Analysis by Allison Morrow, CNN
New York (CNN) — Elon Musk desperately wants to be liked, despite his pronouncement Wednesday that he doesn’t mind being hated. “Hate away,” he told Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times DealBook Summit.
The sentiment is, like so much of Musk’s public persona, a lie designed to keep the public’s focus squarely on him.
At the risk of over-pathologizing one of the most pathologized public figures on the planet, one thing Musk’s interview made clear is that he appears addicted to attention. And when adoration isn’t available, he’ll take condemnation like a shot of methadone.
It’s why he bought a $44 billion personal megaphone. It’s why, at the Wednesday summit, he told advertisers that are leaving X (formerly Twitter) to “go f**k yourself,” relishing each word as he seemed to pat himself on the back for using such spicy language in front of a New York Times reporter.
Watching the interview, even online, you can feel the awkward energy of that moment — cringeworthy for some, but seemingly invigorating for Musk.
For better or worse, Musk and his antics matter because of the power he wields as an Extremely Rich Guy and the head of some of the most influential companies on Earth. If we can’t stop pathologizing, it’s because nearly every business decision Musk makes has ripple effects that matter down the line to regular people, whether they’re buying a Tesla in California or fighting a ground war in Eastern Europe.
Increasingly, Musk is positioning himself as a public intellectual and someone with a role to play in global affairs like Israel’s war on Hamas. He clearly has the power (read: money) to inject himself into the middle of any conflict, but he lacks the maturity to use that power for much besides grandstanding.
The trip to Israel followed his endorsement of an explicitly antisemitic tweet that sparked an advertiser exodus on X. He called the post — which amplified a conspiracy theory popular among White supremacists, that Jewish communities push “hatred against Whites” — “the actual truth.” (On Wednesday, Musk swore the visit to Israel was not some kind of “apology tour,” another statement that strains credulity given the timing.)
He is doing his best to combat accusations of antisemitism by stating that he is not antisemitic. But his past words and actions don’t do much to back up that claim.
Musk has a long history, visible on his X timeline, of liking and otherwise propping up antisemitism, hate speech and conspiracy theories on the platform over which he exerts absolute control and where he boasts a following of more than 160 million accounts.
On Wednesday, Musk sought to shrug off his most recent anti-Jewish post as a “foolish” mistake that got misinterpreted by the media. But even if that were true, we’d still have his Twitter feed, which is littered with banter with QAnon conspiracy theorists, many of whom had been banned from the platform before Musk resurrected their accounts.
Just days after the antisemitic tweet that sparked an advertiser exodus, Musk moved on to engage with the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, breathing life into a 2016 lie that prompted a man to open fire in a DC restaurant.
It should go without saying, but you don’t have to hold animosity in your heart to be a bigot. Tolerating bigotry, and giving air to it, in front of an audience of 160 million followers, is all it takes.
Musk clearly has “a fairly straightforward case of internet brain rot,” as the Atlantic writer Charlie Warzel put it in a Threads post. “We know who this guy is by now but he absolutely isn’t going away.”
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