With over 56 million followers and 14,000 tweets, saying that Elon Musk is a fan of Twitter would be an understatement. But as an active tweeter, the Tesla CEO has sometimes attracted controversy.
Perhaps surprisingly, the entrepreneur has not yet hired a social media manager. As such, he’s free to post as he pleases (if the platforms don’t believe he is violating any rules, of course).
Musk has been on Twitter since 2009, but what are his most controversial tweets? Here is a selection that split Twittersphere opinions.
1. Land of the Free?
Towards the end of April 2020, much of the US had been in lockdown due to COVID-19 for a month or so. Musk has been outspoken on the pandemic, especially when it comes to government-induced restrictions.
On April 29 of that year, Musk tweeted three simple words in capital letters: “FREE AMERICA NOW”.
At the time, cases in the US were actually showing a slight downward curve. However, little was known about the virus at the time. Around the end of June 2020, cases started to rise significantly again.
The tweet was controversial because it went against stay-at-home orders that were in force throughout the world. While some people believed that they were necessary to slow the spread of infections, others believed that lockdowns and other restrictions were an infringement on freedom.
2. “You Really Did Ask for It”
One of Musk’s most controversial Twitter exchanges ever was with someone who helped to rescue Thai schoolboys from a cave in 2018.
During the rescue, Musk sent a small submarine to Thailand and a group of Tesla engineers. The submarine, however, wasn’t used during the rescue efforts.
Vernon Unsworth is a cave explorer who lives between the UK and Thailand. During his attempts to get the schoolchildren out, he gathered a team of other cave divers.
When commenting on the submarine in an interview with CNN, he argued that Musk was attempting to pull off a “PR stunt”. He also said the billionaire should “stick his submarine where it hurts”.
Musk, however, didn’t appreciate the criticism. He published a series of tweets rebutting the criticism, with the final tweet calling Unsworth a “pedo guy”.
“Never saw this British expat guy who lives in Thailand (sus) at any point when we were in the caves. Only people in sight were the Thai navy/army guys, who were great. Thai navy seals escorted us in—total opposite of wanting us to leave,” the first tweet said.
“Water level was actually very low & still (not flowing)—you could literally have swum to Cave 5 with no gear, which is obv how the kids got in. If not true, then I challenge this dude to show final rescue video. Huge credit to pump & generator team. Unsung heroes here.”
His final tweet read: “You know what, don’t bother showing the video. We will make one of the mini-sub/pod going all the way to Cave 5 no problemo. Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”
Musk would later apologise for the tweets.
Those posts led to Unsworth filing a lawsuit against the Tesla and SpaceX CEO. The cave explorer argued that the tweets impacted his reputation, and he wanted $190 million in damages.
However, Unsworth didn’t win the lawsuit.
3. Elon Musk’s Pronoun Tweets
In December 2020, Musk posted a picture on his account using the meme you can see below.
Pronouns such as “she/her”, “he/him”, and “they/them” are often used on social media profiles to show support for transgender and non-binary people and normalize the practice of letting people know your pronouns.
Musk’s tweet caused controversy because many Twitter users saw it as an attack on marginalized communities.
Afterward, Musk posted further tweets in response to an article written about the matter.
He argued that while he supported transgender people, he was not too keen on the pronouns themselves.
In the same thread, he shared a link to Tesla’s equality scores in previous years.
And before these tweets, he posted similar content in July 2020.
Like with the above, they were controversial because a lot of users saw him as directly attacking the transgender community. And beyond that, he was doing so on one of the most popular profiles on Twitter.
3. The Red Pill
The term Red Pill originates from the 1999 hit film The Matrix. In this, choosing to “take the red pill”—as the movie’s line goes—means that you see the truth. No matter how uncomfortable doing so is.
Since then, the phrase has become popular among certain subsections of the internet. Though no official definition exists, the “Red Pill” movement includes alt-right conspiracy theorists and anti-women manosphere groups such as incels, among others.
With all of that information in mind, you can understand why this May 2020 tweet from Musk stirred up controversy:
Take the red pill 🌹
— Elon Musk, the 2nd (@elonmusk) May 17, 2020
After posting the tweet, users weren’t sure whether he was “dog-whistling” (signaling support for certain ideas while not expressing this support outright) or simply publishing a quote from the film.
4. More COVID-19 Controversy
Before he spoke out against lockdowns in the US in April 2020, Musk hit the social media headlines for another COVID-19-related tweet.
On March 6 of that year, just as some countries were either beginning to shut down or not long away from doing so, Musk tweeted about the unfolding crisis. In this post, he referred to the “panic” as “dumb”.
The coronavirus panic is dumb
— Elon Musk, the 2nd (@elonmusk) March 6, 2020
That was far from the end of his pandemic activity, though. In April 2020, one day after his “FREE AMERICA NOW” post mentioned above, he commented on Sweden’s contrasting approach to managing COVID-19.
Scandinavia’s largest country famously introduced no lockdown while much of Europe did. When replying to someone else, Musk referred to the nation as “sensible”.
Later in the year, he again praised Sweden’s approach:
All of these tweets were controversial because they split opinions on how countries should deal with COVID-19. One user replying to the second post, for example, argued that New Zealand had done an effective job controlling infections because it locked down early.
Another also pointed to Sweden’s relatively low population of just over 10 million, and how the numbers fared in comparison.
5. Tanking Tesla’s Stocks
Was Elon Musk responsible for the most expensive prank in history? Maybe. In May 2020, he posted about Tesla’s stocks.
Tesla stock price is too high imo
— Elon Musk, the 2nd (@elonmusk) May 1, 2020
Shortly after, guess what happened? Tesla’s stocks fell significantly.
Needless to say that people who had invested in the company were not happy. One disgruntled user, for example, pointed out that he had lost $10,000.
With that being said, Tesla is still a popular stock market choice for investors.
Musk Isn’t a Stranger to the Spotlight
Elon Musk is one of the most recognizable faces in the world and knows all about being in the public eye. And often, he has made the headlines because of his activity on social media.
Whether or not he decides to hire someone to manage his Twitter account is up in the air. But based on how much he uses the platform, plus the fact many people follow him because of what *he* tweets, that seems unlikely.
Image Credit: Daniel Oberhaus/Wikimedia Commons
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