Everybody’s been talking about Elon’s “go fuck yourself” moment from DealBook, and the expletive is what is making most of the headlines. From a distance it could be easy to see this as just a petulant outburst from someone upset with the financial struggles of his company, but considering what he went on to say — and has said in the past — it becomes clear that this is about something else to him.
Elon: What this advertising boycott is gonna do, it’s gonna kill the company. And the whole world will know that those advertisers killed the company. And we will document it in great detail.
Andrew: But those advertisers, I imagine, are gonna say, “We didn’t kill the company.”
Elon: Oh yeah? Tell it to Earth.
Andrew: But they’re gonna say, Elon, that you killed the company because you said these things and that they were inappropriate things and that they didn’t feel comfortable on the platform.
Elon: And let’s see how Earth responds to that. We’ll both make our cases and we’ll see what the outcome is.
Andrew: What are the economics of that for you? You have enormous resources, so you can actually keep this company going for a very long time. Would you keep it going for a long time if there were no advertising?
Elon: If the company fails because of an advertiser boycott, it will fail because of an advertiser boycott. And that will be what bankrupted the company, and that’s what everybody on Earth will know. Then it’ll be gone. And it’ll be gone because of an advertiser boycott.
Andrew: But you recognize that some of those people are gonna say that they didn’t feel comfortable on the platform. And I just wonder, and ask you, and think about that for a second–
Elon: Tell it to the judge.
Andrew: But the judge is gonna be–
Elon: The judge is the public.
Something really struck me about the language he was using here. “Blackmail”? “Earth”? “We will document it in great detail”? Blackmail him to do what? What does he imagine this is about?
Of course, one way to read this is that he is shifting blame from himself to advertisers for the potential failure of X, and I’m sure that’s part of it. But he also seems to deeply believe that X is a heroic and final bulwark against creeping Orwellianism from politically correct elites.
To him, the disappearance of Twitter is a threat not just to himself or to the satisfied users of the social network, but an existential threat to “Earth.”
The way this plays out in his mind is that advertisers kill X, and because their abandonment of the platform will have been “documented in great detail,” Earth — Earth itself, not just the users of X — will retaliate. “Free speech” will die, there will be no medium left for expressing yourself without censorship, and the societal cost of this will be so great that these advertisers will themselves face extinction.
This hyperbolic view of things has been on display before, as when advertisers started expressing caution when he first took over in November 2022:
Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 4, 2022
Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.
“They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.” Note that he doesn’t believe “free speech” will simply be an unfortunate casualty of the passive cowardice of advertisers fleeing X; he believes that advertisers’ fleeing X is a deliberate attempt to “destroy free speech.” They are invested in the death of X so that they can further their agenda. X is a threat to them, and they are trying to end it.
The “blackmail” he referred to at DealBook is, to his mind, blackmail to join their program of speech suppression. The elites want people to feel afraid to say certain things, and they want X and Elon on their team. By denying them this, he is martyring himself for the preservation of intellectual freedom for our entire species.
He has a messiah complex, and curiously it extends beyond his electric cars and plans to colonize Mars. Even a dumb social network is about his role in the fate of the planet.
I’m also amused by — and I haven’t seen any mention of this — the fact that Elon clearly seems to expect some kind of laughter/applause after his “go fuck yourself” line. He sees himself as a populist, and has gotten so used to being constantly fellated by his X subscribers that it shocks and confuses him when he isn’t showered with adulation for his irreverent “antics.”