Elon Musk explains why he bought Twitter, says ads are great actually

Elon Musk
(Image credit: Theo Wargo (Getty Images))

After an elongated courtship period, earlier this month it became official: Elon Musk is going to buy Twitter after all. And he means it this time.

As well as giving the world's richest man an excuse to cart a sink into Twitter reception, this has inevitably led to questions about what his stewardship might mean for one of the world's biggest social platforms. For all of Twitter's problems, and the distinction between what goes on there and the real world, Musk's designation of it as a de facto "public square" has some merit.

Given some of Musk's past behaviour, and this seemingly impulsive buyout being one part of it, there's understandable curiosity about what he may choose to do with the platform. He's not been shy in the past of critiquing what he sees as a bot problem, and has been open about the platform's value being in advertising. Now Musk has taken to Twitter, where else, to share some of his thoughts about the platform's future.

"I wanted to reach out personally" writes Musk over three big blocks of text addressed to no-one. "To share my motivation in acquiring Twitter. There has been much speculation about why I bought Twitter and what I think about advertising. Most of it has been wrong."

Musk says he acquired the company because "it is important to the future of civilisation to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence."

It does seem hard to inflict actual violence on a digital communications platform, but what do I know. Musk bemoans the splintering "into far right and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society."

The "traditional media" is blamed for this ecosystem, with the greatest hits of "pursuit of clicks" and "bring[ing] in the money".

Here comes our hero. Musk bought Twitter, Musk says, "to try to help humanity, whom I love." Doesn't that sound like something a non-human would say? "And I do so with humility, recognising that failure in pursuing this goal, despite our best efforts, is a very real possibility."

Musk says the future goal is to allow users to "choose your desired experience according to your preferences", comparing it to choosing a movie or a videogame. I'm not quite sure of that comparison to social media spaces, but he's the billionaire.

There's then a quick swerve into American-style dystopia, when Musk says advertising may "delight, entertain and inform" users by, for example, showing you "a medical treatment you never knew existed, but is right for you." Paul Verhoeven was right about absolutely everything.

"Low relevancy ads are spam, but highly relevant ads are actually content!" writes Musk. Pass the sick bag please. Musk ends with a bromide towards how great advertisers are, and signs off saying "let us build something extraordinary together."

This tweet is of a piece with what Musk has been saying about Twitter over the last few days. He seems to have signed up to the notion of it somehow empowering citizen journalism, which seems wildly optimistic, and I'm still not sold on the notion that traditional media is somehow to blame for Twitter's problematic dynamics.

One interesting follow-up came from a reply guy who raised the prospect of Twitter paying individual content creators, who they claim produce the majority of the platform's popular content but don't benefit from it. "Absolutely," said Musk, so he can look forward to his own version of Twitch's ongoing rev split drama.

Either way, Musk's stewardship of Twitter is clearly going to bring some changes. Whether better-targeted advertising and allowing users to customise what they see will be changes for the positive remain to be seen: But at least we'll get an 'edit' button.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."