Musk apologizes for publicly mocking Twitter worker with disability

In what could be called a sort of March Madness, Elon Musk, Twitter’s boss, decided it was a good idea to publicly mock a company employee with a disability, in a series of tweets. After getting severely burned, the billionaire apologized.

Haraldur Thorleifsson’s story is not even unusual. Like thousands of other now former Twitter employees since late 2022, this Icelander suddenly found himself locked out of the platform’s systems 10 days ago.

For Twitter workers, this has typically meant they had been laid off. Musk has fired thousands of employees since buying the social media company last October – he let another 200 people go at the end of February.

Thorleifsson, naturally, thought he had been fired, too. But, apparently a rules-driven person, he decided to tweet directly at Musk to make sure exactly what had happened.

“Your head of HR is not able to confirm if I am an employee or not. You've not answered my emails. Maybe if enough people retweet you'll answer me here?” Thorleifsson asked Musk.

The billionaire responded with his own question, asking, “what work have you been doing?” In the ensuing back-and-forth conversation, Musk kept asking Thorleifsson questions and adding remarks such as “pics or it didn’t happen” until he finally publicized his conclusion.

“The reality is that this guy (who is independently wealthy) did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm. Can’t say I have a lot of respect for that,” Musk tweeted.

The problem is that it wasn’t true. Thorleiffson himself explained in a lengthy Twitter thread that he had muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease that he said put him in a wheelchair more than 20 years ago. He really cannot type for extended periods of time.

Thorleifsson sold his creative agency Ueno to Twitter in 2021, when Jack Dorsey was still leading the company. The Icelander then joined Twitter himself. He was working on leading prioritization of design projects across the firm.

“Oh! I forgot to mention that I read you can't go to the toilet on your own either, @elonmusk. I'm sorry to hear about that. I know the feeling. The only difference is I can't do it because of a physical disability and you're afraid someone you hurt will attack you while you poop,” Thorleifsson tweeted later, adding that Twitter’s human resources department had finally confirmed he was no longer employed at the company.

However, Musk, already known for bashing former employees at Twitter, especially the ones who dare criticize him publicly, then decided to change tack. He even apologized to Thorleifsson.

““I would like to apologize to Halli for my misunderstanding of his situation. It was based on things I was told that were untrue or, in some cases, true, but not meaningful. He is considering remaining at Twitter,” Musk tweeted on Tuesday.

It’s not clear if Thorleifsson is staying, though – Musk said he “did a video call with Halli to figure out what’s real vs what I was told” but the Icelander has yet to communicate what he is going to do now – except that he’s now going to open a restaurant in Reykjavik.

“Let me know if you are going to pay what you owe me?” he wrote to Musk earlier, though. “I think you can afford it?”

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Musk has a net worth of about $174 billion. He bought Twitter for $44 billion last year and has slashed staff from about 7,500 workers to less than 2,000.