Billionaire Elon Musk told the BBC that running Twitter has been 'quite painful' but that the social media company is now roughly breaking even after he acquired it late last year.
In an interview also streamed live late Tuesday on Twitter Spaces, Musk discussed his ownership of the online platform, including layoffs, misinformation and his work style. He also took swipes at the Bay Area's political climate and critics in the media.
“It’s not been boring. It’s quite a roller coaster,” he told the U.K. broadcaster at Twitter's San Francisco headquarters.
As for the office itself? Musk shared his initial impressions as he famously walked in holding a sink.
“I thought, 'This is a very nice office building […] a very expensive office building. Great decor. It’s a lovely place, and it’s spending money like it’s going out of fashion,'” he said.
Musk said that when he joined, the company was on track to lose more than $3 billion a year and had only $1 billion in the bank. Accounting for a major debt load, in part due to the acquisition itself, Musk said there was extreme pressure to cut costs, including through layoffs.
Bay Area Politics
Musk also addressed the decision to allow Donald Trump back on the platform. He said he hasn’t spoken to Trump and is not sure if he will actually return, but he took some jabs at the Bay Area’s left-leaning politics in explaining his decision.
“[Twitter] should not be a [platform for] partisan politics and moreover a partisan politics that is on the very far left of the spectrum,” Musk said. “San Francisco, Berkeley politics is normally quite niche, but Twitter effectively acted as a megaphone for a very niche regional politics.”
Musk and the reporter also quibbled a bit on how much he was booed at a Dave Chappelle show at San Francisco’s Chase Center in December: “A little,” Musk said.
The reporter pointed out that Musk’s lawyer said he wouldn’t be able to get a fair trial in San Francisco.
“He was wrong, I guess, because I was acquitted by a San Francisco jury unanimously,” Musk said, referring to his acquittal in a securities fraud trial.
Asked whether he was considering a move out of San Francisco in light of his political criticisms, Musk responded, “Not yet.”
Musk claimed that he tried to turn one of Twitter’s buildings into a homeless shelter but was stopped by the building owner.
“We’d just let people stay there," Musk said. "It’s nice. They can bring their stuff, their tent or whatever. If the building owner lets us, we’d do it.”
Hate Speech and the Media
It was a rare chance for a mainstream news outlet to interview Musk, who also owns Tesla and SpaceX. After buying Twitter for $44 billion last year, Musk's changes included eliminating the company's communications department.
Reporters who email the company to seek comment now receive an auto-reply with a poop emoji.
Musk said he has a “somewhat of a love-hate relationship” with the media, although “it might be tilted more toward the hate.
“I do take heart that the media is able to trash me on a regular basis in the United States and the U.K. and whatnot, whereas, in a lot of other places, the media cannot say mean things to powerful people,” he said.
That being said, Musk said he “expressed some delight in removing the verified badge from the New York Times” and discussed the recent controversy involving the labeling of organizations like the BBC and NPR as “state-affiliated media.”
“I’ve always wanted to be as truthful and accurate as possible, and I think we’re going to adjust the label to be publicly funded, which I think is perhaps not too objectionable,” he said.
The interview was sometimes tense, with Musk challenging the reporter to back up assertions about rising levels of hate speech on the platform.
“You literally said you experienced more hateful content and then couldn’t name a single example, and that’s absurd,” Musk said.
Musk also aggressively questioned the BBC reporter on the media organization’s stance on “misinformation regarding masking and side effects of vaccinations.”
At other times, Musk laughed at his own jokes, mentioning more than once that he wasn't the CEO but his dog Floki was. He turned to his pet multiple times to deflect questions about his successor in leading the company.
“He’s got a black turtleneck; what more do you need?” Musk said.
“Why can’t we be in an anarcho-syndicalist commune?” he asked rhetorically, before saying, “It was kind of that, actually.”
In reference to humor, Musk said he gets “more laughs out of Twitter than anything else, and many people tell me the same thing, so that’s a good sign.”
He also revealed that he sometimes sleeps on a couch at Twitter's San Francisco office, but said he wasn’t working at Twitter five days a week.
Advertisers who had shunned the platform in the wake of Musk's tumultuous acquisition have mostly returned, the billionaire said, without providing details.
Musk predicted that Twitter could become “cash-flow positive” in the current quarter “if current trends continue.” Because Twitter is a private company, information about its finances can't be verified.
After acquiring the platform, Musk carried out mass layoffs as part of cost-cutting efforts. He said Twitter's workforce has been slashed to about 1,500 employees from about 8,000 previously, describing it as something that had to be done.
“It's not fun at all," Musk said. “The company's going to go bankrupt if we don't cut costs immediately. This is not a caring-uncaring situation. It’s like if the whole ship sinks, then nobody’s got a job.”
He spoke at length about the decision to sell billions in Tesla stock to help finance the deal, which impacted the health and share price of the electric car maker.
“People couldn’t parse the difference between I’m selling Tesla stock because I lost faith in Tesla, which I haven’t, or that’s what is desperately needed for Twitter,” Musk said.
Asked if he regretted buying the company, he said it was something that “needed to be done.
“The pain level of Twitter has been extremely high," Musk said. "This hasn't been some sort of party.
“If I was confident they would rigorously pursue the truth, then I guess I would be glad to hand it off to someone else," he continued. "I don’t care about the money, really, but I do want to have some source of truth I can count on."