to bury it. For those who may recall, when it came along in 2009, Twitter was the younger, sexier cousin of Facebook. It became one of the most important ‘town squares’ on the internet. It was the well from which the 2011 Arab Spring sprang. A decade later, during the horrendous period of the Covid ‘Delta wave’ in 2021, it was where millions of us tweeted desperately for oxygen cylinders and hospital beds.

It was the site that launched a thousand hashtags #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter included. On a Romantic level, Twitter was a microcosm of the ‘democratic’ internet. It didn’t matter who you were, you could be read, retweeted and appreciated by anyone all over the world.

And typically, it also had a dark side – everyday harassment and abuse, tweets of the minions, tweets of the trolls… This, too, was the ‘democratic internet’. For a whole generation, Twitter represented the cool shade of the tree that everyone say down to talk under after a hard day at work, where we learned, gossiped, bitched, grew.

Look, I don’t know much about how businesses make and spend money. But I do know that much like most things that are democratic, Twitter wasn’t making too much money. I mean, it was a publicly listed company, and you would see promoted tweets where brands would pay Twitter to show up on the timelines of its users and all that. But…
… Some two weeks back, Elon Musk purchased the company. ‘What? But that’s the name of a perfume, Aditi!’ went my mum. ‘That’s Jovan Musk mom. Elon Musk is the name of an actual person.’ ‘Poor thing,’ was mum’s response.

Of course, ‘poor’ Elon is not. In fact, he’s the wealthiest. Even among the richest, he’s well-known because he makes regular bombastic statements, usually the prerogative of politicians a.k.a. world leaders. And he usually makes these statements on Twitter. And this, more than him being boss off electric car company, Tesla, and rockets’n’space stuff company SpaceX, has made Musk godlike. Or, at least, weapons manufacturing mogul Tony Stark/Iron Man-like in the age of Marvel mythologicals.

Since Musk’s so rich, no one follow ups on the promises he makes, or fact check what he says. He’s a favourite among 14-40-year-old male demographics who somehow love not what’s being said, but how it’s being said, whether on Twitter or on the ‘less reliable’ platform of real life.

But Twitter has always been a bit of glitch for someone like Musk. In its ‘democratic’ form, what he liked hearing or reading wasn’t getting as much airplay as what he didn’t like hearing or reading. In his democratic ‘town square,’ people should have as much legitimacy to state that pigs can’t fly as they have to state that pigs can fly – regardless of porcine ability.

And so, in a comic book villain move, Musk has bought Twitter and is busy refashioning it in his own image. Truth be told, I was impressed. It’s like being ticked off by your teacher for not doing your homework, and then, instead of doing your homework, you just buy the school.

In the past two-odd weeks he has owned Twitter, Musk has fired about 60% of its employees, scared off many advertisers, called back a few of the employees he had sacked, started charging a fee for verifying accounts – without any real verification process (so among many other such Twitter handles, there’s one belonging to ‘Jesus Christ’).

Right now, Twitter might be sinking, but it’s going down in a slew of jokes, hot takes, and ‘truth speaking’. Money can buy you many things. But it turns out, it can’t buy you a thick skin if you already don’t have the fit for it.

Which is why I have come here to praise Twitter. Because you simply cannot bury something that is already going down in flames.

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