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Elon Musk would be the best owner for TikTok. There's just one problem.

Peter Kafka   

Elon Musk would be the best owner for TikTok. There's just one problem.
  • TikTok's US operations aren't for sale yet, but people are already announcing plans to buy it.
  • Anyone can announce plans to buy TikTok. You can do it, too.

Would you like to buy TikTok?

Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he wants to. He doesn't have the money himself, but he's looking for investors to buy TikTok's US operations. Which is why he went on TV on Thursday to talk about his theoretical plans.

Another theoretical bidder for TikTok is former Activision CEO Bobby Kotick (you may also know him as a guy with a bit part in one of the best movies of the last few decades). He doesn't have the money, either. But he was at a fancy-pants conference last week and "floated the idea of partnering to buy TikTok to a table of people that included OpenAI CEO Sam Altman," The Wall Street Journal reports.

But no need to stop there: Anyone anywhere can say they want to buy TikTok. Try it yourself. Just stand up and say, "I would like to buy TikTok!"

Boom: You are now Considering a Bid For TikTok.

(Great minds! Turns out my boss Henry Blodget is suggesting we all band together to rustle up the money to buy TikTok. Henry is fond of this kind of thing: In 2011, he offered to buy Yahoo. He didn't have the money then, either.)

Let's pause here to point out that in the real world, in order for someone to buy the US operations of TikTok from ByteDance, its current owner, the following things have to happen:

So that's quite a series of hurdles. Then you also have to put together a lot of money. Because ByteDance's finances are so opaque — and because this theoretical sale would be a forced sale — no one really knows how much. But estimates have ranged from $40 billion to as much as "hundreds of billions" to actually buy it. Easier than raising $7 trillion, but no small deal.

And, since ByteDance already has US-based investors, they would be the likely candidates to buy the spun-out company.

But if someone else were going to buy TikTok, I have the perfect candidate.

He doesn't have the money, either. But that's not the real problem. The real problem is that in order to make it happen, you would need a time machine.

Bear with me: Under my plan — which, to be fair, requires more work than Steve Mnuchin or Bobby Kotick raising a ton of money — Elon Musk would build a time machine, then travel back to early 2022.

You might recall Elon Musk from 2022. The world's richest man, enormously famous, widely admired in the tech and business world. Some rough edges? Sure. But mostly The Guy Who Invented Electric Cars And Is Taking Us To Mars, even if neither thing is really true.

And that Elon Musk would be a great candidate to buy the US operations of TikTok. He could certainly chip in many billions of his own money, and investors would clamor to get on board to fill in the rest.

The sales pitch would be simple: Elon Musk. Invented Electric Cars. Going to Mars. Can Definitely Run a Video App For Dancing Teens.

Honestly, that sales pitch would work great now, in 2024, too. If only Musk hadn't gone ahead and paid $44 billion for Twitter instead. And then proven that he was actually fundamentally not capable of running a consumer app.

You are reading this story, so there's no need to catalog Musk's failure at the company he would like you to call X. But even Musk's most die-hard fans have now accepted that whatever the attributes are that have allowed him to succeed building cars and rockets are not transferring to a social network.

Per Esther Crawford, a Twitter employee who famously welcomed Musk and his "hardcore" philosophy at the company — and was later laid off: "Elon has an exceptional talent for tackling hard physics-based problems, but products that facilitate human connection and communication require a different type of social-emotional intelligence."

Look. If you really want to stretch it, you could argue that Musk's fixation with Twitter — he's both addicted to it and its biggest power user — means he was particularly prone to making dumb decisions at Twitter because he was trying to make the app work for Elon Musk more than anyone else.

So maybe he actually would be a great TikTok owner, since short video is not his thing, and that distance might clarify his erratic thoughts and behavior.

But that kind of thinking is only a little bit more grounded than the time machine we need to make this theory work now.

What we do know is that 2024, Musk has unmasked himself as someone you definitely don't want running a social network.

So: Anyone got any better ideas?

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