(AP) — He may be good with rockets and electric cars, but don’t look to Elon Musk for public health predictions.
“Probably close to zero new cases in the US as well by the end of April,” the world’s richest man tweeted of COVID-19 in March 2020, just as the pandemic escalated.
It’s one of many tweets that offer a glimpse into the mind of Twitter’s new owner and chief moderator. Playful, aggressive and sometimes reckless, Musk’s past tweets show how he’s used social media to tout his activities, hit back at criticism and polish his image 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 after former President Barack Obama and Canadian singer Justin Bieber. He had long considered buying the platform before the $44 billion deal was finalized last week.
Musk did not detail what changes he intends to make to Twitter, although he wasted no time in making widespread layoffs. But he said he wanted to make Twitter a haven for free speech. He said he disagreed with the platform’s decision to ban ex-President Donald Trump for inciting violence ahead of the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol.
“I hope even my worst critics stay on Twitter because that’s what free speech means,” 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 commercial announcements and promote his companies. He reflects on technology and business, but has also posted jokes about women’s breasts and once compared Canada’s prime minister to Hitler. He regularly intervenes on world 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 soon disappear.
Musk has also used his Twitter account to weigh in on other major news events – with mixed results.
This fall, Musk infuriated Ukrainian leaders when he took to Twitter to offer a potential peace deal. Under Musk’s plan, Russia would retain Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and Ukraine would have to drop its plan to join NATO.
Musk also suggested that people living in other areas illegally annexed by Russia vote on whether Russia or Ukraine should take control of the territories – a decision that Ukraine supporters say would reward Russia. for his unlawful assault.
“The danger here is that in the name of ‘free speech,’ Musk will backtrack and turn Twitter into a more powerful engine of hate, division and misinformation,” said disinformation researcher and director Paul Barrett. Fellow of the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University.
Stern called Musk’s comments about Ukraine particularly concerning. “It’s not going to be pretty,” he said.
Just days after buying Twitter, Musk was thrown into another firestorm when he posted a link to an article advancing a bizarre conspiracy theory about the attack on US President Nancy Pelosi’s husband. The article suggested that Paul Pelosi and her attacker were lovers, even though authorities said the suspect confessed to targeting the speaker and did not know her husband.
Musk later deleted the tweet without explanation.
Musk has long used the megaphone on his Twitter account to hit back at critics or people he opposes, such as when he attacked a diver working to rescue boys trapped in a cave in Thailand by calling him a “pedo”. short for pedophile. The diver previously mocked Musk’s proposal to use a submarine to save the boys. Musk, who won a libel suit brought by the diver, later said he never intended “pedo” to be construed as a “paedophile”.
Three days before Elon Musk agreed to buy Twitter, the world’s richest man tweeted a picture of Bill Gates and used a rude sexual term while making a belly joke.
Earlier this year, he criticized the Twitter executive in charge of the platform’s legal, policy and trust divisions. In response to her tweets about the executive, many of Musk’s supporters launched misogynistic and racist attacks, in addition to calling on Musk to fire her when her Twitter buyout was approved.
Musk fired the executive on day one.
Musk’s use of Twitter has sometimes caused problems for his own businesses. In an August 2018 tweet, for example, Musk claimed he had the funds to take Tesla private for $420 a share, although a court ruled that was not true. This led to an SEC investigation that Musk is still battling.
Last year, another federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board, ordered Musk to remove a tweet that officials said illegally threatened to cut stock options for Tesla employees who had joined. the United Auto Workers union.
These tweets helped cement Musk’s reputation as a brash underdog. But that doesn’t mean it’s equipped to handle a social media platform with more than 200 million users, said Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University professor who studies social media. Grygiel assigned Musk’s tweets as reading material for students.
“Look at the flow: it’s everywhere. It’s erratic. Sometimes it’s quite extreme,” Grygiel said. “It paints him as some kind of rebel leader who will take over the public square to save it. It’s a myth he built.