Twitter is one of the internet’s favorite places for internet beef and Elon Musk is no stranger to it. A particular beef involving a college student tracking his private jet was the catalyst for the billionaire purchasing shares of Twitter, commencing his takeover of the social media platform, according to a new book about the ordeal.
“Musk had also unsuccessfully petitioned Agrawal [CEO of Twitter at the time] to remove a Twitter account that was tracking his private plane,” says an excerpt from Battle for the Bird, a new book on Musk’s takeover, published by Bloomberg on Thursday. “The billionaire started buying Twitter shares shortly after Agrawal denied his request.”
The new book is a detailed investigation into the power struggle at Twitter, now called X, in the last few years. The book seems to confirm that Musk’s personal gripes played a key role in his $44 billion acquisition of the social media platform.
Musk touts “free speech” as the main reason he bought Twitter, but the billionaire was actively trying to silence a college student he had a feud with before he was CEO. A Twitter account tracking Elon Musk’s private jet, @elonjet, was front of mind for the billionaire in Jan. 2022 when Musk started buying stock in the company, according to a tweet from the book’s author Kurt Wagner.
Nearly a year later, Musk’s acquisition was complete and he ended up banning @elonjet. The person behind the account, Jack Sweeney, is a college student who’s now famous for tracking the private jets of Musk and Taylor Swift. Sweeney simply amplifies publicly available flight information, but celebrities hate him.
Musk promised to not ban Sweeney’s account a month before he did, crediting “his commitment to free speech,” even though the account posed “a direct personal safety risk.” Sweeney now operates @elonjet on Threads.
The billionaire’s feud with Sweeney is a case study of Musk’s motivating factors. Yes, free speech is important to him, but not as important as getting his way. Buying Twitter made Musk king of the sandbox, and he’s certainly exercised that control in the year since.
Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has always been confusing. It’s widely been seen as a misstep for the billionaire, distracting him from other projects at Tesla, SpaceX, and xAI. Musk was heavily focused on promoting right-wing speech when he bought Twitter, which was lacking under Jack Dorsey’s management, but also on settling his internet beef.