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Elon Musk’s Leadership Skills Have Hit a Historic Low … Again

Corner of a phone with Elon Musk's Twitter profile visible on the screen.

Elon Musk is punking us at this point, right? He can’t literally be this incompetent. It’s going to turn out that this was all an elaborate work of performance art about capitalist bootlicking and cults of personality. Right? Right??

Or maybe he actually is this cartoonishly bad. Earlier this week, Haraldur “Halli” Thorleifsson, a designer who sold his company to Twitter in 2021 and joined Twitter as an employee, tweeted that he didn’t know if he’d been laid off or not. His access to his work computer had been cut nine days before, but Twitter’s human resources department couldn’t tell him whether he was still employed. He tagged Musk, hoping to get an answer.

Totally normal question, right? A normal question that gets asked at normal, well-functioning companies that haven’t been sloppily gutted like a fish wriggling in Gollum’s hands.

How would a sensible CEO respond to a request like this? Off the top of my head, I’d say they would tell HR to contact the person ASAP, and then issue a brief public apology for the lapse in communication. But I’m not a super genius like Elon Musk, so what do I know?

Instead of quietly having his remaining HR staff resolve the situation, though, Musk responded by publicly asking Thorleifsson to describe what work he did for Twitter.

After Thorleifsson responded, describing his job, Musk proceeded to shit on him, using laughing face emojis and an Office Space video to insult his work. It’s hard to track down all the tweets in the thread, but don’t worry—there are copious screenshots to get you caught up.

Right away, this seemed like a supremely bad move on Musk’s part. Elon, my dude, do you really want to announce to the world that you don’t know what people do at your own company? Do you already know the answers to the questions you’re publicly asking? If not, why would you set yourself up to be humiliated by someone who is very likely smarter than you? Why would you show the entire world what a childish, petty person you are to your employees? Why not just tell the guy if he’s fired or not?

Still, Elon’s belief that he can match wits with people on the internet is unshakable, and he went on to announce—in writing, in front of millions of witnesses—that the reason Thorleifsson was fired was because he allegedly faked a disability to get out of doing work.

Accusing disabled folks of faking, exaggerating, or benefiting from their disability—and telling them to their face that their disability is the reason they’re being fired—is unfortunately par for the course within the bowels of America’s corporate dystopia. When bad managers and bosses know they can safely be ableist, they don’t hesitate to do so.

What’s astonishing, though, is that Musk thought he could get away with this kind of discrimination in public—again, in writing!—and aim it at someone with the money and resources to lawyer up and strike back.

Thorleifsson took the opportunity to explain the nature of his disability, muscular dystrophy, to Musk.

Musk finally seemed to understand what deep doodoo he’d gotten himself into and issued an apology, although he still tried to pass the blame onto other people for supposedly giving him bad information.

Seriously, it doesn’t take a legal scholar to see where this is headed, should Thorleifsson decide to take it to court. There’s libel, wrongful termination, and discrimination against a protected class, and that’s just off the top of my head.

But wait, there’s even more to this story. Yes, there’s even more! It turns out that when Thorleifsson sold his company to Twitter, the contract stipulated that Twitter was on the hook for a hefty severance package should Thorleifsson ever be fired. Some Twitter users speculated that the payout might be as much as $100 million, and although it looks like that may not be the case, Musk definitely owes Thorleifsson some money.

Thorleifsson, by the way, is reportedly beloved in his native Iceland for spearheading wheelchair ramp initiatives and paying a higher tax rate than necessary to support Iceland’s social system. It couldn’t be clearer who the hero and heel are in this fight. I’ve seen pro wrestling matches more nuanced than this mess.

What will Elon do next? Stay tuned, I guess, since this guy refuses to take a day off from a public villain.

(featured image: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

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Julia Glassman (she/they) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at