Elon Musk’s property of Twitter gives it new authority

Elon Musk's property of Twitter gives it new authority

“I think this is genuinely new,” Brad DeLong, an economic historian at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an email. “There were press lords in the past,” he said, citing William Randolph Hearst, whose fictionalized legend was immortalized in the film “Citizen Kane.” “But never before to my recollection has a major entrepreneur in the high-tech of the day wanted this kind of influence — or, rather, Jobs and Gates wanted it, but they wooed news platforms, rather than buying them,” DeLong said, referring to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Elon Musk is one of the most powerful corporate CEOs in history. When Musk buys Twitter, he will be adding one of the world’s most influential media platforms to his business empire, which already includes the leading private space company (SpaceX) and one of the leading electric car companies. Musk, who was already named the world’s richest man by Bloomberg, will soon add one of the world’s most influential media platforms to his purview (Tesla). It’s a combination that has made him one of the most influential personalities in technology, business, and media history.

Highlights

  • Twitter, however, is an altogether different beast. Its platform counts 217 million daily active users and is considered by some to be the most important and influential platform in the world despite being smaller than some of its competitors. Musk and Twitter have agreed to a deal worth $44 billion, with Musk as the lone owner so far, though he could add outside investors. That’s the equivalent of nearly a fifth of his vast wealth of $252 billion.

  • How Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover could change the platform. History is filled with powerful industrialists, many of whom also wielded control of major media outlets. And in recent years, media properties have become a target for wealthy technocrats. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post; Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff owns Time magazine; and Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, is the founder of the Emerson Collective, which owns The Atlantic. In an earlier era, the Gates-led Microsoft co-founded MSNBC (NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC News and MSNBC).

“To me, Elon Musk is really simple. He really likes attention. He really likes to be at the center of the discourse,” White said. White said that’s a contrast with railroad barons who bought newspapers in the 19th century to serve narrow financial interests, often in secret. Musk’s move into social media doesn’t seem to serve a business purpose, and he’s not hiding his influence.

In historical terms, Musk has few comparisons. Richard White, a Stanford University historian and author of a 2017 book on the 19th century Gilded Age, “The Republic for Which It Stands,” said Musk is most similar to Hearst, who wielded power in public debates in the early 20th century through his control of a chain of popular newspapers. But Musk’s business interests are more sprawling than Hearst’s were. And Musk has shown little interest in acquiring mansions and open land — a favorite pastime of tycoons from Cornelius Vanderbilt to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg — and instead leverages his stock to finance endeavors like Neuralink, a startup working on brain implants, or the acquisition of Twitter.

If anything, Musk seems to relish his role in the culture as much as his impact on industry. He’s hosted NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” makes regular cameos on television and in films and inserts himself into global hot spots by offering help in places such as Ukraine and Thailand. He has dated pop star Grimes and has drawn analogies to a comic book superhero. That attention combined with his businesses have resulted in an aggressive online army of fans and made him an idol among many in the tech community. Last year the Harvard historian Jill Lepore devoted a podcast series to Musk, saying he had established a new kind of capitalism rooted in science fiction. She called it “Muskism.”