Let’s talk about two billionaires nursing love-hate relationships with Twitter—Elon Musk and Donald Trump—and their differing approaches to striking back at the thing they simultaneously adore and detest. Spoiler alert: The one seems to have the better plan.
Trump and Musk have enjoyed this platform since the beginning. They’re controversial figures who think mainstream media obstructs their message and often unfairly portrays them in a negative light. They can, however, bypass these barriers and send their messages directly to their supporters and fans via Twitter. They are many. They have both had over 80 million Twitter followers. Collectively, they’ve sent over 72,000 tweets.
The reason both men are disliking Twitter is the same. They see Twitter as acting too much like media’s old guard, limiting free speech. Thought this hasn’t stopped them from breaking Twitter’s rules and behaving badly, and both have faced consequences for their actions. After a tweet that helped to spark the insurrection at U.S. Capitol, Trump was banned from Twitter in January 2020 Musk’s 2018 tweet suggesting he was going to make Tesla private is still partially blocked by the SEC. Musk claims that it was an amusing joke about marijuana culture. Musk stated, in addition, that he wanted Twitter to be decentralized and open up its algorithm, giving users more choice about what they see on their feed.
Now, Musk and Trump seem equally eager to get back at Twitter, and here’s where their similarities end. They’re going about it entirely differently. Musk has amassed a $3.7 billion stake in Twitter, making him its largest shareholder, a position that’ll instantly make the company take him more seriously. Trump, meanwhile, has launched his own social media app, Truth Social, marketed as a would-be competitor/alternative to Twitter. However, it is not able to launch as well as it launched.
“One thing Twitter has is a very engaged, active and loyal user base, which was hard to assemble,” says Deutsche Bank analyst Benjamin Black. “Trying to replicate it will be a very, very expensive endeavor.”
It is expensive and may not be possible. Truth Social opened its doors to users last month. It has received over 1,000,000 downloads. But it has relied on an opaque waitlist system with many users saying they continue to receive a notification that they’re in a line almost a million people long.
If you’ve already made to Truth Social, you know the place looks like a ghost town. There’s a dearth of activity and engaged conversation. For proof, look no further than Trump’s own account. “Get Ready! Your favorite President will see you soon!” he posted in February. He hasn’t said a thing anything since. Trump now has 855k followers on Truth Social. This is roughly 1 percent of his previous Twitter audience.
If Trump really wants to stick it to Twitter, this isn’t a promising start.
Musk could have better fortune. He doesn’t need to build anything from scratch, plunging millions into something that may or not work. Musk just needs to have the capital (check) in order to acquire large shares of Twitter (check), one that is so big the company could ignore him. In amassing these shares, Musk has categorized himself to the SEC as a passive investor, a formal classification required that establishes some guardrails around his actions and a pledge by Musk he won’t seek control of the company. Even a small passive stake can be sufficient to secure a seat on the board and even force Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s CEO, to address his complaints and concerns about the company. (Twitter didn’t return a request to comment.)
It would be a mistake to not do this. Musk has the money and mindset to press his point further if he felt ignored, increasing his stake and possibly initiating a proxy fight over the company’s future. (He’d have to refile with the SEC and switch from a passive stake to an active one, a move the regulators would frown on. Musk doesn’t seem to care about the regulators. Sometimes, the most severe proxy fights can drag on for months and leave the company less able to compete. And they often only end when the company changes its management, installing new leadership seen as more capable by the assailing investor (in this hypothetical, that’d be Musk).
This is Musk’s Twitter account. It is It’s a good start. “If I had to bet on the Trump approach or the Elon Musk approach,” says Deutsche Bank’s Black, “I think buying over building is really the only way to go forward.”
And it’s already clear Musk has caught Twitter’s attention.
Musk’s Monday investment announcement was followed by a Twitter poll asking people to decide whether Twitter should include an “edit button”. This long-awaited feature has been requested for a while. Nearly three-quarters of the 1.4 million respondents selected “yse,” a seemingly intentional misspelling. (It is not clear if the scrambled letters mean Musk sees the survey as a joke—no matter the results.)
Agrawal quickly retweeted Musk’s poll, one of the only times he has tweeted since becoming CEO. “The consequences of this poll will be important,” Agrawal wrote in the retweet. “Please vote carefully.”