He may be good at rockets and electric cars, but don’t turn to Elon Musk for public health predictions.
“The U.S. may also have near zero new cases by the end of April,” the world’s richest man tweeted about COVID-19 in March 2020, as the pandemic intensified.
This was one of many tweets that gave us a glimpse into what Twitter’s new owner and lead moderator was thinking. Musk’s past tweets have been playful, aggressive and at times reckless, showing how he has used social media to tout his business, hit back at critics, and build his brand as a brash billionaire who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. .
Musk joined Twitter in 2009 and now has more than 112 million followers — the third most of all accounts after former President Barack Obama and Canadian singer Justin Bieber. He had been considering buying the platform before closing a $44 billion deal last week.
Musk did not elaborate on the changes he intends to make on Twitter, although he did not waste time making mass layoffs. But he has said he wants to make Twitter a haven for free speech. He said he disagreed with the platform’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump from inciting violence ahead of his Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“I want even my worst critics to stay on Twitter because that’s what free speech is about,” Musk tweeted earlier this year when he announced his intention to buy the platform.
As CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Musk uses his Twitter account to make business announcements and promote his businesses. He mused about technology and trade, but also posted jokes about female breasts and once compared the Canadian prime minister to Hitler. He has often spoken out about global events, as he did in March 2020 when he tweeted that the “coronavirus pandemic is stupid.”
That same month, he tweeted that children were largely immune to the virus and predicted cases would disappear soon.
Musk also uses his Twitter account to gauge other major news events — with mixed results.
This fall, Musk angered Ukrainian leaders by tweeting a potential peace deal. Under Musk’s plan, Russia would keep Crimea, which it captured from Ukraine in 2014, and Ukraine would have to abandon plans to join NATO.
Musk also suggested that people living in other areas illegally annexed by Russia should vote on whether Russia or Ukraine should control those territories — a move Ukrainian supporters say would reward Russia’s illegal aggression.
“The danger here is that, in the name of ‘free speech,’ Musk will turn back time and make Twitter a more powerful engine of hate, division, and misinformation,” said disinformation researcher and associate director Paul Barrett. Paul Barrett) said. NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.
Stern singled out Musk’s comments about Ukraine as particularly worrisome. “It’s not going to be pretty,” he said.
Just days after buying Twitter, Musk posted a link to an article that suggested a bizarre conspiracy theory about the attack on the husband of U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was caught in another. in a storm. The article suggested that Paul Pelosi and his attacker were lovers, although authorities said the suspect admitted to targeting the speaker and did not know her husband.
Musk later deleted the tweet without explanation.
Musk has long used his Twitter account’s megaphone to hit back at critics or those he opposes, such as when he attacked a diver he called “pedo,” short for paedophile. The diver had previously mocked Musk’s proposal to use a submarine to rescue the boy. Musk, who won a defamation lawsuit brought by the diver, later said he never intended to interpret “pedo” as a “pedo.”
Three days before Elon Musk agreed to buy Twitter, the world’s richest man tweeted a photo of Bill Gates and joked about his belly in crude sexual terms.
Earlier this year, he criticized Twitter executives in charge of the platform’s legal, policy and trust departments. In response to his tweets about the executive, many of Musk’s followers responded with misogynistic and racist attacks, in addition to calling on Musk to fire her after his Twitter purchase was approved.
Musk fired the executive on day one.
Musk’s use of Twitter has sometimes caused problems for his own company. For example, in an August 2018 tweet, Musk claimed he had the funds to take Tesla private at $420 a share, even though a court ruled that wasn’t true. That led to an SEC investigation that Musk is still working on.
Last year, the National Labor Relations Board, another federal agency, ordered Musk to delete a tweet that officials said illegally threatened to cut Tesla employees’ stock options to join the United Auto Workers union.
The tweets helped cement Musk’s reputation as a brash outsider. But that doesn’t mean he’s capable of running a social media platform with more than 200 million users, said Jennifer Grigill, a professor at Syracuse University who studies social media. Grygiel has designated Musk’s tweets as reading material for students.
“Look at the feed: it’s all over the place. It’s unstable. Sometimes it’s very extreme,” Grygiel said. “It paints him as some sort of rebel leader who will take control of the public square to save it. That’s the myth he constructed.”
Follow the AP’s coverage of Elon Musk at https://apnews.com/hub/elon-musk and its coverage of misinformation at https://apnews.com/hub/misinformation.