That is Platformer, a e-newsletter on the intersection of Silicon Valley and democracy from Casey Newton and Zoë Schiffer. Sign up here.
Over the weekend, a extremely anticipated e book arrived within the mail. Elon Musk, Walter Isaacson’s first biography of a tech titan since his complete tackle Steve Jobs, adopted from two years of Isaacson shadowing Musk in his travels all over the world. Given Musk’s common antipathy towards the press, the e book promised to supply the type of fly-on-the-wall accounts of Musk’s latest life like no different.
Over greater than 600 pages, Isaacson particulars the unbelievable arc of Musk’s life, from his early childhood below a merciless father and relentless schoolyard bullying by way of his buy of Twitter and up to date determination to launch yet another company.
Given Platformer’s shut protection of the Twitter saga over the previous 12 months, it was this facet of the e book that me essentially the most. In some methods, Isaacson’s perspective on the story skews a lot nearer to Musk’s than mine does — notably in its depiction of Twitter 1.0 as extra of an grownup day-care middle than a tech firm. “Twitter prided itself on being a pleasant place the place coddling was thought-about a advantage,” Isaacson writes.
On the identical time, anybody who involves this e book in search of proof that Musk screwed issues up there won’t depart disenchanted. On the entire, Isaacson depicts Musk as an era-defining genius formed by childhood trauma and a manic, visionary zeal to invent.
On the identical time, the biography doesn’t counsel that Musk is nice, tolerable, and even protected to work for. After a whole lot of pages of anecdotes, Isaacson notes precisely that Musk “most well-liked a scrappy, hard-driven setting the place rabid warriors felt psychological hazard slightly than consolation.”
In any occasion, given the overall curiosity in its topic, I think about will probably be one of many 12 months’s bestselling books. Under are high particulars that stood out to me. If you happen to learn it, let me know what I missed. (I’m leaving out the story that Musk sabotaged a Ukraine assault on Russia by disabling Starlink service, which Musk denied and Isaacson has since said he got wrong.)
Twitter thought-about promoting itself to Musk at a reduction after he signed the unique deal. Musk spent a lot of final 12 months making an attempt to get out of his deal for Twitter. Behind the scenes, he labored to get a reduction. He wished to save lots of at the very least 10 p.c on the acquisition worth; Twitter thought-about proposals that might have given him one thing nearer to a 4 p.c financial savings, Isaacson studies.
Sadly for Musk, restructuring the deal would have given banks the possibility to renegotiate the phrases of their loans. Rates of interest rose considerably throughout between the deal being signed and its deadline, which might have worn out any reductions.
The opposite massive impediment: in alternate for a cheaper price, Twitter’s C-suite wished Musk to vow to not sue them sooner or later.
“We’re by no means going to offer them a authorized launch,” he mentioned. “We’ll hunt each single one in every of them til the day they die.”
Jack Dorsey virtually bailed on investing in Twitter 2.0. The Twitter co-founder, who famously known as Musk “the singular solution I trust” to “prolong the sunshine of consciousness” as the corporate’s proprietor, very almost reneged on his promise to roll his 2.4 p.c stake in Twitter 1.0 into the brand new firm. Isaacson studies that he had been “unnerved by the controversy and drama” surrounding the acquisition after Musk walked that sink into Twitter headquarters, and Musk needed to name him a number of occasions and reassure him “that he actually cherished Twitter and wouldn’t hurt it.”
In the long run, they struck a deal: if Dorsey ever wished to money out, Musk would pay him the unique buy worth of $54.20 for the shares. As Dan Primack famous at Axios, Dorsey’s determination saved Musk about $1 billion.
Musk sought to ban activists for organizing an advertiser boycott after he purchased the corporate. From the beginning, Musk has confronted stress from activists who urged him to not scale back the corporate’s investments in content material moderation. This stress ratcheted up considerably after Musk posted a lurid, baseless conspiracy theory concerning the assault final 12 months on Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s husband.
That tweet, which he posted three days after shopping for the corporate, led some activist groups to call for an advertising boycott. Advertisers started leaving in droves. Musk was outraged, accusing them in a single tweet of “making an attempt to destroy free speech in America.”
Musk believed the activist teams have been making an attempt to “blackmail” him into taking motion, Isaacson studies. He shared that view with Yoel Roth, then his head of belief and security, and ordered Roth to ban the activists.
Roth protested that the activists hadn’t violated any of the positioning’s printed guidelines.
“I’m altering Twitter coverage proper now,” Musk mentioned, based on Isaacson. “Blackmail is prohibited as of proper now. Ban. Ban them.”
Roth ignored the directive, and Musk forgot about it.
The difficulty would after all be renewed this month, when Musk focused his rage on one of those activist groups in particular.
Musk knew the Twitter Blue rollout was going to be a catastrophe. Final 12 months, Platformer was the primary to report that Twitter’s trust and safety team had presented Musk with a seven-page list of recommendations designed to blunt the impression of the large wave of impersonations that it accurately predicted would observe the introduction of paid verification badges. On the time, I assumed that Musk merely didn’t imagine it might be as unhealthy because the belief and security crew advised, and blundered forward anyway.
As Isaacson tells it, the story was even stranger. After studying the suggestions, he writes, Musk agreed to delay the launch — however solely by two days. He then insisted that the corporate transfer ahead, even whereas warning his lieutenants that catastrophe was prone to observe.
“There will probably be an enormous assault,” he informed a gaggle of product leaders on November seventh. “There’s going to be a swarm of unhealthy actors who will take a look at the defenses. They are going to attempt to impersonate me and others after which go to the press, which is able to wish to destroy us. It will likely be World Warfare Three over the blue test marks. So we’ve to do every thing potential to not have this be a complete exploding egg-on-face state of affairs.”
In the long run, the corporate did virtually nothing to handle the belief and security crew’s considerations, and it was certainly a total exploding egg-on-face situation.
Musk privately acknowledged Twitter would should be “cautious” about China. After Musk took over Twitter, some observers wrote that his worldwide enterprise ties deserved extra scrutiny. (See Matt Yglesias on this point.) Among the many high considerations was that Musk would have issue resisting calls to take away posts essential of the Chinese language Communist Occasion resulting from the truth that China is a serious market and manufacturing website for Tesla.
When Musk introduced in impartial journalist Bari Weiss to jot down an installment of the Twitter Information final 12 months, she pressed him on the difficulty. Musk had introduced her in to inform the story that Twitter 1.0 executives had improperly restricted speech on the platform — however wouldn’t he quickly discover himself in an identical place in China?
“Musk received irritated. That was not what the dialog was alleged to be about. Weiss persevered. Musk mentioned that Twitter would certainly should watch out concerning the phrases it used concerning China, as a result of Tesla’s enterprise might be threatened. China’s repression of the Uyghurs, he mentioned, had two sides. Weiss was disturbed. … They moved on to different matters.”
Sergey Brin tried to keep away from their well-known selfie collectively. Final summer season, the Wall Avenue Journal printed a memorable story alleging that Musk’s friendship with Google co-founder Sergey Brin had been ruptured after the previous had a quick affair with Brin’s spouse.
“Proper after the story broke, they have been at a celebration collectively, and Musk maneuvered himself right into a place the place he may take a selfie with Brin, which Brin tried to keep away from,” Isaacson studies.
I might have learn 500 extra phrases about this occasion, and Brin’s emotions on the matter, however sadly the story ends right here. After I went to go have a look at the selfie at the moment, I observed that it had been deleted. (It’s memorialized within the Day by day Mail.)
Musk refused to work with Invoice Gates on philanthropic points as a result of Gates took a brief place on Tesla. On one hand, this hardly looks like a shock — Musk’s antipathy towards brief sellers is legendary. On the opposite, it’s painful to think about the nice that may have been completed had they been in a position to attain an accord. Initiatives that Gates pitched Musk on would have supported “refugees, American faculties, and AIDS remedy, eradicating some mosquito varieties by way of gene drives, and genetically modified seeds that may resist the consequences of local weather change.”
Gates appears to have laughed off the entire battle — “he was tremendous imply to me, however he’s tremendous imply to so many individuals, so you possibly can’t take it personally.” Grimes mentioned “I think about it’s a little bit little bit of a dick-measuring contest.”
On the time of their assembly, by the way, Gates had misplaced $1.5 billion shorting Tesla.
Hollywood tremendous agent Ari Emanuel informed Musk he would run Twitter for $100 million. Emanuel, who’s CEO of the leisure agency Endeavor, noticed a chance final 12 months when Musk signaled that he would undergo together with his $44 billion acquisition of the corporate.
“In a three-paragraph message despatched on the encrypted textual content service Sign,” Isaacson writes, Emanuel made a proposal: he and Endeavor would run Twitter. “For a payment of $100 million, he mentioned, he would take cost of slicing prices, creating a greater tradition, and managing relations with advertisers and entrepreneurs.”
The concept was shortly dismissed. Jared Birchall, a high Musk lieutenant, mentioned it was “essentially the most insulting, demeaning, insane message.” Musk had all the time meant to run Twitter himself.
Musk’s favourite cellular recreation is known as The Battle of Polytopia. A turn-based technique recreation not dissimilar from Civilization, Musk has at one level or one other compelled most of these closest to him to play towards him. He as soon as stopped talking to Grimes for a day as a result of she shocked him with a fireball assault. “It’s an enormous fucking deal” he reportedly informed her.
At one level Musk tells his brother, Kimbal, that taking part in Polytopia will train him the way to be a greater CEO. Ultimately they write down a shared listing of life classes they’ve discovered from the sport, together with “Empathy is just not an asset,” “optimize each flip,” and “double down.”
Elon Musk is in stores now.