Instagram Threads

Zuckerberg/Musk drama more pulling at Threads for attention

The clown-like battle of the CEOs is a morbid symptom of the fall of social media, says Jason Walsh
Image: Instagram

14 July 2023

News that tech billionaires Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have agreed to face one-another in a fight – or at least are pretending to – caused a ripple of amusement across the Internet. Bored tech journalists finally had something to write about other than the latest iteration of some cloud application while the public at large, a section of it anyway, having tired of glossy puff pieces hailing tech ‘leaders’ was thrilled by the possibility of watching two of them take lumps out of one another.

The real action is likely to be in the courts, though. A letter has appeared online, penned by one Alex Spiro of California lawyers Quin Emanuel, accusing Meta of “systematic, willful, and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property”.

The background to this, of course, is Meta’s debut of Threads, a Twitter-like service that has been hastily glued on to photo sharing/dating app Instagram. Addressed to Zukerberg personally, the letter complained that Meta had “hired dozens of former Twitter employees”. Note: former – presumably these are the very people to whom Musk showed the door when he took over.




For his part, Zuckerberg seems to have embraced the dispute, posting the ‘Spider-Man Pointing at Spider-Man’ meme on Twitter.

A few days later, Musk posted suggesting that he and Zuckerberg engage in a “literal” penis-measuring competition, demonstrating, once again, that he appears unable to remain silent.

Refundable hours

Meta isn’t the only outfit Musk is suing though. News emerged last week that X Corp., the company that has succeeded Twitter, filed suit against Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz, it turns out, is the law firm Twitter used to fight Musk when he tried to pull out of his proposed $44 billion buyout of the social network. Twitter, under the ancien régime, had hired Wachtell on an hourly retainer, racking up some $90 million in fees, leaving Musk to complain he has been left holding the bag.

Perhaps X is just short of cash. The flight of advertisers is well-known and the company is also facing a staggering 20 lawsuits relating to unpaid bills, as well as a number of suits relating to unpaid severance pay following Musk’s game of layoff bingo.

As unedifying as all of this may appear at first blush, in fact it is quite instructive. Over the past two decades, riding a rising wave of technology, the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley have convinced many, politicians most of all, that they are neither mere hapless but lucky chancers nor are they the beneficiaries of deeply dubious business practices but bona fide geniuses who have the power to re-make the world in their own image.

The reality is rather more proasic. News that Meta has failed to persuade the EU that its data harvesting is acceptable or that, shorn of its advertisers, Twitter, for some reason, has failed to pay its bills are the real stories, even if promises of some kind of theatrical fight get the lion’s share of public, and press, attention.

What is interesting is that for all the talk of ‘the next Twitter’, there are signs we are at the beginning of the end of the social media era. After a decade of apps spreading increasingly high octane outrage, a few short years of missteps from Facebook and Twitter have seen users flee in their droves.

Neither Twitter nor Facebook will disappear any time soon, but neither outfit, nor any of their newer competitors, is being pitched as a transformative technology that will change the world. Good.

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