When the dust settles over Elon Musk’s attempt to run a social media company singlehanded, as surely it will, I want Katty Kay of BBC and MSNBC’s Morning Joe show to write the obituary. Her comments in the middle of a brilliant segment on the subject (beginning about 2:45 in the above video) sum up the origins of Musk’s current predicament:
I don’t know if being told day in and day out that you’re the richest man in the world warps your sense of your own invincibility, but the reality of his business decisions is coming back to bite him.
Fair enough. Musk doesn’t seem to be lacking in self esteem. Katty Kay is a seasoned observer of the American political scene, and I suspect she’s probably right when she predicts subscribers are going to desert Twitter for Mastodon or another platform that’s run by adults. A minute later (at 3:46), she gets into something truly fascinating. And, I think, entirely accurate:
This is the parallel between Elon Musk and Donald Trump. They’re super-wealthy billionaire business people who are used to things being about them, who are used to people saying that they are wonderful and perfect and everything they touch turns to gold. Until it doesn’t. Until they realize the limitations of their abilities and their expertise. And he’s not a media platform owner. He’s never done this. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he’s grinding Twitter into the ground.
Again, usher in Katty Kay to write the obit. The problem here, I think, isn’t the technology. It’s the spectacle of spoiled rich kids who don’t know what they don’t know. Trump was one. Musk is one.
Which brings me around to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, uh, let’s make that Meta Platforms now. I think he’s a different breed of cat than Trump or Elon Musk. For one thing, he’s able to admit mistakes, as he did last month when he laid off 13 percent of Meta’s workforce. Wikipedia has an interesting metric: “In the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans in 2022 he was ranked 11th with a wealth of $57.7 billion, down from his status as the third richest American in 2021 with a net worth of $134.5 billion. As of November 2022, Zuckerberg’s net worth was $33.5 billion according to the Forbes Real Time Billionaires[,] making him the 29th richest person in the world.”
So Zuckerberg had reason for his mea culpa, and it’s nice to see the rich and powerful take responsibility for something. But a whiz kid is a whiz kid, and I’ve had it up to the keister with whiz kids lately.
In all fairness, Zuckerberg didn’t start his career by squandering inherited personal wealth from, oh, let’s say for example an emerald mine in Zambia or real estate in the outer boroughs of New York City. But according to Wikipedia, the most neutral source I can find, he was “the world’s youngest self-made billionaire” at 23; he’s been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year; he’s made Time’s list of “the 100 most influential people in the world” and Forbes magazine’s list of The World’s Most Powerful People (he came in 10th). He’s not only Facebook’s founder but Meta’s chairman, chief executive officer, and controlling shareholder
Surely a guy like that doesn’t lack for people to tell him he’s wonderful and perfect and everything he touches turns to gold. And possibly, just possibly, he would benefit from a less top-down management style.
My own grievances with Facebook are more parochial. (Gee, I hope I don’t sound too much like an old, angry white male Republican here.) I outlined them in a post to this blog back in May, in a post headlined “Hey Facebook, your awesome new super-duper whiz-bang ‘security measures’ locked me out, and I can’t get you to help.” At issue was a two-factor authentication protocol called “Facebook Protect” they sprung on me in March; I suspect my problem was something any computer-savvy 15-year-old could have fixed in 10 minutes. But Facebook, as I learned from articles in the Wall Street Journal, a CNN newsletter and an online tech magazine called The Verge, doesn’t really bother with customer service. The best explanation of what was going on came from a subscriber, who said:
The one thing Facebook is ultra competent at is the advertising platform. That’s where they put the money and effort. Because its customers are advertisers. Users are a cost of goods sold, and those costs need to be minimized.
That’s how mass media operate, and a social media platform is a mass medium. Period. Paragraph. End of story.
Then — inexplicably — at the end of August I was able to access Facebook again. And all was well until the beginning of December, when I was notified that I have until next week to turn on “Facebook Protect” or I’ll be locked out of my account. So I followed the prompts and wound up in password hell — or password limbo — again. Remember the old song?
Rabbit ain’t got no tail at all, tail at all, tail at all;
Rabbit ain’t got no tail at all, just a powder puff.
Same song, second verse;
Could be better; gonna be worse.
That’s probably as good a place as any to leave it. I’ve worked my last nerve with whiz kids, billionaires and their social media platforms — I’m going to focus my attention on the blog for a while.
[Published Dec. 16, 2022]