Musk-Zuckerberg Feud Sinks to Steel-Cage Level

From a Wall Street Journal story by Tim Higgins and Deepa Seetharaman headlined “Musk-Zuckerberg Feud Sinks to Steel-Cage Level”:

Even by the standards of billionaire-versus-billionaire tiffs, the proposed cage fight between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg stands out.

The two have tentatively agreed, through posts Wednesday on their respective social-media sites, to the duel after years of quiet tensions that have grown more intense with Musk’s acquisition of Twitter late last year.

Since then, Zuckerberg has seen an opening to attack rival Twitter, which has been beset by drama and missteps under its new owner. The latest shot: having his Meta META -0.59%decrease; red down pointing triangle Platforms prepare its own tweet-like offering through Instagram.

Even if the two business tycoons never actually meet up in the ring, the latest outburst between them—and the spectacle of will-they or won’t-they go through with it—underscores the growing rivalry of their business interests, injecting fresh energy into a battle for social-media advertising dollars.

It is too early to say if Meta versus Twitter will rank up there with the epic brand showdowns of the past century—whether it be Ford versus Chevrolet or Coke versus Pepsi. But it is clear the bosses are primed for a fight.

Behind the scenes, the two have held a simmering feud for years, occasionally taking public shots at each other over AI and other topics.

In private, they have complained about each other, according to those who have heard it: Musk, cash poor for years, brooded that Zuckerberg had made so much money so easily with software while he toiled away on electric cars and space rockets. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg pined for the kind of innovator esteem that Musk received, these people said.

This month, Meta executives unveiled to employees their Twitter competitor, internally dubbed Project 92, that they hope to launch soon. Chief Product Officer Chris Cox suggested, as The Wall Street Journal reported, the product was inspired by users who want “a sanely run” social-media platform, a dig at Musk’s company.

Since taking control of Twitter in late October, Musk has faced several challenges in reinventing the company to his liking, including a pullback in advertising spending among brands, in part, worried about the company’s uncertainty. In response, Musk has said he needed to make dramatic cost cuttings, including reducing the workforce, to avoid bankruptcy.

Now, he says the company is on track to be cash-flow positive and has hired a high-profile TV ad executive to be CEO to improve advertiser relations.

Amid news articles of Zuckerberg’s plans to compete against Twitter, Musk has been jabbing at him with insults online. One Twitter user this week cautioned Musk, noting Zuckerberg’s recent publicity over his pursuit of martial arts.

“I’m up for a cage match if he is lol,” Musk tweeted late Tuesday. Zuckerberg, who has been training in jujitsu, responded the next day on Instagram: “Send me location.”

Musk then tweeted: “If this is for real, I will do it.” He later suggested they meet for a match in Las Vegas.

Through the evening, Musk tweeted about their potential matchup, including addressing the issue that Zuckerberg appears in peak physical fitness. A photograph of Musk last year showing him out of shape and being hosed off shirtless, resurfaced on Twitter.

“I have this great move that I call ‘The Walrus’, where I just lie on top of my opponent & do nothing,” Musk tweeted.

This week’s proposed cage match harked back to the early 1990s when Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines, settled a business dispute by arm wrestling a rival in front of an audience at a Dallas arena in an event dubbed “Malice in Dallas.” The results, though, were prearranged, according to a history of the event on Southwest’s website.

Signs of the tech duo’s public animosity date to 2016 when Musk’s rocket company SpaceX was contracted to shuttle a satellite into space for Facebook to offer internet access to large parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

However, an explosion on the ground during a routine test firing destroyed the rocket and satellite, disrupting Zuckerberg’s ambitions.

“I’m deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent,” he wrote.

A year later, they were trading barbs over artificial intelligence, which Musk has warned could be dangerous to humanity.

During a live video on Facebook in his backyard while smoking some meat, Zuckerberg was asked about that stance. “With AI, especially, I’m really optimistic, I think that people who are naysayers and…try to drum up these doomsday scenarios…I just don’t understand it. It’s really negative, and in some ways, I actually think it’s pretty irresponsible,” he said.

Musk shot back in a tweet. “I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited,” Musk said.

In 2018, amid Meta’s controversy over user-privacy concerns in the 2016 presidential election and a subsequent delete-Facebook movement, Musk joined in with his own tweets on the matter. Tesla and SpaceX, where he is CEO, deleted their Facebook pages.

“Facebook gives me the willies,” Musk tweeted last year.

Their discord isn’t limited to each other. Both men have a history of heated words with others too.

Musk has many public rows, using his Twitter account to poke at fellow billionaires—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among them. But he has never proposed combat with any of them. Last year, however, he did suggest a tussle with Russia’s Vladimir Putin after the war in Ukraine broke out, tweeting that he challenged the president to “single combat.”

That fight never occurred.

Meta CEO Zuckerberg notoriously got into a yearslong private snit with Apple’s Tim Cook after the iPhone maker chief executive made public comments seen inside Facebook as critical of the business. Facebook has since been at odds over Apple’s changes to privacy settings that hindered the social-media company’s ability to monetize user data.

“We need to inflict pain,” Zuckerberg told his team in private as he tried to rally them against Apple.

Musk, too, had his problems with the iron fist of Apple over the App Store, which is important for Twitter’s success in reaching users. Soon after taking over Twitter, Musk declared war against Apple over the fees it collects through in-app purchases via the App Store.

Cook appeared to smooth things over, hosting Musk at Apple’s headquarters and taking him for a walk around the company’s pond.

Social media had fun with the idea of a possible fight between the social-media billionaires. One Twitter user suggested podcaster and UFC commentator Joe Rogan play the role of ref. Musk responded with a fire emoji.

Both billionaires have a history with Rogan.

During a podcast appearance with Rogan, Zuckerberg last year talked about the parallels between business and mixed-martial arts.

“Jujitsu, MMA, it’s like, I think, it sort of teaches you about the flow and momentum of things and I think business is like this in a similar way,” he said. “The hardest thing is knowing when you’re in a position where you need to push through.”

Zuckerberg recently was touting his extreme physical fitness routine for Memorial Day and his first jujitsu tournament.

Musk has suggested a more sedentary lifestyle, chalking up fasting and weight-loss drugs to lost pounds and talking about his love of doughnuts and Diet Coke. The EV- and space-rocket billionaire infamously appeared on Rogan’s podcast smoking marijuana.

“I almost never work out, except for picking up my kids & throwing them in the air,” he tweeted Wednesday.

Musk also has a history of physical fights gone wrong. A match with a sumo wrestler years ago left him with severe neck and back pain.

As hype grew, Musk’s mother, Maye, was pleading for cooler heads.

“No joking,” she tweeted Thursday. “Fight with words only. In armchairs. 4 feet apart. The funniest person wins.”

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