Sat. Sep 30th, 2023


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Elon Musk Addresses the ‘Painful’ Side of Running Twitter

8 min read

Trying to turn a profit at Twitter

Elon Musk gave one his most extensive interviews since promising a series of big changes to Twitter that he hopes will return the money-losing social media platform to profitability. In a wide-ranging discussion with the BBC that was also broadcast on Twitter, and was at times full of contradictions, regrets and dog jokes, Musk defended his management of the company and gave an update on layoffs, cash flow, the status of the blue checks and who might succeed him as C.E.O.

Here are the highlights:

On why he bought Twitter: Mr. Musk admitted that he went ahead with the $44 billion acquisition because he believed he would lose his legal case to try and back out of it. Buying Twitter has come with “emotional strain,” he added, saying running it had been “painful.” But he said he still thought buying it was the right thing to do.

On profitability: Since buying Twitter six months ago, Mr. Musk has slashed staff and made big changes to the platform — including an $8 monthly blue-check subscription — to try to reverse losses. (The slimmed-down Twitter has experienced a series of outages and user unrest, but he largely blew off those problems as glitches.) Mr. Musk reiterated that Twitter was on a path to be cash-flow positive this quarter (without giving evidence) and claimed advertisers were returning to the platform.

Head count: There are 1,500 Twitter staffers on payroll, down from “just under 8,000” when he took over, Mr. Musk said. He defended the mass layoffs, saying the company was four months from going bankrupt and “drastic action” was needed. But he added that it was “not fun at all” to fire people, and admitted that not everyone had been told in person: “It’s not possible to talk with that many people face to face.”

On bots, disinformation and mainstream media: Mr. Musk, who has described himself as a free speech absolutist, pushed back hard on the BBC’s assertions that there had been more hate speech on the platform since he took over. He said it was his mission to make Twitter as accurate as possible — by, for example, removing automated accounts — but he added that “no system is going to be perfect.” He also returned to a favorite punching bag: the mainstream media, which, he complained, “is able to trash me on a regular basis.”

On blue checks: With advertising revenue shrinking, Mr. Musk is going all in on subscriptions. He says the blue checks that were once given to celebrities, influencers and journalists to verify their accounts will be phased out by next week, after the company missed an earlier deadline.

But he also grumbled that big media companies were reluctant to pay for blue checks. “It’s a small amount of money, so I don’t know what their problem is,” he said.

On who succeeds him as C.E.O.: Mr. Musk said in December that he would abide by the results of a Twitter user poll and step down from running the company. When pressed on that promise, he joked that his dog was in charge. But his jovial mood vanished when he was asked about running the business. He said that the workload meant he sometimes sleeps on a couch at Twitter headquarters. (Another regret: When asked about his sometimes controversial tweets, he said, “I think I should not tweet after 3 a.m.”)

Would he sell? No, he responded, and then said … maybe, if he could find a buyer as committed as he is to free speech.


The latest data on inflation will be released on Wednesday The Consumer Price Index is set to be published at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, with economists forecasting that headline consumer prices rose by 5.1 percent year-on-year in March. If the inflation number surprises on the high side, the S&P 500 could tumble.

The world is more reliant on green power sources. Energy produced from renewable sources and nuclear power is “set to dominate the growth of the world’s electricity supply” over the next three years, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency. It adds that the energy crisis is not over for many of the world’s biggest economies.

EY shelves its plan to split. In a costly retreat, the company announced it would not separate its auditing and consulting arms, a move that potentially leaves the firm with a leadership vacuum and an uncertain future.

SoftBank will reportedly list ARM in New York. The British chip designer is expected to go public this autumn on the tech-heavy Nasdaq exchange, in what would be one of the biggest I.P.O.s of the year. The big challenge is settling on a valuation for ARM, which SoftBank bought for 24.6 billion pounds ($30.5 billion) in 2016.

Race against the machines

Governments are scrambling to get ahead of problems that could come with the rapid emergence of new artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department called for public comment on rules to ensure that A.I. systems do not spread misinformation or perpetuate biases, and China released draft rules to ensure that their output does not subvert state power.

“We have to move fast because these A.I. technologies are moving very fast,” said Alan Davidson, head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. OpenAI’s ChatGPT reached about 100 million monthly users just two months after its release, setting a record for the fastest growth of a consumer app. Davidson said the new accountability measures would ensure the tools are trustworthy, just as audits give credibility to financial disclosures from businesses.

Chinese regulators have some other concerns. Officials are worried about data quality and security. But the Communist Party is also wary of the power of private enterprise and the country’s tech giants, and it wants any content generated by these apps to reflect “socialist values.” The draft rules were announced just hours after Alibaba, the technology company, revealed its A.I. chatbot as Chinese companies race to catch up to U.S. competitors.

The speed of change is confounding some regulators. The advances of ChatGPT have forced the E.U. to tear up its original plans to manage A.I. after a draft of its Artificial Intelligence Act was passed in December. Italy banned ChatGPT entirely this month over privacy concerns.

Even some technologists have sounded a warning. Last month, about 1,000 industry leaders, including Elon Musk and the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, called for a six-month pause on what they said was an “out-of-control race” between A.I. labs to “develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one — not even their creators — can understand, predict or reliably control.”

Montana takes on TikTok

Amid a fresh wave of restrictions on TikTok by lawmakers around the world, Montana could go one step further and ban the platform outright as soon as this week, over concerns that the Chinese-owned video app is collecting sensitive user data. Such moves are garnering bipartisan political support, but banishing the popular app poses a host of challenges.

A ban would be technologically complicated. The Montana bill initially had aimed to punish internet providers, in addition to app stores, if they helped distribute the app. But after AT&T said it could not block TikTok in the state, lawmakers had to rewrite the bill. A trade group that includes Apple and Google also said it would be impossible.

But it has been done before. India banned TikTok and other apps linked to China in 2020 in response to geopolitical tensions with Beijing. And TikTok stopped operating in Hong Kong that same year to try and show it was distinct from ByteDance, its Chinese owner, making it largely impossible to access in the city.

TikTok’s popularity could be a political hurdle. It has 150 million U.S. users, and the company has urged them to contact Montana’s governor, Greg Gianforte, to fight the measure. “The politician in me thinks you’re going to literally lose every voter under 35, forever,” Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, recently told Bloomberg about a nationwide ban. The White House wants ByteDance to sell the app or have it be shut down in the U.S.

Blocking TikTok would also raise free speech questions. The A.C.L.U. has opposed efforts to ban TikTok, writing in a letter to lawmakers that it could “limit Americans’ political discussion, artistic expression” and the free exchange of ideas.

A ban would boost Beijing’s claims that the U.S. is anti-China. Clips of Congress members grilling TikTok’s C.E.O., Shou Chew, last month went viral on Chinese social media, and the hearing was portrayed by the country’s state-backed media and diplomats as evidence that the U.S. was hostile to its businesses and xenophobic.

$2.2 million

— The price paid at auction for a signed pair of sneakers that Michael Jordan wore in the 1998 N.B.A. finals, making them the most expensive footwear ever sold. Jordan scored 37 points in the game against the Utah Jazz and went on to win his sixth and final championship.

Crypto quiz

Bitcoin rallied to a 10-month high on Tuesday, topping $30,000. The cryptocurrency has soared more than 80 percent this year (it is down slightly this morning), recovering some of the losses triggered by last year’s “crypto winter.”

But even as Bitcoin has surged, it is not the best performing large cryptocurrency of 2023. Which one is?


Binance Coin


Find the answer at the bottom of this newsletter.



Bids for Manchester United will go to a third round. (BBC)

Ken Griffin, Citadel’s founder, gave $300 million to Harvard, his biggest-ever gift to his alma mater. (Bloomberg)

Carlyle reportedly abandoned its long-held plan to invest in the health care analytics company Cotiviti. (FT)

Mark Shafir, Citi’s co-head of mergers and acquisitions, will retire. (WSJ)

KKR is buying a 29 percent stake in the public relations company FGS Global in a deal that values it at $1.43 billion. (FT)


The Biden administration is set to unveil new climate regulations designed to turbocharge sales of electric vehicles. (NYT)

Senator Tim Scott, a Republican, is launching a presidential exploratory committee. (WaPo)

Clarence Thomas’s relationship with the billionaire Harlan Crow has intensified calls for an ethics code for Supreme Court justices (NYT)

Best of the rest

Many countries are caught between the U.S., China and Russia, and do not want to pick sides. (Economist)

German companies are doubling down on China even as the U.S. seeks to weaken economic ties with Beijing. (NYT)

“A.I. Can Write a Song, but It Can’t Beat the Market” (WSJ)

“Mass Layoffs and Absentee Bosses Create a Morale Crisis at Meta” (NYT)

“Inside Rupert Murdoch’s Succession Drama” (Vanity Fair)

Quiz answer: C, Solana. As of this morning, the cryptocurrency was up more than 130 percent since the start of the year.

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