There are a lot of benefits to being the wealthiest person in the world, and they only amplify when you are also Elon Musk. You can’t buy whatever you want, but you can get close enough. Everything you touch gets more valuable by virtue of its proximity to you, making it exceedingly hard for you to come out a loser on any deal. If you have a fleeting thought, your millions of Twitter followers will see it, and so will millions more who do not follow you on the website you just bought and who very much didn’t sign up to learn more about you.
There are some challenges to being you, too: The Securities and Exchange Commission might watch you like a hawk, and that is unpleasant even if they can’t fine you enough money for you to miss it. People will say mean things about you, because it is not possible to get as rich as you did without doing historic proportions of dirt. But these are little potatoes. “Rich enough not to care” exists, and you, Elon Musk, could easily buy Dictionary.com and make yourself the definition of it.
There is a bigger problem, though. When you are the richest person in the world and have an unyielding desire to roll around in the social media mud with the rest of us pigs, you are liable to do the same things anyone with a social media problem might do. Specifically, you might make an impulse purchase. Just in the past week, I made two of these myself: a couple pairs of shorts from an athleisure company I’d never heard of, and a $30 pair of sunglasses from a brand that evidently doesn’t believe in capital letters or consonants. I can lose those sunglasses in three weeks and not be much worse off. But when you have Elon money, your impulse buy is not shorts or sunglasses. It is the entire house—a giant one. You just buy Twitter, one of the largest social media platforms in the world, and its 200 million–plus active users. You are rich enough not to care about most things, but this one costs around $44 billion, making it big enough that even you cannot afford to forget about it immediately after buying it.
Elon Musk is not heading to the poorhouse if this thing doesn’t work out. But he is putting a lot of himself on the line to buy his favorite website. He is worth about $270 billion today, and most of that ($170 billion–ish) is tied up in his 172 million-ish shares of Tesla that currently trade at about $1,000 per share (though they were falling in the hour after Twitter announced Musk was buying it). It does not appear that he had $44 billion just sitting around in cash, so he is borrowing $25.5 billion from banks. Some of that money is secured against $62.5 billion of his Tesla stock, representing 35 or 40 percent of his stake in the car company that is a big chunk of his life’s work. If for some reason Musk couldn’t pay back the loans, he’d lose the Tesla shares. He’d still have a lot! But that doesn’t seem fun, and Twitter famously has a hard time turning its big user base into profit.
Maybe Musk could find ways to satisfy his banks even without Twitter making money. Maybe the banks understand that they are basically paying an Elon Tax, that it’s good to be in business with the richest guy in the world. His rocket company, SpaceX, might go public one day, and it probably crossed the bankers’ minds that it wouldn’t suck if their banks got to be involved in that IPO and its untold fees. Musk is rich enough that even the worst consequences he could face if this project blew up (SpaceX term) are not that bad.
Musk has the heart of a true poster. He loves using Twitter to share words and pictures with his community. He finds it amusing, and he bought one of his favorite toys, just as many people would if they had his money. (I would buy the Pittsburgh Pirates, spend a bunch of money on players, and tell them that they would hear no griping from the owners’ box if they had to take any measures or substances necessary, legal or not, to bring home a pennant.) Musk has framed his pursuit of Twitter around his desire to promote free speech—something his track record has not always borne out, but hey:
I don’t know what a Musk-owned Twitter will look like in practice. Conservative media types are excited about it and seem to have the understanding that it will make Twitter even friendlier than it has been to anti-vaccine and pro-insurrectionist talking points, while achieving the dual goal of Owning the Libs. That would make Twitter a more hectic place, and it would affect elite political discourse in ways that would likely be bad. But you can’t knock down a building that’s already rubble. Hopefully, individual users could still block and mute their way to some measure of sanity and/or protection from harassment or worse. However, for many users, this has been a perpetual challenge even with Twitter’s limited guardrails.
Musk sounds excited about dictating Twitter’s moderation policies. That is going to be a short honeymoon. He could just go all the way hands-off and laugh about it for a bit, letting Twitter become a playground for spammers, child abusers, and whomever else, though he has already put bots on notice. He could sit at his desk and laugh maniacally as he eliminates the block button for every account except his own, reads his Tesla employees’ DMs, and gives himself and only himself an edit button that applies not just to his tweets, but to yours.
Probably not, though. Twitter becoming too insufferable for too many people would be bad for a business that already does not print cash. Personally, I’m not leaving Twitter unless Musk reads this blog and bans me. (Mr. Musk, please don’t do it! I need Twitter for my job!) Twitter is my mud, and much like Elon, I am a pig who cannot resist bathing in it. There are surely millions more users who are just as addicted and would even pay a hefty fee to keep using Twitter. Many more wouldn’t, though—including the most important ones. Would advertisers be excited about an anarchist social media platform that’s known for doing the least in content moderation? Of course not, and advertisers give Twitter 89 cents out of every dollar it makes. The NRA can only buy so many ads to offset all of the companies that would flee if the site’s reputation became too toxic.
It’s possible Twitter could lose a bunch of money without Musk caring. In that event, he could maybe even avoid hot water with his lenders, because he’s Elon Musk and they are bankers. It just doesn’t sound enjoyable for Elon Musk at all, and the only way to skirt the issue is to engage in at least some of the content moderation that Musk seems to think is anathema to the public discourse.
Most moderation fights won’t rise to Musk’s level. He doesn’t have time to decide whether @Jack8593069420 should get the banhammer, and employees several rungs below him on the org chart will make those decisions, taking Twitter’s rules into account only as much as they want. That’s already how the site operates, as anyone who’s ever gotten a violent threat on Twitter only to be told the aggressor didn’t violate any rules might attest.
That is the best case for Musk’s quality of life as the king of Twitter. At some point, a high-profile fight will arise over whether some conservative superstar should get a Twitter ban. It could be anyone. Let’s say it’s some white supremacist who leaves a bomb at a government building in an attempt to start a race war, or whatever you have to do in 2026 to become a far-right social media darling during Donald Trump’s second term. Musk might not ban that person—bombs are a form of speech, Fox News hosts might argue to him—but he’s eventually going to ban someone with a giant, insane following. At that point, his friendship with that particular segment of Twitter will be over.
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Musk has long been pretty popular in the real, non-Twitter world, and maybe he won’t mind if Twitter users right and/or left come to hold a negative opinion of him. But he just bought Twitter, where he already spends a lot of time. He purchased the entire peanut gallery! Some people can tell themselves after a rough day on Twitter that none of it was real life, but spending $44 billion on something makes it the single realest part of your life. Best of luck to Musk in taking over a 200 million–person social network two years before the 2024 presidential election and attempting to emerge from it as a well-liked figure.
I do not think Musk thought this through. He only has stressful, annoying, and expensive paths ahead of him. But that’s not the same as thinking he’ll fail, whatever that means—fail to make money, or to make Twitter a paragon for global free speech, or to have a slightly more amusing time online with his Tuesday morning coffee? It is pretty clear that he only somewhat thought through his initial offer to Twitter in mid-April, which came with no indication of how he’d get the money. The company’s board more or less shook him off, then instituted a standard poison pill to make it harder for him to take control of it. Yet here I am, writing not two weeks later about how Musk is about to own the website that I spend [redacted] hours on every day. See you out there!