Elon Musk and the Sad Mod Theory of Social-Media CEOs

What does it mean to run a big social-media company? Obviously, lots of your concerns are typical major-corporation stuff. You’ve got decisions to make about staffing. You’ve

got lots of meetings with lawyers. You’ve got investors or shareholders or debtors to think about. You’ve got financial obligations and goals. You’re trying to make some numbers

go up or at least stop going down. Some of what you do, however, is specific to your situation. Founding a social-media firm is one thing. That’s the part people make movies

about — when the idea comes to fruition, when the insight about the market or human nature is borne out, when the magic happens, etc. Once it’s established, though, your company,

which is now an entrenched “platform,” probably makes most of its money in a strange and indirect way by selling the attention of users, of which there are hundreds of millions,

to advertisers. Or maybe you try to charge some of your users for access to extra features or to promote their content. In any case, your company’s value is tied fairly directly

to the whims of a bunch of diverse slices of the general public, whose interest in your platform derives less from anything you do than from things they do for one

another. Overall, this is a pretty good deal as far as social-media companies are concerned. You provide a venue, your users provide free labor and attention, and

advertisers pay you to get a piece of the action. Charitably, from the outside, they’re providing something like communications infrastructure. Squint and it looks a little bit

like landlordism. Consume enough hustle-culture content on TikTok and it looks like the most spectacular passive-income scheme of all time.