Social Media - 12 de agosto de 2023

On Elon Vs. Zuck, and Elon’s Use of Controversy to Maximize Media Attention


Okay, let’s talk about the Elon vs. Zuck fight.

As you’ll undoubtedly recall, back in June, X owner Elon Musk tweeted that he’d be “up for a cage match” with Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg, in response to the news that Meta was planning to launch a new X rival app, ahead of the release of Threads. To the surprise of many, Zuckerberg, who’s been getting more into MMA of late, responded that Musk just needed to “Send Me Location”, implying that he was indeed up for an actual fight.

What’s ensued is a ridiculous back-and-forth between the two, as Elon has used the potential bout as a means to grab more attention, and likely get more users to X as a result.

A week after this initial exchange, Musk claimed that there was “some chance” that the bout could be held in the Colosseum in Rome, and implied that he’d spoken to Italian officials about hosting the fight at the historic venue. Italy’s Ministry of Culture denied this.

A week after that, Musk re-shared an image of himself in training with MMA fighters.

Zuckerberg responded with his own training image, also with UFC stars:

So both multi-billionaires were actually training, which seemed to suggest that the fight might actually happen. Then things went quiet for a few weeks on the Elon v Musk front, as sense seemed to (briefly) prevail.

Things kicked up again last week, with Musk posting that he’s been “lifting weights throughout the day, preparing for the fight”. Elon then claimed that the fight would be live-streamed on X, with all proceeds going to charity, and further implied that solid arrangements were now in place.

But Zuckerberg quickly denied this, and has denied all of Musk’s various implications.

Elon has since clarified that he’ll likely need shoulder surgery before the fight, which will require months of recovery, which pretty clearly implies that all of Musk’s various public statements on the potential fight have been a publicity stunt designed to drive more interest in his budding social media empire. Whether Musk plans to actually go ahead with the bout at all or not, he has known all along that he’s probably physically unable to take part, so really, it’s another part of the Elon circus, that he uses to eat up media attention, and then deflect that to his various business interests.

Which, no matter how you feel about the man, he’s clearly very good at. All along, in his tenure at Twitter/X, Musk has been able to keep getting attention, which has likely helped to prop up the platform’s numbers, and keep people coming back to the app.

There’s a reason why Tesla doesn’t pay for advertising, because Elon himself is such a lightning rod for the media that he can get his businesses mass media coverage without having to pay for it, which also aligns with his cost-minimization management approach.

Essentially, as noted by Platformer’s Casey Newton, Elon uses business media’s established processes against them to gain mass coverage, by stretching the truth, straight-up lying, or just coming up with outlandish comments that trigger a frenzy online.

As per Newton:

It’s in the nature of business journalism to assume that CEOs of public companies are not lying all the time. And it’s in Musk’s nature to make frequent, bold pronouncements about his companies, politics, the nature of consciousness, and so on, all of which are irresistible to editors.

Newton suggests that editors should employ a more skeptical approach, and question more of Musk’s outlandish claims, in order to stop him from using the mainstream outlets, which he claims to despise, to keep getting himself more attention.

Which is entirely correct. There’s seemingly no prospect that an Elon v Musk fight is actually going to happen, yet even people within his extended orbit are now getting asked about it in their own media interviews and coverage. Just this week, X CEO Linda Yaccarino and his ex-wife Grimes were both asked for their thoughts on the bout, giving more column space to Musk’s latest bid for attention, which is clearly working, given that I too am now writing about it.

But I’ve resisted covering it for this reason. It’s not real, it’s not a real thing, and Elon is just using this as the latest button to push to trigger the media hype cycle, and next week it’ll be some other crazy thing, then another the week after that.

In this sense, Elon does seem to have taken inspiration from the Trump book of media relations.

Various studies have shown that the only valuable indicator of electoral success in social media metrics is mention volume, i.e. if your name is getting discussed the most in social apps, you’re going to end up winning the election.

Sentiment, likes, followers, all of these have failed to provide any real indication of election outcomes, but pure mention volume has been a consistent indicator of success, as simple a metric as it might be.

In this context, it pays to be an attention seeker, it pays to be the one who says the things that get the most people talking, because that expanded discussion is generally all you need to occupy the public consciousness, which then influences how they vote.

Elon seems to be taking the same approach, in order to keep his social media platform afloat, by reflecting attention back to his posts, which then sparks more in-app engagement.

From selling verification ticks, to letting previously banned users back in the app, to backing up COVID conspiracy theories, to promoting the use of LSD. Whenever engagement seems to be waning, Elon just comes out with another controversial comment or stance, and the media cycle kicks in to help him out once again.  

The question then is whether he can keep saying and doing enough things to keep getting attention, which thus far he’s proven that he definitely can.   

Will that be enough to keep X relevant? Will that be the thing that keeps millions of users coming back to the app, even if a rival gains ground?

It’s hard to trust X’s reported usage numbers, given Elon’s aforementioned affinity for misinformation. But he claims that usage is rising, which would largely, at this stage, be a reflection of his attention-grabbing capacity.   

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