What Musk’s past tweets reveal about Twitter’s next owner

Providence, Rhode Island, April 27 (BUS): Three days before Elon Musk agreed to buy Twitter, the world’s richest man tweeted a picture of Bill Gates and used a crude sexual term to make fun of his stomach.


Fun, aggressive and often young, Musk’s tweets show how he has used social media to craft his public image as a reckless billionaire who is not afraid of offending, The Associated Press reports.


They may also reveal clues about how Musk took control of the platform he hopes to own.


“Look at the bottom line: It’s ubiquitous. It’s erratic. Sometimes it’s just too extreme,” said Jennifer Greigel, a Syracuse University professor who studies social media who recently dedicated Musk’s tweets as reading material for her students.


It portrays him as the kind of rebel leader who will take control of the public arena to save it. This is a legend that he built.”


Musk joined Twitter in 2010 and now has over 85 million followers – the seventh most followers of any account and the highest for any business leader. He had considered buying the site before agreeing on Monday to pay $44 billion for Twitter, which he said he hopes to turn into a haven where all the talk is allowed.


“Hopefully even my worst critic on Twitter remains, because that’s what free speech is,” Musk wrote in a tweet.


As CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Musk uses his Twitter account to make business ads and promote his organizations. He thinks about technology and commerce, but he also published jokes about women’s boobs and once compared the Prime Minister of Canada to Hitler. He regularly studies world events, as he did in March 2020 when he tweeted that “the coronavirus pandemic is stupid.”

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The account has also been used to respond to critics, such as when he called a diver working to rescue boys trapped in a cave in Thailand a “pedophile,” short for pedophilia. The diver had previously criticized Musk’s proposal to use a submarine to rescue the boys. Musk, who won a libel lawsuit brought by the diver, later said he never intended to interpret the “pedophile” as a “pedophile.”


A few years ago, after software engineer Sher Scarlett criticized Musk’s handling of the cave incident, the tech billionaire hit back and soon she was harassed by dozens of Musk’s fans online. He later deleted the posts, but not before Scarlett had to close her account because she was getting a lot of hate mail.


“It is ironic to me that a person who claims to want to buy Twitter to protect freedom of expression has such thin skin,” she said. “He’s a very smart guy, and when he responds to people who criticize him, he knows what he’s doing. For me, that’s not defending freedom of speech, it’s arming freedom of speech, and I think that’s what he’s going to do by owning this platform.”


Nineteen-year-old Jack Sweeney caught Musk’s attention when he created an automated Twitter account that tracks the movements of Musk’s plane. Musk responded by offering Sweeney $5,000 to withdraw the account. When Sweeney refused, Musk blocked him on Twitter.


Sweeney said he worries he could be kicked off the site entirely if Musk’s takeover is approved. But he said he loves Musk’s absolute freedom of expression, and hopes to see it.

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“It’s going to make him more open, and I think that’s a good thing,” Sweeney said.


Musk’s use of Twitter has also caused problems for his companies. In a tweet in August 2018, for example, Musk confirmed that he had secured funding to acquire Tesla for $420 a share, even though the court ruled that was not true. This led to a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, which Musk is still fighting.


Recently, Musk appeared to have violated SEC rules requiring him to disclose his acquisition of a 5% stake in Twitter; Instead, wait until he has gained more than 9%. Experts say these issues are unlikely to affect his Twitter takeover.


Last year, another federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board, ordered Musk to delete a tweet that officials said illegally threatened to cut stock options for Tesla employees who joined the United Auto Workers union.


Gregel said those tweets helped cement Musk’s reputation as an eccentric and billionaire worker. This does not mean that it is ready to run a social media platform with more than 200 million users, the professor added.


“Maybe he wants to burn it,” Gregel said. “I don’t know. But I do know that it shows that no one should have that kind of strength.”






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