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The Biggest Elon Musk Controversies of the Last 12 Months

Love him or hate him, there‘s no denying that Elon Musk is one of the most influential and controversial figures of our time. The billionaire entrepreneur and CEO of companies like Tesla and SpaceX seems to court controversy wherever he goes, whether it‘s through his business dealings, public statements, or social media posts.

The past year in particular has been a whirlwind of Elon Musk controversies. From his tumultuous takeover of Twitter to becoming the person who has lost the most wealth in history, Musk has consistently made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Let‘s take a closer look at some of the biggest Elon Musk controversies of the last 12 months.

The Twitter Takeover Fiasco

Undoubtedly the biggest Elon Musk story of the past year was his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter. The saga began in April 2022 when Musk started buying up shares of Twitter, quickly becoming the social media company‘s largest individual shareholder with a more than 9% stake.

Soon after, Musk announced an unsolicited offer to buy Twitter outright for $54.20 per share, putting the total price tag at about $44 billion. He said Twitter had potential but suffered from poor management and needed to adhere more to free speech principles. Twitter‘s board adopted a "poison pill" plan to prevent Musk from a hostile takeover by allowing other shareholders to buy discounted shares.

In a surprise move, Twitter ended up accepting Musk‘s offer on April 25th. But not long after, Musk started publicly wavering on the deal, making an issue of the number of fake and spam accounts on the platform. Twitter responded that it would enforce the original agreement at the $54.20 per share price. Lawsuits were filed by both sides – Twitter claiming Musk was trying to tank the deal and damage the company, and Musk accusing Twitter of misleading investors.

The legal battle continued into the fall. In late October, Musk finally closed the Twitter acquisition and promptly fired the company‘s top executives. What followed was a chaotic transition as Musk slashed staff, flip-flopped on product changes, and saw a spike in hate speech on the platform as some far-right figures tried to test its boundaries under the new ownership.

Hundreds of employees resigned and advertisers fled as the Musk-led Twitter 2.0 got off to a rocky start. Musk pinned his hopes on turning Twitter into a subscription business with the revamped Twitter Blue service. But his attempts to hastily overhaul verification on the platform spectacularly backfired, as many used the opportunity to impersonate brands and celebrities.

As the year came to a close, Tesla‘s stock price had been cut in half and Musk had sold billions worth of his shares in the company. Meanwhile, Twitter continued to struggle with technical issues, content moderation challenges, and a decimated staff. The Twitter takeover will likely go down as one of the messiest acquisitions in tech history and a case study in how not to buy a company.

The Man Who Lost $200 Billion

Musk began 2022 as the world‘s richest person with a net worth of over $300 billion. But by the end of the year, his fortune had taken an unprecedented hit. After Tesla‘s stock cratered by 65%, Musk‘s net worth plummeted by nearly $200 billion – the largest loss of personal wealth in history according to Guinness World Records.

The shock drop in Tesla‘s previously high-flying share price was largely attributed to Musk‘s distracting and destabilizing Twitter acquisition. As Musk sold off tens of billions in Tesla stock to finance the Twitter deal amid an economic downturn, investors fled for the exits. His increasingly erratic behavior on Twitter following the takeover also spooked the market.

While Musk still ended the year as one of the wealthiest people on the planet, the historic collapse of his net worth was a stunning fall from grace for someone who had been riding high for so long. It also raised questions about the sustainability of Musk‘s business empire and whether his outsized influence was starting to become a liability.

Relitigating Past Tweets

As if Musk didn‘t have enough on his plate, he started the year in court over a controversial tweet from way back in 2018. The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Musk for fraud over his infamous "funding secured" tweet claiming he had investor support to take Tesla private at $420 a share.

Musk ended up settling with the SEC, agreeing to step down as Tesla‘s chairman and pay a $20 million fine. But in 2022, he found himself on trial in a class action shareholder lawsuit also stemming from the 2018 go-private tweets. The investors claim Musk‘s false statements about having "funding secured" cost them billions of dollars.

In testimony at the trial, Musk defended himself saying he could have sold shares of SpaceX to take Tesla private if needed. He also claimed that his tweets do not directly cause moves in Tesla‘s stock price. The jury ultimately sided with Musk, finding that he did not deceive investors with his tweets about taking Tesla private.

While Musk may have been vindicated legally, the episode was a reminder of his history of shoot-from-the-hip statements that have landed him in hot water. His propensity to make market-moving proclamations or attack critics has only intensified over time, especially since taking over Twitter where he now has an unfiltered megaphone.

Twitter‘s Messy Verification Changes

One of Musk‘s first orders of business after buying Twitter was revamping the site‘s verification system and how the coveted blue checkmark badges were doled out. He aimed to turn verification into a paid subscription feature to drive revenue. But the rollout of the the new Twitter Blue subscription in November was a complete mess.

Previously, the blue checks were used to confirm the authenticity of government officials, journalists, celebrities, brands and other notable figures on Twitter. But under Musk‘s new system, the blue checks were given to anyone willing to pay $8 a month, with minimal vetting. Pranksters and imposters immediately exploited the change to pose as politicians, companies and celebrities – wreaking havoc.

After the initial paid verification launch flopped, Musk retooled and relaunched Twitter Blue. But many questions still remained about the utility and integrity of the new checkmarks. Musk‘s goal of making verification a major revenue stream also seemed questionable with many long-time verified accounts balking at paying. Twitter set a final deadline of April 1st to remove all legacy blue checks.

The verification debacle highlighted the immense challenge Musk faces in trying to quickly overhaul Twitter‘s business model and core features as its advertising revenue dwindles. His haphazard approach so far has shaken trust in the platform and alienated many users. Musk still hasn‘t articulated a clear vision for where Twitter‘s headed under his rule.

Mocking an Employee with a Disability

Musk is no stranger to Twitter spats, but a recent exchange with a disabled employee sparked widespread backlash. In March, Iceland-based entrepreneur Halli Thorleifsson, who sold his creative agency to Twitter in 2021, found himself locked out of his work accounts and unable to get answers from Twitter‘s HR department on whether he had been laid off.

Frustrated, Thorleifsson tweeted at Musk explaining his predicament. Musk responded by questioning what work Thorleifsson had been doing and ridiculing his inability to get a response from HR. In the ensuing back-and-forth, Musk appeared to mock Thorleifsson‘s disability, which requires him to use a wheelchair.

"The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm," Musk tweeted. "Can‘t say I have a lot of respect for that."

Thorleifsson explained that his muscular dystrophy limits his ability to type for extended periods. The Icelandic government has previously honored him as a prominent advocate for people with disabilities.

The callous remarks sparked a flood of criticism from other users calling Musk‘s comments "disgusting" and "disrespectful." Some long-time Musk admirers said they could no longer defend his erratic and mean-spirited antics. Seemingly chastened, Musk ended up apologizing to Thorleifsson via Twitter "for my misunderstanding of his situation."

But for many, the damage had already been done. The incident cemented Musk‘s reputation as an impulsive and petulant leader who would publicly bully his own employees. It also highlighted the dysfunction and disarray plaguing Twitter since his takeover, with basic processes like notifying laid-off workers apparently breaking down.

Other Assorted Controversies

The past year has been chock-full of many other Elon Musk controversies on a range of subjects. Here‘s a sampling of a few more:

  • Musk‘s brain chip company Neuralink had its application to start human trials rejected by the FDA over safety risks. Musk had touted the far-fetched technology as a potential cure for blindness and paralysis.

  • Musk‘s repeated comments downplaying the severity of COVID-19 and attacking lockdown measures drew fire as the pandemic raged on. He reopened Tesla‘s factory in defiance of local health orders.

  • Musk has a long history of taking aim at short-sellers and others who bet against Tesla‘s stock. His latest tweetstorms against short-selling and embrace of meme stocks like GameStop only added to his contentious relationship with financial markets.

  • Despite positioning himself as a champion of free speech, Musk has openly disparaged and cracked down on labor organizing at his companies. His hardball stance has led to run-ins with unions and allegations of retaliation against employees.

  • Musk‘s gloomy views on the risks of artificial intelligence and the potential for a population collapse remain polarizing subjects of debate. While some cheer him for sounding the alarm, others have criticized his claims as baseless doomsaying.

The Bottom Line on Elon Musk

After an exceptionally tumultuous year, even by his own standards, the perennial question remains: has Elon Musk finally flown too close to the sun? By spreading himself thin with the Twitter takeover, Musk has unquestionably tarnished his reputation and the brand of his other companies like Tesla. His shoot-first, ask-questions-later approach to business and penchant for impulsive public comments are proving to be as much a liability as an asset.

Yet even as the myth of Musk as an infallible entrepreneur has been punctured, his ventures continue to push forward. SpaceX is launching rockets at a furious clip and Tesla still dominates the electric vehicle market. With his armies of diehard fans and larger-than-life persona, Musk also remains a singular figure in global business and popular culture.

Ultimately, the mercurial Musk will likely remain the center of controversy as long as he has an outsized public platform like Twitter at his disposal. The past year has shown beyond a doubt that his words and actions, for better or worse, can move markets, shape industries and dominate the international conversation like few others. Buckle up, because the Elon Musk rollercoaster shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.