Mark Zuckerberg vs. Elon Musk: a tale of the tech tape

In what is perhaps the definition of a literal grudge match, Twitter owner Elon Musk and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have indicated their interest in fighting each other. The feud emerged when Musk, 51, tweeted his enthusiasm for a Las Vegas-held, MMA-style cage match between himself and Zuckerberg, 39. The latter replied to Musk’s challenge in a seemingly positive manner, writing on the Facebook-owned Instagram, “Send me location.”

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The internet reacted appropriately to the news, given that the seemingly childish feud is between “two computer geeks worth more than $300 billion put together,” The Atlantic reported. Many people online also noted that the fight would likely be one-sided given Zuckerberg’s knowledge of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Whether the pair will actually get in the ring remains to be seen.

Optics aside, the rivalry between the two actually has a lot to do with the tech battle between Twitter and Facebook’s parent company, Meta. It’s not a new conflict, either — the fight challenge marks “the latest jab in a nearly seven-year feud between the two CEOs,” Insider reported. 

Why are they feuding?

The cage match challenge was mainly prompted by “the competition of two similar businesses, which ramped up after Musk entered the social media arena last year,” Vox reported. Musk was reportedly angered by Zuckerberg’s announcement in 2023 that Meta was developing a direct Twitter competitor codenamed Project 92. Meta executives told Platformer that the platform would be “a standalone decentralized social network for sharing text updates.” Meta also appeared to take a jab at Musk’s haphazard running of Twitter, with one executive saying the platform would be “sanely run,” per The Wall Street Journal. 

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Following the news of Project 92, Musk began taking shots at Zuckerberg online, the Journal noted. Zuckerberg has been firing back with quips of his own, and some experts say this may be a way for him to try and save face. The Meta head has “really ramped it up over the past year,” one insider told The Washington Post, noting that he is now “courting the same ‘tech bros’ who have been captivated by Musk — who is suddenly Zuckerberg’s competition in more ways than one.”

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As Musk continues to make headlines with his controversial views on social media, Zuckerberg “is also getting a feeling that he is not respected,” Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, told the Post. The cage match is “a way for him to show that, ‘Look, he is edgy. He can be a tech bro just like the next guy,'” Chakravorti added. 

The rivalry goes back even further

While the cage match puts the pair in the spotlight, the feud between Musk and Zuckerberg is not a new one. The animosity between the two seems to date back to 2016, when one of Musk’s SpaceX rockets exploded while carrying a contracted Facebook satellite. After the incident, Zuckerberg wrote that he was “deeply disappointed” in the explosion, notably calling Musk’s launch a “failure.”

Since then, Insider noted that the pair “have been griping about each other behind closed doors for years,” though they have also expressed their anger publicly. Just a year after the SpaceX explosion, the pair got into another anger match, this time over the use of artificial intelligence. During a Facebook live session, the Journal noted, Zuckerberg said of AI, “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.” Musk, who the Journal noted has previously warned of AI’s dangers, tweeted that Zuckerberg’s “understanding of the subject is limited.”

The pair’s confrontation came to a head following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a British firm collected data from Facebook users to use in the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Following the revelations, Musk deleted SpaceX and Tesla’s Facebook pages. He tweeted in 2022 that Facebook “gives me the willies.” 

Musk has also gotten confrontational with others on social media, and this isn’t the first time he’s asked someone to fight. In 2022, after the war in Ukraine broke out, Musk challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to “single combat.” This fight never occurred, and it seems unlikely that the Zuckerberg match will happen either, especially since Musk’s mother tweeted that she “canceled the fight.”

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