Elon Musk's absurd Twitter rebrand: Has the far right finally broken his brain?

Musk ditches a once-beloved brand for a dopey new edge-lord logo. But an alliance with the far right won't save him

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published July 26, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

An effigy of Elon Musk is seen on a mobile device with the X and Twitter lgoso in the background (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
An effigy of Elon Musk is seen on a mobile device with the X and Twitter lgoso in the background (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

When contrasting the state of Twitter before and after its purchase last year by Elon Musk, it is customary to include some throat-clearing about how pre-Musk Twitter was in no way an idyllic platform. It's become nearly unusable since then, to be sure, but even before the Musk takeover, the site was awash in trolling, dogpiling and other unpleasant behaviors. Still, one aspect of Twitter, while rarely remarked upon, was near perfection: Its graphic design. The famous bird logo wasn't more than a case study in elegant simplicity, although it certainly was that. It had an inviting quality, creating a sense of playfulness, which the user experience all too often failed to live up to. It was almost irresistible to click that thing. The sweet shape and happy color scheme instilled the recurring hope that this might be one of those social media days that leave you flying upward, carefree and light.

No wonder Musk, a person who seems increasingly motivated by his ugliest impulses, had to destroy it. Over the past week, the colors of the site shifted from blue to black. Although you can still find it at, the platform is officially no longer called "Twitter" but "X," a name approximately no one other than Elon Musk seems to be using so far. And the darling bluebird of happiness has been replaced by a logo that looks like it belongs on a stormtrooper's helmet in a bad science-fiction dystopia. (Or, as writer Jeff Sharlet has suggested on the site in question, perhaps on the awning of a "gentleman's club" in a downscale warehouse district.)

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Musk, who is 52 years old, seems to draw his design inspiration mainly from the brain of a teenage virgin who views Joaquin Phoenix's version of the Joker as a role model. When announcing the changes, Musk tweeted (or "X'd," as he would apparently now prefer), "Paint It Black." Which is, indeed, a badass Rolling Stones song, but with famously bleak lyrics about depression, not generally the vibe you want for a social media site. As Ryan Mac and Tiffany Hsu of the New York Times report, "Inside Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco on Monday, X logos were projected in the cafeteria, while conference rooms were renamed to words with X in them, including 'eXposure,' 'eXult' and 's3Xy.'" As writer Julian Sanchez responded, "Everything makes more sense if you just imagine a not terribly bright 13-year-old boy got handed $236 billion somehow."

Indeed, this vibe probably alienates most people over age 14, with one major exception: Right-wing men. As anyone who has perused the fashion stylings of the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers can attest, the far right embraces a try-hard aesthetic of masculine preening that's so over the top it often drifts unwittingly into camp. Part of it is the evident arrested development of so many of these allegedly grown men. Another element is the tendency on the far right to embrace a supervillain identity, even going so far as to dress like cartoonish bad guys. To quote myself from earlier this year, "Far from being people who are unaware they're the baddies, the MAGA movement is about glorying in their own self-image as political scoundrels."

Musk himself frequently tries to pull off tough-guy posturing, generally embarrassing himself in the process, as in neglecting to remove the empty cans of caffeine-free Diet Cokes from his "look at my gun" picture. 

Reskinning Twitter in a Darth Vader look really isn't surprising, considering how much Musk has focused on catering to the alt-right in his management of the company. He reinstated accounts of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, while banning legitimate journalists and a guy who called him "bologna face." Musk has become well-versed in MAGA buzzwords like "woke mind virus" and frequently makes lame far-right jokes such as, "My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci." As Charlie Warzel of the Atlantic points out, Musk "chooses to spend his time as a reply guy for prominent MAGA voices, such as a user who goes by the handle @catturd2 and Turning Point USA's Charlie Kirk."

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Whatever Musk's personal politics may be — he has claimed that until recently he voted for Democrats — his behavior as Twitter/X overlord suggests he seriously believes that pandering to the hard right will be the genius strategy that saves his business. He openly begged Donald Trump to come back on Twitter, which so far hasn't worked. He brought ousted Fox News host Tucker Carlson onto the platform to run a bizarre talk show overtly aimed at right-wing males, as in the whitewash job on "manfluencer" and accused rapist Andrew Tate.

To be sure, as I've written about extensively, there's evidence that right-wing trolling drives social media traffic. As tech experts put it, "enragement is engagement." Trolls get people to dunk on them and argue with them, which can cause people to stay online longer. But it's always balancing act: If the troll-to-normie ratio skews too hard toward the troll realm, many other users get exhausted by all the negativity and go do something else. 

Musk doesn't seem to understand that dynamic, and his deepening bromance with right-wing figures is likely to blame. As investigative journalist David Neiwert recently told me, "One of the aspects of authoritarian personalities is that they uniformly overestimate, wildly, the amount of popular support they actually have." The American far right has a tendency to tell itself that it represents a "silent majority," ignoring the overwhelming evidence showing that a large majority of the population rejects their views. But as those kinds of conservatives cocoon into their own communities, isolated from anyone who doesn't belong to their tribe, they tend to overestimate their own numbers dramatically, and lose perspective on how unpopular they actually are.

Right-wing edgelords are simply not a big enough demographic to sustain Twitter, or whatever it's called, but it's not that hard to understand why Musk has convinced himself otherwise. He spends inordinate amounts of time online engaging with far-right trolls and echoing their ideas. Lock yourself into that bubble for long enough, and you start to believe the self-reinforcing fiction that most people think that way. 

The cold reality, however, is that the more people view Twitter as a right-wing playground, the less interested they are in hanging out there. In all probability, Musk is now accelerating the death throes of a company that was already in bad shape. Musk's move to change the name "wiped out anywhere between $4 billion and $20 billion in value, according to analysts and brand agencies," Fortune reports

My own personal doubts about social media started long before Musk bought Twitter. I had already started to dial back the amount of time I spent on the platform. But I had enough good memories of all the times I laughed or learned or shared something important on Twitter to feel a lingering desire to log on. I often found the cheery blue bird logo irresistible, my thumb unconsciously moving to click it open, hoping to be rewarded with tweets from people I liked, saying stuff that amused me or introducing me to something I didn't know about. But the new logo is just a reminder that Twitter these days is flooded with scummy and hateful people, while the best folks are fleeing. Seeing that X logo definitely doesn't inspire any Pavlovian urge to open the app. It mostly makes me feel gross and sad. Losing the compulsion to read Twitter is probably good for my mental health, but it certainly isn't great news for the company. Especially since there are millions more users like me, who just aren't feeling it anymore. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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