Everything About Twitter v. Musk Is Utter Nonsense

This dispute is where all sanity and logic go to die.

Photo collage of Elon Musk's face and a Twitter logo in a dumpster fire
Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty; The Atlantic

This is exhausting, but I’ll attempt to bring you up to speed: Elon Musk tried to buy Twitter for $44 billion. Twitter accepted this offer, presumably because it was the best the social-media company’s directors thought they could do. Then Musk changed his mind and said he was pulling out of the deal, claiming that he couldn’t tell how many Twitter users were fake. And then Twitter sued Musk to force him to go through with the purchase.

Honestly, in that description, the dispute sounds almost normal. But the Musk-Twitter story is not normal. It makes no sense at all, in the most literal sense of nonsense-making. Indeed, the nonsense that it makes erodes every dimension of analysis, including business strategy, online celebrity, contract law, and internet culture. If you try too hard to suss out what is happening and why, you’ll only fall inside a tesseract of bilge, and the madness this entails.

From a distance, though, and through squinted eyes, one can safely ascertain the outlines of this hyperobject of absurdity. Start with Musk’s apparent motivations: He wanted to buy Twitter because the company was poorly run and undervalued; among his chief concerns was the quantity of spam content and fake accounts he perceived to be infecting the platform. Now he says the quantity of spam on the platform (or his supposed inability to determine its extent) is a rationale for ending the deal. Musk wanted to buy Twitter to clean it up, but he can’t buy Twitter, because it needs to be cleaned up.

And here are Twitter’s motivations: The company asserts, in a complaint filed yesterday in the Delaware Court of Chancery, that Musk is a disdainful hypocrite who wants out of the deal only because the stock market tanked, dragging down both Twitter’s value and Musk’s own fortune. Twitter is advancing this position so that a disdainful hypocrite will be forced to buy it.

Twitter also accuses Musk of causing the company to bleed talent by refusing to approve a retention plan for key personnel who want to run away because they don’t want to work for Musk. But while the merger was in the works, Twitter fired its product chief and revenue product lead, presumably because they had failed to help the company perform well enough to obviate the need for a sale, and thus avoid the whole Musk situation from the start.

So Musk is scaring off talent, some of whom nobody wanted, and the attrition has further damaged the company. To make matters worse, everyone knows that Twitter has always been an absolutely garbage social platform, riddled with bad actors acting badly. Among the worst of these is Elon Musk, whose shitposts reach more than 100 million users, and whose shitposting during the merger has materially worsened Twitter’s value as a company. If Musk does end up taking over Twitter, he’ll surely degrade the service by promoting an anything-goes, free-speech bedlam that allows for even more aggressive bullshit, bullying, and propaganda. Therefore, he must not be allowed not to complete the purchase. The very future of Twitter depends on it.

It’s like watching a pair of evil clowns debate. One argues that Twitter is a hell-site that makes everyone’s life worse, and laments the damage that Musk has done to it already. The other holds that Musk is a hell-person who would destroy Twitter if given the chance, and laments the fact that he’s trying to wriggle out of the opportunity to do so.

It’s tricky to cut this Gordian knot, because Elon Musk is one of the few multibillionaires whose actions can’t easily be mapped to rational choices. His chaos instinct notwithstanding, though, Musk is also a savvy businessman who, via internet payments, commercial spaceflight, electric cars, and other endeavors, became the richest person in the world. Twitter would be a bargain at $44 billion if, through actions noble or base, its business could be transformed into something worth 10 times as much. The fact that Musk says he no longer wants to bother might just be his way of negotiating a lower price via legal settlement. Or perhaps it has no meaning whatsoever. Musk has already shown that he doesn’t mind losing large sums of money so long as he gets to say and do the things he wants, especially on Twitter. In that sense, he’s only being true to the spirit of the platform: a lot of noise, adding up to nothing.