Techpreneur billionaire Elon Musk is taking center stage once again after his acquisition of Twitter on Monday (April 25) caused shockwaves around the globe. Many expressed concerns about the South African-Canadian’s intentions behind buying the influential social media platform and what he plans to do if shareholders approve the $44 billion purchase of the company. It’s notable that many right-wing pundits including those on Fox News and far-right extremists were celebrating the news as “reclaiming free speech,” hoping that former President Donald Trump would be reinstated after he was banned from the platform. Musk himself said after the reports broke in a tweet: “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means”
As public as Elon Musk is in terms of news and culture, there are some who aren’t sure what’s true and what’s not about the man. Here, we answer four nagging questions that have come back into play.
Is Elon Musk really an inventor?
Technically, yes. Musk began as an inventor after a collegiate career in physics after moving to Canada and attending Queens University and avoiding mandatory military service in South Africa. His first company, Zip2, was an online city guide that provided content to the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune among others as the Internet began to blossom. He and his brother, Kimbal, sold that company in 1999 to a division of Compaq Computers for $307 million along with $34 million in stock options.
The brothers would take those funds to create a new company that handled financial services including payments online, calling it X.com soon after. After that company was acquired in 2000, it was renamed and became PayPal. That deal paved the way for Musk to earn his first billion when PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in stock – 11 percent of which Musk had owned before the sale. This led to his creation of SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla in 2003, which have made high-profile innovations in the space industry and the automotive industry, respectively.
Is Elon Musk a philanthropist?
One of the biggest things that defenders of the 50-year-old will point to is Musk’s generosity, with his commitment to providing fresh water for the people of Flint, Michigan through the Elon Musk Foundation as a major example. He donated $480,000 for water fountains with complex filtration systems to be installed in the school system in 2018, after this tweet:
After a series of mishaps with the filters arose during testing, which also collided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools in Flint finally were able to take advantage of the new water fountain systems in February of this year.
But Musk has also publicly committed to philanthropic efforts without much transparency. One recent instance came as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, and officials pleaded for Musk to provide them with Starlink terminals to heighten Internet access in the region. “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route,” he proclaimed on Twitter, with a press rep claiming that the U.S. government hadn’t directed any money towards the effort – a claim which was proven false in a report by the Washington Post detailing the government paying SpaceX to deliver those terminals.
Does Elon Musk have a history of racism and ill-treatment of his employees?
The short answer is, apparently yes. Musk is facing the heat after a litany of allegations of racism from Black employees at the flagship plant for Tesla in California have surfaced. Three of the former employees spoke out after a federal lawsuit was filed on their behalf by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The number of plaintiffs in the case number more than 4,000, making it the largest racial discrimination lawsuit ever brought by the state. This was after Tesla was ordered to pay a $137 million judgment to an ex-worker in October of last year in a separate racial discrimination lawsuit. These instances, coupled with Musk’s own affiliation with Trump to the point of serving as an advisor during his administration, have made #BlackTwitter and POC users of Twitter highly concerned about their safety on the platform.
Does Elon Musk have a connection to apartheid?
Being born in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk’s family being Afrikaner does suggest that they benefited from the strict and racist policy of apartheid that the Nationalist Party instituted in the country in 1948 until its end in 1993. Business Insider wrote in 2018 that Musk’s father had a half-share in an emerald mine in Zambia, which led to many believing that was the source of his wealth. Musk would later claim that it was false in two tweets last March, linking to another article by another journalist that debunked his father’s claim. Business Insider would later amend their article.