As of a couple weeks ago, Elon Musk, the richest person in the world, took over ownership of Twitter. Since then, the company has seen a series of scandals, with roughly half of employees either getting fired or quitting their jobs.
Musk, who has often promoted himself as a champion of free speech has also been very unabashed about terminating employees that have been critical of his policies. He recently gave his employees an ultimatum of 36 hours to respond to an email to either commit to work “extremely hardcore” or get fired. There have since been reports that this hardcore bullying approach has backfired with Twitter now having to beg engineers to stay with the company.
More recently, Musk reinstated Donald Trump’s Twitter account, after getting suspended following the January 6, 2021 riots for spreading lies about the election. But Trump has since said he does not plan to return to Twitter because it would interfere with Truth Social, the much smaller platform that he launched after being kicked off of Twitter. (You can’t make this stuff up!)
One of the larger controversies that has come out of Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is how the company made the “verified” authentication blue checkmarks no longer free. This meant that anyone with $8 per month could create a fake account to impersonate any public official, public figure or organization without any verification process. This led to range of public scandals, from Chiquita claiming to overthrow the Brazilian government, a nod to the company’s involvement in the 1954 coup in Guatemala, to Lockheed Martin announcing it would no longer sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, United States and Israel for human rights abuses, to even Musk’s Tesla getting ridiculed. The blue checkmark purchasing system has since been overturned.
One of the most popular parodies was when imposters posed as the pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly, tweeted that “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.” The tweet was liked over 380,000 times. In the aftermath, Eli Lilly’s stock dropped 4% in one day, losing the company billions of dollars. Eli Lilly executives reportedly frantically scrambled to correct the false claim of free insulin but the word was already out.
In the aftermath of this Twitter fiasco, the CEO of Eli Lilly admitted, “… we have more work to do to bring down the cost of insulin for more people.” While few people would complain if a couple dollars were knocked off of the price of insulin, this misses the point. What right do these companies have to deprive life saving medications from people that can’t afford them?
Why shouldn’t insulin be free? Some 37 million people in the United States currently live with diabetes. It costs about $10 to produce a vial of insulin and is currently sold to uninsured Americans for $300-$400, forcing millions of people to ration their medication. In fact, the inventors of insulin infamously sold the patent for $1 in 1923 because they argued that, “insulin belongs to the world.” Today, 90% of insulin is controlled by three different companies, including Eli Lilly, effectively making it an oligopoly.
There have been some who have critiqued the parody tweet as insensitive. But what is more offensive and harmful — a fake tweet that raises false hope or a system that regularly price gouges the population for life saving medication?
With just a few tweets and a cost of $8 each, a handful of internet pranksters were able to take the mask off this system, and reveal just some of the widespread anger at corporations, government institutions and public figures.