He always Tweeted like he owned the place

Musk’s Twitter isn’t simply a busier version of everyone else’s; it’s a different animal entirely, working in ways that others do not
He always Tweeted like he owned the place

Even before Elon Musk proposed a roughly $44 billion deal to take over Twitter, his tweeting habit had become an essential part of his public persona. He was the world’s richest person, the founder of Tesla, the SpaceX guy, and someone who would not, or could not, stop posting.

This didn’t stop when Twitter accepted his offer. Musk lashed out at critics, mocked coverage of the deal, posted photos of rockets and criticised Twitter itself, amplifyied right-wing criticism of the service and singled out the company’s top lawyer. (The deal could still fall apart.)

As Musk’s Twitter use became essential to his business, it was often construed as somehow humanising, as part of his populist appeal, or as a weakness or a vice. Andy Warhol’s observation that “no amount of money can get you a better Coke” could at times feel applicable: The man at the centre of a trillion-dollar business empire, who has cultivated an identity as a bold future builder, was looking down at the same iPhone that everyone can buy, opening the same Twitter app that everyone else can download, settling scores or just deciding to post “I put the art in fart.”

This view turns Musk’s plan to purchase Twitter into a pat story: rich guy who loves Twitter decides to buy it. If this isn’t wrong, exactly, it misses two things. One is obvious: Someone with resources and interests as vast as Musk’s has plenty of practical uses for a powerful communications platform that has permeated politics, media and economic affairs; for years, Twitter has helped him get his way. The other is less visible. While Musk taps his blue bird icon like the rest of us, the thing he actually interacts with — and now wants to control, and fix — isn’t Twitter as anyone else knows it.

Twitter has to work for the majority of people who use it, meaning people who have few followers and who rarely, if ever, tweet. It is, primarily, a service for passively consuming information — for dipping into conversations that are happening around you, and maybe joining them.

The company certainly attends to its high-profile users, who provide content that people want to follow. But beyond some point of visibility, many users outsource their presences, become risk averse and step away, or seem to lose their minds. Prominent users regularly observe how unwieldy the service becomes after 10,000, or 50,000, or 1,00,000 followers.

Musk has more than 85 million, making him the seventh most followed person. According to the analytics firm SocialTracker, however, his account produces by far the most engagement of his peers.

Around the time he was making his offer, 1.86 per cent of Musk’s followers were interacting — through likes and retweets — with his posts, according to SocialTracker. That may not sound high, but the only peer account that came close in the firm’s analysis was that of the soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo, with an interaction rate of 0.65 per cent. Barack Obama’s was 0.03 per cent. Katy Perry’s was 0.01 per cent.

This period was full of provocations and newsworthy posts from Musk; hardly a week goes by, however, that isn’t. Musk’s engagement rate fluctuates, and among the most highly followed users, there are some who have posted more, and others who receive greater engagement on infrequent individual posts. None, however, consistently produce as much total Twitter engagement as Musk.

The world’s wealthiest person, in other words, might also be in possession of Twitter’s most frequently engaged account, and his influence only stands to grow. (In 2021, a different firm ranked his account as the fourth most influential.)

Musk’s singular relationship with the world around him translates to a singular relationship with Twitter, the company; its power to move markets and shape politics is plausibly worth more to him, financially, than to anybody else. His relationship with Twitter the service is, in reality, no less remote.

The material existence of billionaires is not something you can easily extrapolate from a wage-earning existence, or even from considerable wealth; they do not simply live in upgraded versions of common financial realities. Their perspectives are informed by an extraordinarily rare relationship to the world. Their wealth also affords them plenty of space to cultivate their idiosyncratic concerns. Similarly, Musk’s Twitter isn’t simply a busier version of everyone else’s. It’s a different animal entirely.

Musk’s Twitter, much like his money, works in ways that others’ do not. He follows only 114 accounts, but his tweets usually receive tens of thousands of replies apiece. He opens his Twitter app to what is quite likely the busiest notifications tab on the entire service, representing millions of words directed at him, largely about him.

It’s a Twitter that is too busy and overloaded to resemble Twitter as most people know it.

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