Linette Lopez sounds off on her Twitter suspension
"Once Elon took over, I was not optimistic. As usual, he is exceeding expectations for me."
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As absurd as it might have been, at least Twitter gave me a reason for my “permanent suspension.” Insider journalist Linette Lopez was left guessing for days.
Lopez has done hard-hitting investigations of Elon Musk’s companies for years. Last Friday, she was abruptly purged from Twitter. She says she had no clue what was going on until Tuesday, when Insider got involved in the situation. Only then was Lopez told a tweet she posted Friday morning featuring an image from a years-old court document with a Musk email address visible on it violated the terms of service. Her account was finally restored Tuesday night after she deleted the tweet.
“Insider didn’t really understand what was going on either. They figured Elon would just let me back on with all the other reporters, and when we realized that wasn’t going to happen it was a huge WTF,” Lopez told me Thursday morning.
Public Notice contributor Thor Benson talked to Lopez at length early Tuesday evening, when she still wasn’t sure if she’d ever get her account back. They spoke about the circumstances surrounding her suspension, her background with Elon, why desperate billionaires scouring the globe for money worry her, and much more.
A transcript of their conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows.
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How have you been feeling about your Twitter ban?
I can’t say I’m that surprised. I did upload court documents that are publicly available. I think Elon was looking for a reason. We have a long history of not getting along. I always said I was going to leave Twitter when they turned out the lights and kicked everyone out or when I was kicked out myself, so here we are.
You’ve been covering him since 2018. What’s that been like?
I started investigating [Tesla] in 2018 when I got a tip from a line worker named Martin Tripp. Elon accused him of stealing trade secrets and all of this grandiose stuff and sued him. It turned into a whole debacle. I still had sources in the company even after Marty was found out, so I continued to report on it.
Around July of 2018, I reported that Elon himself had ordered Tesla to stop doing this test called the brake and roll test. That’s a test that tests the alignment on every car at different speeds, rotating the wheels. It’s very important in automotive. No one would ever not do that test in automotive. It’s unthinkable.
He told them to stop doing it because he wanted to get the cars to the finish line. It was all arbitrary and based on whatever Elon feels. You’ll notice a pattern. He wanted 5,000 cars at this arbitrary goal, and in order to get there, he was not ashamed of cutting corners that would be unthinkable to cut in regular automotive.
I published that story, and after that Elon went on this tirade where he accused me of taking money from a hedge fund manager named Jim Chanos. He was the hedge fund manager who called that Enron was going to implode. He made up this wild fantasy online that Jim was paying me and that, as a result, I was paying Marty and other sources in the company and that’s how I was getting information.
It couldn’t be that I was just doing my job. It had to be some conspiracy of Big Oil and Wall Street short sellers. It was nonsense. That’s how I know that he really doesn’t have a problem with doxxing or harassing people online.
It seems despite his flaws and bad behavior he was able to keep Tesla and SpaceX going, but he just doesn’t have the skill set or temperament to do this Twitter thing. What do you think?
That’s what I wrote my last column about, which is comparing the kinds of companies he has run in the past to Twitter. In the past, he’s run these companies with grand missions, where the people who work there feel like they’re part of that mission and there’s nowhere else they could work where they’re doing the kind of work they’re doing.
Twitter is a very different company. It is in a crowded field. It is broke. It is just one of many places where employees with this skill set can work. He can’t treat his employees the way he is accustomed to treating them. He can’t make these grandiose statements about saving the world. I just don’t think people believe that. You see his tweets, and he says things like, “It’s imperative for democracy that I run Twitter, and no one else can run Twitter.”
I’ve been covering Elon for a long time and used to talk to him here and there. I always saw these flaws in him, but I didn’t see him as a right-wing troll like he is now. What do you think of that?
I don’t know. He’s Silicon Valley red-pilled in a very “there should be no states” kind of way. You definitely also hear this type of thinking from Peter Thiel, and he’s known Peter Thiel for a very long time. At a certain point I think when very rich people aren’t getting their way all of the time, they think, “Well, I should just run everything.”
That’s kind of the attitude that you see from him. In the last couple of years, people have started to ask him harder questions and governments have started to question whether they should give him more money. I think he went to China and saw that the government moved very fast there because it doesn’t have to reach a consensus on anything. Sometimes businessmen who wish they could snap their fingers and get something done the way they want it admire these autocrats who seemingly can pull it off.
What are you expectations for Twitter and what its users should expect in the short-term?
I expect the functionality of the company to decline. It seems the employees are not happy, and I don’t know if Elon has the funds to hire people who have a lot of talent who can go work elsewhere in Silicon Valley. If Elon does step down, I sincerely doubt he will put a fully independent CEO in charge of Twitter since it seems so much of his pride is locked in.
If his remaining shareholders do manage to push him into doing that, which I don’t know how they would, even if there’s a new CEO, it will be just another appendage of Elon. If he continues to run Twitter, I don’t think he’s going to reverse course. I see him only putting more pressure on Tesla. I see Tesla shareholders being the people who can put the most pressure on him. Even then, the Tesla board is a joke. It has always been a joke. They’ve always confirmed insane pay packages for him and let him do whatever he wants.
I see Telsa’s stock continuing to fall as he has to sell, and if he keeps selling stock, the stock keeps going down. You can see that this is a slippery slope. Another thing is he pays a lot of his Tesla staff in Tesla shares, so as the value of the shares goes down, for the people who really have skin in the game, you’ve got to offer them more or issue more shares, which continues to devalue the shares.
I just don’t see this working well for Elon’s empire, and I hope that SpaceX is protected, but I don’t know.
It seems to me this isn’t just damaging to his reputation as some sort of eccentric genius, but that him continuing to sell Tesla stock and people seeing how he's managing Twitter could make basically everything fall apart
He’s almost bankrupted Tesla a couple of times. He has admitted that. One was when I was covering the company back in 2018, which is why he claimed that the company was going private for $420 a share, which it was not, but he needed to raise money. He was willing to do whatever he could to do that.
That kind of freaks me out, too, because he’s running around the world with his hand out. He’s a desperate billionaire who needs money for his social media company, and who are these investors? What needs do they have? That’s worrisome. You want somebody like that to be on a stable financial footing, because you don’t really know whose money they’ll accept. It’s scary, especially when this guy seems to be rolling around with Jared Kushner. All of those pictures from the World Cup were a little disturbing.
I’ve seen a lot of people openly mourning what feels like the death of Twitter. A lot of people have built community there and gotten career opportunities there. What do you think about people feeling this kind of loss?
I felt that loss, too. I can say I was a member of finance Twitter and journalism Twitter. It’s sad, but I don’t know how to comfort anyone except to say you can get a Post account. I have a Post account. It’s just my name. Come check me out. Once Elon took over, I was not optimistic. As usual, he is exceeding expectations for me.
That’s it for today
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Elon was raised in and benefitted from Apartheid. That is what formed him. He clearly has not transcended his upbringing but bowed to it and the White Supremacist world view that he seems to hold. That is what he has to offer Twitter: A racist, sexist, anti LGBTQ+ perspective, and hate for US government and nation. What has bothered me from the beginning about Twitter is that I have been noticing that children have shorter and shorter attention spans, and I have been teaching with adults who teach reading but don't read books themselves. It caters to a short attention span. Actually prior to 2002 my third and fourth grade students had great vocabularies and did not spend that much time on technology. They read books. They played outside. Then, after that I started noticing each year that my best readers were more like my medium readers had been, and there was just one child who would know the meanings of words. These would be the very linguistically gifted children. In 2005 I noticed this change because there were standard books I would read to my students, and in 2002 with challenging words I could still ask what does this mean and at least 3 or 4 hands would go up with at least one child having an accurate definition of the word, but slowly after that there was a change. From 2005-2008 I was not teaching. When I returned I noticed that none of my students ever knew the difficult or even more common words. They never knew any of the words that I asked them about. Every couple of years I might have one student who did. Then, Twitter appeared in 2006. I assume the creators realized that people were not reading as much and wanted to cater to that unwillingness to take time to read. People could say everything in a sound bite with Twitter. It lends itself to short sayings, which I think leads to more snarkiness. Nice for everyone with ADHD, but not for people who want to consume more deeply thought out information. My daughter assures me that one can write a longer thread and link it, but that is not what Twitter was created for. It was created for sound bites, which is a problem for our brains. It does not support brain growth. https://blog.scribd.com/unexpected-brain-benefits-of-reading/?utm_source=Email&utm_campaign=20221221_MKT_BAT_ALL_DecBlogNewsletter
I was surprised at how many people have jumped on the medium. Not the celebrities and Trump and Musk types who are jumping from one thought to the next lickety split, but deeper thinkers who publish longer pieces elsewhere. I also deplore the idea of likes and don't likes because it is a part of American behaviorist education that is just so demeaning. That simplistic way of controlling children is now a part of American and by extent worldwide corporate tech culture is bothersome. It is unhealthy for children and by extension probably unhealthy for adults. We should not be so simply manipulated. Call me old fashioned, but I was part of a working group that was looking at technology's effects on people's thought, and a lot of our younger colleagues just dropped out because they could not manage to read the books, since they are too busy consuming non-print medium. Twitter caters to not reading much. Tech seems to have added a lot of recruits to the right wing militia in this country during covid lockdowns where lots of lonely kids latched onto the dark side of the internet, which would be a normal thing for kids to do. Under Musk, Twitter is going to the dark side and at some point people have to decide whether they want to be with the dark side or leave it.
Back in the old days a few months ago BE (before Elon), you'd get a notification that twitter didn't like something you had tweeted, your account was frozen until you deleted the offending tweet and the second you did, you had your account back.
So, a couple of things. Either the warning and suspension system had coincidentally broken when Ms Lopez tweeted or Mush had a direct hand in banning her and it took him a few days to figure out how to cover his ass when people complained. Twitter is broken but my money's on Mush being a vindictive asshole.
This is like the high school bully being in charge of the school newspaper.