The 69 Worst Elon Musk Tweets of 2020
The Tesla and SpaceX boss had a lot to say on Twitter this year, much of it about the pandemic, much of it despicable
For billions of people around the globe, 2020 was a horrendous year. Alongside a staggering loss of life, there are the businesses that scaled back or shuttered, the creators who either adapted or gave up their dreams, and the individuals who were beset with unemployment and related financial hardships.
For Elon Musk, the electric vehicle and space tycoon, none of this applied. Stock for his EV company Tesla skyrocketed (it’s now the most valuable automaker in the world, and after months of waiting the company officially joined the S&P 500 on Monday), making him so wealthy he’s now included in Senator Bernie Sanders’s criticisms of the one percent, while SpaceX captured the imagination of the homebound masses by kicking off a new era of American space travel. Musk’s cultural influence has grown in lockstep with those accomplishments, as he is now one of the top 50 most followed people on Twitter, sitting somewhere between Harry Styles and Oprah.
He currently boasts more than 41 million Twitter followers, which is 10.6 million more than when the ball dropped last December 31. That feat may lead you to the conclusion that the billionaire is “good at Twitter.” He is certainly adept at trending on the social media platform and creating headlines out of 280 characters, with reports earlier this year even suggesting he scrapped Tesla’s PR department in favor of Twitter press releases à la President Trump. But as we look back on the timeline of 2020, despite all the good Elon Musk has done in the field of EVs, space exploration and renewable energy (and even partially in the distribution of medical equipment — fields I personally have commended him for), he is unequivocally one of the worst people on Twitter.
Yes, Elon Musk is “good at Twitter” in that he posts memes that get hundreds of thousands of retweets and songs that climb to the top of the Soundcloud charts. He regularly interacts with his followers, chats about design specifics of satellites and the Model 3, and sends out requests for job applications, all of which is inextricably linked to the cult and success of his many companies. He’s also “good at Twitter” in that he spews misinformation under the guise of maverick expertise in a way that — more than any other titan of industry with his influence — increases engagement, amplifies his message and causes incontrovertible harm.
During the pandemic, he continually posted false and misleading information about COVID-19, medical treatments and public health measures, as well as fomented animosity against medical professionals and politicians who looked to stem the spread of the coronavirus. And despite being proven wrong by endless experts and studies, he has yet to issue retractions or apologies, or even delete the worst of his tweets.
The problem is that Musk — in a situation akin to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is, ironically, something he tweeted about — believes himself to be an expert in areas where he is not. He is a leading mind in electric vehicles, space exploration, engineering and entrepreneurship, not in medical, epidemiological or political fields. And while he is an expert Twitter user, he seems blithely unaware of the social ramifications of his increasingly destructive tweets.
But the Twitter timeline scrolls on, headlines get buried and pushed into the latter pages of Google, and there are no repercussions. In an attempt to illustrate the overwhelming harm that has been done by Elon Musk this year, we’ve extracted his 69 worst tweets (a puerile reference he is quite fond of), starting with the trivially bad and moving to the legitimately harmful.
Here’s hoping he finds the courage to take his own advice next year.
The Tired 69 and 4/20 Jokes
We begin with a number of sex, flatulence and weed jokes appropriate for the back of a middle school bus. The one redeeming thing about the “69 days after 4/20” tweet is that Musk’s real birthday is that date — June 28. Maybe someone with astrological expertise can offer some insight there.
This meme is a perfect summation of Musk’s childish inability to accept responsibility for his most serious Twitter transgressions, namely calling one of the cave divers who rescued a soccer team in Thailand in 2018 a “pedo guy” and running afoul of the S.E.C. in 2019.
The Petulant Billionaire
Musk has previously tweeted his love for the satirical outlet The Onion, but when they made fun of him, he resorted to calling them socialists. “Rose” is a reference to the Democratic Socialists of America and the organization’s use of the rose symbol, including the rose emoji.
He started his war on pronouns in July …
… and then recently took it up again. If you don’t quite understand this meme, Musk is basically ridiculing people who include pronouns in their social media account bios, which mainly means people with gender identities that differ from the ones assigned at birth. But he seems to be singling out cisgender men who put “he/him” in an attempt to normalize the practice and stand in solidarity with transgender people and other gender-nonconforming people.
Instead of apologizing, the guy who named his child X Æ A-12 called pronouns an “esthetic nightmare” and then tweeted a defense akin to “but I have gay friends,” to which Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said, “Elon Musk’s tweet mocking pronouns is exactly the opposite of what inclusive leadership looks like today.”
In March, just as the pandemic was climbing toward its first peak, Musk quickly declared himself as a skeptic of the severity of COVID-19 … then, of course, got mad when someone called him a “virus skeptic.”
After getting taken to task for his horrible pandemic opinions, Musk made it clear that he’s not a businessman (or a medical professional), just an engineer.
After getting in an argument with an actual doctor on Twitter — a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, no less — he cherrypicked data (a favorite tactic of his) … data that is now trending in the wrong direction.
Hey Elon, here’s one.
Of course, when Musk is the target of criticism online — usually for spreading misinformation like the above — he is quick to invoke the same rules of decency that he routinely flouts …
In May, Alameda County and Tesla were working on a plan to reopen the latter’s factory in California. Musk was more concerned with restarting production than following public health protocols, so he lashed out at Dr. Erica Pan, who is now the California State Epidemiologist.
The Red Pill Conspiracy Theorist
A reference to The Matrix, this phrase has become a favorite of men’s rights activists, alt-right followers and similar fringe groups.
His idea of successful reporting: likes and retweets.
Here he is defending a former New York Times reporter (emphasis on former) who is trying to ride the coattails of COVID trutherism to fame:
Another favorite tactic of Musk in legitimizing his opinions is to cite Wikipedia or simply paste links to Wikipedia. Here he shows his enthusiasm for the all-knowing, all-seeing internet god.
Don’t give him good press? Then you get burned.
The Pandemic Misinformation, Part 1
Among the hundreds of coronavirus tweets Musk published this year, one of the most prominent themes he latched onto was the idea that COVID-19 death counts were inflated. Yes, labeling deaths correctly is important, as is understanding the details of comorbidity, but the purpose of the below tweet seems to be, as evidenced by his flippancy, to downplay the severity of the pandemic. The lack of respect in discussing COVID deaths is appalling, and the conspiracy theories these arguments fueled are still flourishing.
He also tweeted out an image that said “OCCUPY MARS” with a photo of the moon. When called out by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Musk offered a glimpse into his thought process before tweeting, which should be a footnote to every COVID-related outburst.
As we will see, Musk was a big fan of taking articles out of context and apparently not reading them before tweeting them …
Apologies to the late, great Frank Herbert:
As we’ve seen with other popular Twitter users, advocating for the use of drugs that have not yet been thoroughly studied is also never a good idea:
Again, he establishes “Wikipedia-level informed” as a baseline for adequate medical knowledge. This is not someone you want to take medical advice from.
The very next sentence in the below story, the one not included in the Tesla fanboy’s tweet or acknowledged by Musk?
“[USC Professor Neeraj] Sood said it was too early to offer policy prescriptions based on the early results, noting that further study will provide more information about the mortality rate and how fast the disease is spreading.”
The only thing James O’Keefe — of far-right fairy tale Project Veritas — is good at is taking information out of context and tracking down unreliable sources. Naturally, Musk thought he was a good horse to back:
In trying to expose the overreaction to the coronavirus, he actually demonstrated the effectiveness of California’s early pandemic response:
Sweden’s relatively lax response to the pandemic — no lockdowns, voluntary measures — was championed by COVID skeptics like Musk. We know now how that turned out.
And while we still don’t know exactly how COVID affects people of different ages — we sure as hell didn’t know on … March 19. That didn’t stop Musk from offering his take:
The Faux Patriotism
The quasi-socialist-turned-libertarian billionaire also loves to speak for the political center.
I think we can all agree this next one was a mistake.
Even he seemed to think so, though he did eventually delete his retraction.
Another subplot this year for Musk has been his battle with Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates for the title of world’s second and third richest person, beneath Jeff Bezos. But what does Musk do when faced with the prospect of losing a chunk of his $100-billion-plus net worth? Laugh at Senator Sanders, whose Twitter account was quick to point out the government subsidies Musk’s companies have benefited from.
Have small businesses been receiving enough financial relief during the pandemic? No. Did anyone, anywhere need so-called press conferences from the founder of a media company for man-children? Also no. And Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy actually already ran for office — he just couldn’t get enough signatures to get on the ballot.
No, the scariest thing is witnessing the death of 1.7 million people and counting.
This juvenile patriotic posturing — equating the foundational conflict of the United States against the British with the misguided hostility toward pandemic lockdowns — has been shown to be more destructive than anyone could have imagined.
The tweet Musk is responding to here is from an anonymous user who at the time advocated a “call to arms” and is currently retweeting posts about the election being rigged.
To reiterate from above, in order to be confident in Tesla’s ability to open its Fremont factory in a way that was safe for the employees, Alameda County was working with the company to restart the plant on May 18. Instead, just seven days before that date, Musk threw a fit and framed it as a martyrdom.
The Pandemic Misinformation, Part 2
And … Sweden is at 100 deaths on December 18.
As the Washington Post notes, the “good points” made by “doctors” in this YouTube video turned out to be COVID-19 misinformation. As such, it was swiftly removed by the platform for violating guidelines.
Two of his first tweets about COVID-19 compared the coronavirus to the common cold, a misconception that is still being diffused to this day.
After comparing it to the common cold, he went on to agree with a random Twitter user who cited “old ladies” as expert authorities on the fact that “more people die of the flu,” another falsity that spread over social media and is being dealt with to this day.
For all his supposed Wikipedia acumen, Musk apparently didn’t take the time to Google the differences between COVID testing options. Instead, he decided to sow doubt about the entire process. At least it led to the resurgence of Space Karen.
The origin of that “something bogus is going on” line?
Remember when he said, “Many articles are retweeted based on headlines that don’t match the content”? Case in point: This misleading headline on a post from Ben Shapiro’s right-wing blog, which Musk agreed with. What professor John P.A. Ioannidis actually said wasn’t that we were severely overreacting, but that we may have been overreacting. After nine months, it’s clear that we weren’t.
Looking back at some of the science he touted is a little cathartic, especially when it is so often disproven, removed for misinformation (as with the previous YouTube video) or in this case withdrawn.
In order to prove his theory that people were overreacting to COVID-19, Musk solicited information requests from … Nate Silver?
The below is similar to the Daily Wire tweet, but this time Musk explicitly takes information out of context. So many of of Musk’s pandemic tweets, even more than the dozens listed here, are deliberately misleading, cherry-picked to suit the alternate reality that cemented in his mind months ago. Here, he steps into the realm of disinformation. Yes, he is quoting directly from the article, but he also knows his followers won’t read it, will only read his curated tweet, and will miss the end of his quoted section, which finishes like so: “… while 88 per cent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity – many had two or three.”
The Worst of the Worst
What happens when people like Elon Musk, Laura Ingraham and President Trump champion anti-malaria drugs as COVID treatments against the recommendations of professionals? At best, they turn their supporters against the medical experts. At worst, those supporters take matters into their own hands and end up sick or dead.
There’s a certain kind of literalist who would agree with Musk on this, that panic in any form is dumb, and that being calm and collected is always a better course of action. But Musk is not saying, “Let’s stay calm.” The subtext of this tweet, as we’ve come to understand from his subsequent litany, is that anyone who takes COVID-19 seriously is dumb.
This would be comical if the reality weren’t unbearable. On the last day of April, more than 30,000 new cases were reported in the U.S., along with more than 2,000 new deaths. As it stands today, some 18 million cases and 323,000 deaths have been reported in the country, and that’s not stopping anytime soon.
That’s April 2020 he is referencing, to be clear.
Yes, free America … from Elon Musk’s tweets.
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