In late August, Fortune broke the story that Musk was planning to remove headlines from tweets on X, so that links would display only articles’ lead images, according to material reviewed by this publication. A picture says a thousand words, but words also say a thousand words and Elon Musk is stripping them from his platform when it comes to news pegs. Musk confirmed the plans later that day, saying “this is coming from me directly,” and it “will greatly improve the esthetics.” Roughly two months later, the plan has taken flight, and it’s backfiring in historic fashion.
Users on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, are taking the opportunity to meme Musk, sharing the link to Fortune’s article and substituting their own creative headlines—with Musk as the butt of the joke.
The memes range from harping on Musk’s outspoken anti-union rhetoric amid the historic Detroit auto workers’ strike to more, well, crude content. One post reading, “Elon Musk endorses Joe Biden for re-election,” has garnered over 1.5 million views and over 20,000 likes within 14 hours.
One user wrote on the platform, “I mean, he REALLY set himself up for this level of trolling…. and I’m here for it.”
Elon Musk finally admits to hiding the bodies of any pro-union employee in his family’s emerald mine https://t.co/xOixjgRRqT
— Fuck You I Quit (@fuckyouiquit) October 5, 2023
Searching for these memes, or any particular news peg, is proving a bit more trying now for X users.
While Musk claimed the move was largely aesthetics-based, some are raising doubts about the actual functionality of the new feature. Whether Musk is a joke subject or not, misinformation abounds within the first couple days of the unroll as some satirically claim that the CEO of Twitter endorsed President Biden or overdosed on ketamine. It’s all in good fun, for now.
FORTUNE: Elon Musk Forced New Twitter CEO To Watch ‘The Matrix’ As Part Of Onboarding Processhttps://t.co/GNUqs6h8v1
— LeGate 𝕏 (@williamlegate) October 5, 2023
Elon Musk endorses Joe Biden for re-election https://t.co/lWk2nmAlPl
— Armand Domalewski (@ArmandDoma) October 5, 2023
FORTUNE: Elon Musk beg Grimes to come back, offers her 50 horses. https://t.co/kD6Gu1Otfp
— John C. Ryan 💙 🌊 (@johncryan) October 5, 2023
But with the 2024 election on the horizon, some suggest there’s something perhaps more sinister at play. In a thread regarding the change, showrunner of Glamorous, Jordon Nardino, posits Musk is making this move due to his “contempt for media and their attempts to push journalism off the platform; bias toward thread posters.”
Musk hasn’t been shy about his feeling towards the press. After acquiring Twitter in October 2022, he fired all of his communications staff in March and set Twitter’s email account to automatically respond to press inquiries with the “poop” emoji. In a Twitter Spaces chat, Musk was reported saying, “I’m not saying we should somehow downplay the major publications or prominent journalists. I’m simply saying we should elevate people and give voice to the people — much more.”Others claim it’s about boosting Twitter or X’s own engagement.
Either way, it stays in line with Musk’s relationship with spreading misinformation, which has been a hot topic since he took over almost a year ago. Confusion abounded when Musk removed the blue check marks of media groups which was used previously identify verified news. Then too people were able to jokingly post from accounts with the names changed, something that is certaintly funny but can have damaging effects. Those who pay for blue checks have gained a reputation for being politically aligned with Musk. Just this past September, Musk fired the election integrity team, tweeting out, “Oh you mean the ‘Election Integrity’ Team that was undermining election integrity? Yeah, they’re gone.”
At one point Musk noted that “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape,” to the New Yorker. But recently profits have plummeted and mass layoffs have led to a buggier landscape, as users reported that links didn’t work and Twitter was often down.