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By Eric Johnson
Published Sep 18, 2023

What the hell happened to this sweet, smart kid? What the hell happened to this sweet, smart kid?

Replacing Twitter as Elon Self-Destructs

This week’s edition of The Newsletter kicks off with two articles that ultimately spring from what might be called the Big Social Media Meltdown. Beginning with the problem, the first finds yours truly wrestling with the problem of Elon Musk, and his apparent efforts to destroy his own reputation and the platform he spent $44 billion to control. The second piece, by our CEO and director of product Chris Neklason, describes one specific way Twitter/X is now broken, and his recent successes in building something that delivers a functionality we used to find under the little blue bird.


Making Sense of a Mad Genius

I first encountered Elon Musk at a private conference while researching a cover story about the new billions being invested in eco-friendly technologies, “The Green Gold Rush,” published in Metro Silicon Valley 15 years ago this week.

Speaking to a roomful of venture capitalists from firms including Kleiner Perkins and JP Morgan, Musk talked about, among other things, his dream of enabling the colonization of Mars. At the time I had no idea his mind was moving in that direction, was sorta shocked, and expected the idea to land awkwardly. But he received an explosive ovation. He was a hero even before he revolutionized the industry that builds the world’s most poisonous product.

Already an extremely wealthy man, Musk seems to be motivated more by a historical imperative than any strictly business or even classically altruistic purpose. He says he started Tesla “to show the car companies what is possible, and accelerate the development of electric vehicles” overall.

Well, he did that, but the number of people who still think of him as a hero is dwindling. In the wake of Walter Isaacson’s new biography of the world’s wealthiest individual, following years of Musk’s brazenly erratic behavior, he is being attacked, most ardently by former allies in left-of-center field. As a onetime admirer, I wrestle here with a man who seems to be rocketing from brilliant enigma to dangerous nutcase.


The Self-Demonization of Elon Musk

A Complicated Billionaire: Elon Musk, one of the great industrial inventors of all time, is on a rocketship to villainhood.
His critics portray him as a cartoonish billionaire boogeyman, while the world’s wealthiest individual works hard to prove them right.


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Getting the Ground Truth Out

Elon Musk did not waste time turning the platform he called “the digital town square” into his private property. One of the first and worst things he did was eliminate a functionality that public agencies used to distribute important information.

For years, organizations from the CHP to the California Office of Emergency Services used the platform as a primary means of informing the public. Many of us have shared and found information about wildfires and floods on Twitter, or even just traffic jams. Not so on X.

Here’s how California Local is working with Google Maps to make that important information available.


Distributing Ground Truth by Mapping the Situation

Detail of interactive map that delivers real-time information drawn from reliable sources.
Social media were once very good at sharing reliable first-hand information about fires, floods, etc. Not any more. Here’s an alternative.


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