This article originally appeared in our Elevenses newsletter.
Good morning. It’s been three weeks since Liz Truss stepped down as the prime minister of the United Kingdom after her radical economic proposals crashed the pound, spooked the markets and irreparably undermined Britain’s credibility on the international stage. The Resolution Foundation has put the cost of her cock-up at £30 billion, which accounts for roughly half of what Jeremy Hunt will ask the public to cough up this week to repair the hole in the public finances.
Truss’s term, a short 44 days, will go down as one of the most calamitous in modern history. Not since Brian Clough has a leader tanked so spectacularly in a high-profile job with the eyes of the media watching. Surely, we wouldn’t see anything like it again this side of the decade?
Hold my beer, Elon Musk said not two weeks later. If it’s ineptitude, resignations and financial turmoil you’re after, they’re being dished out by the bucketload at Twitter HQ, where a raft of similarly radical proposals are driving one of the biggest social media platforms in the world to the brink.
Since the Tesla man took over he has executed mass layoffs – including Yoel Roth, head of Twitter’s efforts to fight harmful misinformation and hate speech, and a number of other key members of the Policy, Trust and Safety teams – and has been embroiled in conflicts with government officials across the world who have, quite rightly, expressed concern over how extremist groups could take advantage of the turmoil which has gripped the social platform.
Moves to ‘sell’ verification have resulted in billions of dollars being wiped off the share value of some firms and have caused significant reputational damage to others. One account parodying a US pharmaceutical giant caused shares to plummet after they paid $8 for an ‘official tag’ and tweeted that insulin would now be given out for free. That small purchase is believed to have cost Eli Lilly $16 billion, numbers that would make even Liz Truss wince.
Parallels between the former PM and Musk aren’t hard to find. They have both been ill-advised and have fundamentally failed to grasp the reality of the situation. This week Twitter was forced to add fact-checking panels to some of Musk’s own tweets after he claimed that the platform drives a “massive number of clicks to other websites and apps”. It doesn’t. Indeed, it doesn’t even enter into the top three when compared to its peers. He also seems to have grossly miscalculated the appetite from brands to take sponsorship out given that SpaceX, a firm he also owns, has been called in to buy $250,000 worth of ads.
But fundamentally, as Professor Paul Bernal pointed out in East Anglia Bylines, he has misjudged what the company actually does. “Musk thinks he bought a tech company, but he’s actually bought a community of users, and that’s where its value lies”. The US billionaire may think he has all the big ideas, but he would do well to remember that you alienate the people you are supposed to serve at your own peril. Truss learned that the hard way.
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