Tech billionaire Elon Musk has made many gaffes over the years, some were harmless, others less so. Many of Musk’s faux pas have involved - or been on - Twitter, and some of his mistakes could have cost him millions. Though, with a net worth of over $200 billion today, more than some countries, he’s probably not too bothered.
Musk is now the subject of a three-part BBC Two documentary series, The Elon Musk Show, which uses interviews with those who have been closest to him, including his mother Maye, and ex-wife Talulah Riley, to chart the billionaire’s success. But before you dive into that, here are eight of Elon Musk’s biggest gaffes:
Trying to buy Twitter
The Musk Twitter saga began in April when he offered to buy the site for $54.20 a share - roughly $44 billion in total, and Twitter accepted. Then, in July, Musk tried to back out of the deal, claiming that Twitter had not provided the necessary information about spam bots - he wanted proof that spam accounts made up less than 5% of Twitter users.
At one point Musk faced a potential $100 million bill for backing out of the deal, but it now seems like he may end up acquiring the company for the $44 billion he originally offered. Musk has previously said that he would create an edit button so that tweets can be changed after they are posted, and institute a higher bar for removing offensive content.
Musk also previously hinted that if he owned Twitter he would reverse the ban on former President Donald Trump, who was banned from the platform in January 2021 after the United States Capitol attack. Musk also welcomes rapper Ye back onto Twitter this month after he was banned from Instagram for posting anti-semetic content. Ye had his Twitter account suspended within 24 hours of returning for the same reason.
Thai cave rescue ‘pedo guy’ tweet
In 2018, when 12 boys and their coach were trapped in a cave in Thailand, Musk had his employees build a mini-submarine and deliver it to Thailand to help in the rescue, but Thai authorities declined to use it as they felt it was not practical.
Vernon Unsworth, a British cave diver who played a major role in the operation criticised Musk and said that the submarine has been a public relations effort and would not have been useful. Musk then called Unsworth a "pedo guy” in a tweet.
Musk later deleted the tweet and apologised to Unsworth, but he was taken to court. Musk argued that pedo guy was a common insult in South Africa when he group up, and a jury found in Musk’s favour. It was also revealed that Musk paid a private investigator $50,000 to dig up dirt on Unsworth.
Ukraine war tweets
This month, Musk stuck his nose into Russia’s war in Ukraine, tweeting a proposed solution to the conflict. And, of course, he put his ideas to a vote via twitter poll. Musk suggested that elections be held in annexed regions under UN supervision, with Russia accepting the result. He also stated that Ukraine should remain neutral.
The tweet provoked a backlash as users pointed out that Russia illegally invaded Ukraine in February, causing the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, and has no right to the nation’s sovereign territory. One Twitter user, Volodymyr Demchenko, responded to Musk’s tweet with a poll of his own, asking ‘should Elon Musk shut up?’ More than 60,000 people voted in the poll, with 80% saying yes.
Smoking weed with Joe Rogan
In 2018, Musk joined man child Joe Rogan on his podcast, and the presenter passed him a joint which he said contained marijuana inside tobacco. Musk asked if it was legal for him to smoke it (they taped the show in California where recreational use of cannabis has been legal since 2016), and when he was assured that it was, he took a drag.
The image of Musk smoking launched a series of memes, and some smoking enthusiasts pointed out that the billionaire didn’t know how to smoke a joint, as he had not inhaled the smoke. Musk later said in a 60 Minutes interview “as anybody who watched that podcast could tell, I have no idea how to smoke pot.”
It’s not just cavers that Musk has poked fun at over Twitter, he also took a stab at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he compared him to dictator Adolf Hitler back in February. Musk’s tweet showed an image of Hitler with text that said, ‘Stop comparing me to Justin Trudeau. I had a budget’.
The Auschwitz Memorial profile replied to Musk’s tweet, saying: “Using the image of Adolf Hitler & therefore exploiting the tragedy of all people who suffered, were humiliated, tortured & murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany created by him is sad & disturbing. It disrespects the memory of all victims & hurts many people.”
Naming his child X Æ A-12
Musk is believed to have had ten children - his first child Nevada tragically died of sudden infant death syndrome. in 2002 aged just ten weeks. He then had twins Griffin and Vivian, triplets Kai, Saxon and Damian, baby number seven, who he had with Canadian singer Grimes, was given the rather unusual name of X Æ A-12 Musk.
This was eventually changed to X AE A-XII in order to conform to California law which states a name must only contain letters in the English alphabet. Grimes helpfully explained the meaning of the name, stating: “X, the unknown variable. Æ, my elven spelling of Ai (love &/or Artificial intelligence). A-12 = precursor to SR-17 (our favorite aircraft). No weapons, no defenses, just speed. Great in battle, but non-violent. + (A=Archangel, my favorite song).
Musk went onto have three more children, Exa Dark Sideræl via surrogate with Grimes, and two twins with Neurolink director Shivon Zilis in November 2021 - their names are not yet known, however, Musk did successfully petition to change their last name to his own.
Smashing a bulletproof window on one of his own cars
In November 2019, Musk unveiled Tesla’s latest vehicle, the Cybertruck - during the demonstration designer Franz von Holzhausen was brought on stage to test the truck’s bulletproof glass windows. Musk asked Franz ro throw a steel ball against the window, presumably hoping that it would bounce off, the window unscathed.
That’s not what happened, the steel ball cracked the bulletproof window. In a bid to regain authority, Musk asked Franz to throw the steel ball at a back window, but the same thing happened. However, some viewers of the demo were conspiratorial, suggesting that the gaffe was actually a clever marketing ploy to get people talking about the truck - Musk announced 200,000 orders had been made within a week of the ‘failed’ presentation.
All of his coronavirus misinformation
Musk has 108 million followers on Twitter, so when he posts something, lots of people will see it. And that’s fine, when his tweets are stupid memes or some semi-interesting tech debate. But when he tweeted misinformation about Covid-19, it became more of a problem. He called panic around the virus ‘dumb’ in March 2020 - more than 6 million people have since died of the disease globally.
Musk also initially refused to shut down a Tesla plant in California, where a shelter in place order was in effect at the time, and called the state’s safety measures ‘fascist’. Additionally, he promoted a conspiracy that doctors were inflating case numbers to profit from the pandemic.
When is The Elon Musk Show on TV?
The Elon Musk Show will air on BBC Two tonight at 9pm, with the second episode airing next Wednesday at 9.30pm. The final episode will air on the evening of Wednesday 26 October. All episodes will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer shortly after they are first broadcast.