Why do it? When I wrote about Musk’s tweeting earlier this year, I leaned toward the idea that Twitter itself had led him into this 280-character recklessness. I described Twitter as a superhighway from your foot to your mouth. But now that he owns the company, it’s gotten worse—and seemingly more intentional. Musk seems to have programmed his Tesla navigation system to zoom directly into his own babbling trap. The definitive answer to why he’s doing this is only accessible inside the big brain of the man who rules Tesla, SpaceX, brain implant and tunneling startups, and now also Twitter. I can’t ask Twitter for a comment because Musk fired its PR team. People around Musk I surveyed aren’t providing answers, either. The one response I did get was from his friend and fellow OpenAI cofounder Sam Altman. “Truly no idea,” Altman says.
One of Musk’s surrogates has addressed the tweets: Joe Lonsdale, an investor and Palantir cofounder who knows Musk and is rumored to be advising him on the Twitter rescue. As a recent guest on CNBC, Lonsdale gushed about how “the possibilities are amazing” for Musk and Twitter. But when cohost Andrew Ross Sorkin brought up the Markey tweet, he had the same concerns I did. “I don’t understand it!” Sorkin said. “Democrats control the Senate, that guy runs a whole number of committees—with subpoena power no less! … Doesn’t he put himself in some kind of real risk?”
Lonsdale defended his friend by saying the tweets proved “how important it is that Elon wins.” It’s about freedom. “In China, if you do that, you’re definitely out,” said Lonsdale, waving his hand in a chopping motion like a Maoist executioner. “It’s proving to everyone that it’s possible we have a free country, and you can push back, you can mock people who are attacking you, and you can still win. And that’s awesome! He’s saying we’re free and I’m not going to treat this like a Communist dictatorship.”
That remark might have landed better if at that very moment Musk had not been publicly firing—and then making fun of—any employee who dared to post anything about this that was more critical than a genuflection to his greatness. Since Twitter CEO Musk is leading a dictatorial masterclass, I reject the Lonsdale Theory.
Another supposition is that Musk has lost his mind. We should therefore regard all his actions at his Twitter as Queeg-like lunacy. That doesn’t work either. These troublesome tweets aren’t new behavior. Remember 2018, when Must recklessly called the guy who got those Thai kids out of the cave a “pedo guy”? Musk won the defamation lawsuit filed against him by the rescuer, but paid a price in distraction and reputation for his unjustified slur. And kept going. Or what about the time that same year when he tweeted, “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.” Turns out the funding was not secured. Also, there was confusion over whether the tweet was a joke, since April 20 is known as Weed Day, a time to fire up a fat spliff. In any case, the US Securities and Exchange Commission was not amused. Musk and Tesla both had to pay $20 million to settle the agency’s complaint, and Musk had to step down as Tesla’s chair. But outside Twitter, Musk has been showing no signs of insanity. Since those 2018 tweets, he’s done a pretty good job at running Tesla and SpaceX, so one might assume he’s the same not-crazy guy now. Only crazy in his tweets.