Just weeks before Elon Musk became the richest person in the world thanks to the rising value of Tesla shares, the eccentric billionaire reflected on the capricious nature of public markets.

“The stock market is a strange thing,” Musk said in a December interview with Business Insider. “It’s like having a manic depressive telling you how much your company is worth. And sometimes they have a good day and sometimes they have a bad day, but the company is basically the same. The public markets are insane. “

A month later, Mr. Musk slipped into one of the most confusing stock market drama in years – the multi-billion dollar GameStop battle between elite hedge funds and retail investors who communicate on Reddit.

On Tuesday, as GameStop stocks skyrocketed, Mr. Musk weighed in with a one-word tweet – “Gamestonk !!” – and a link to the Reddit forum where much of the discussion unfolded. Mr Musk’s message was seen as some sort of endorsement of one of the most powerful figures on the internet, and in the days that followed, investors were bidding the price for GameStop to new highs.

It’s a spectacle tailored specifically to Mr. Musk’s live wire online personality. He’s also a capitalist hero, a glossy magazine, and a bomb-throwing troll with 44 million followers on Twitter, who holds his role as CEO of two large companies with a bravery that most business leaders wouldn’t dream of. The richest man in the world is also kind of a hero of the anti-establishment crowd who stirs up the digital masses one tweet after another.

GameStop versus Wall Street

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    • Stocks of GameStop, the video game retailer, have risen because amateur investors starting at Reddit have bet heavily on the company’s stock.
    • The wave gained momentum when large hedge funds short-sold GameStop stock – essentially betting against the company’s success.
    • Sudden demand pushed the stock price from less than $ 20 in December to nearly $ 200 on Thursday. At least on paper.
    • It’s not just GameStop. Amateur investors have supported other companies that many large investors have shunned, such as AMC and BlackBerry.
    • This bubble around GameStop can force large investors to raise funds to cover their losses or dump stocks in other companies.

A master of self-promotion, Mr. Musk regularly publishes serious news about Tesla, its electric car company, and SpaceX, its private space company. At the same time, he’s hooked up with Kanye West, dating a pop star and naming his youngest child X AE A-Xii. And he seems to have the internet in his veins – he is fluent in meme culture, is tuned to the neuroses of the hive mind on the internet, responds quickly to almost everyone and likes to throw digital haymakers at his critics.

The unbelievable mix of high profile success and the willingness to hit the edge of the internet made him the consummate insider outsider. On Wednesday, Mr. Musk, valued at around $ 180 billion, tweeted that Discord, a free-wheeling communications app that has shut down a forum popular with GameStop retailers for using offensive language, “corpo” or “corporate ” becomes.

“He reminds me of Steve Jobs in many ways,” said Walter Isaacson, who wrote a book about Mr. Jobs, the outspoken Apple co-founder. “He has an absolute passion for his products and is very unvarnished. He doesn’t buff himself for public consumption, especially when communicating on the internet. “

The GameStop saga is a generational battle and referendum over who controls the markets, and puts an army of retail investors – including many young digital natives – against short-sellers of hedge funds who have bet GameStop stock will fall. And in this war, Mr. Musk certainly doesn’t need Wall Street.

As a self-made billionaire, Mr. Musk has a special animus for short sellers. For years, powerful investors have been betting that Tesla stock will fall. In 2018, that pressure, combined with production disruptions at Tesla and a personal life in turmoil, brought Mr Musk to the brink. He said on Twitter that he was considering taking Tesla private for $ 420 a share and railed against short sellers in an emotional interview with the New York Times.

On Thursday, when some trading platforms prevented investors from buying GameStop stock – a move that helped short sellers – Mr. Musk tweeted that “short selling is only legal for illicit reasons.” A representative for Mr. Musk declined to make him available for an interview.

In other tweets, he supported calls to make short selling illegal and sided with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after an investigation into Robinhood, one of the apps that prevented investors from buying GameStop stock.

“Here come the little apologists,” he wrote in another message. “Don’t give them any respect, Get Shorty.”

It was hardly the polished prose preferred by most executives, but Mr. Musk speaks the language of the internet.

“Twitter’s algorithms love one-word responses that generate a lot of anger or affection,” said Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University. “Elon Musk is the master of it, so to speak.”

His penchant for cumming online has got him into legal trouble. Following his tweet about Tesla’s privatization, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued him, and in a settlement, he agreed to have his tweets reviewed by communications professionals. Months later, Mr Musk again sent unsupervised tweets about material information, and the SEC ordered him to be despised in court.

In another episode, Mr. Musk was sued for $ 190 million by a speleologist Mr. Musk referred to on Twitter as the “pedo guy” after the diver who rescued Thai students trapped in a cave criticized Mr. Musk’s plan had to use a submarine as part of the rescue effort. Mr. Musk testified and it was found that he had not defamed the discoverer.

And sometimes Mr Musk has railed against the media and caused his supporters to attack his opponents. In 2018, he used Twitter to downgrade multiple outlets, including Reuters and CNBC, and directed personal attacks against a Business Insider reporter, who was then harassed by legions of Mr. Musk’s supporters.

“He revels in shocking people and saying things that are outrageous,” said David B. Yoffie, professor at Harvard Business School. “And at least to this day, he’s shown that these outrageous actions can pay off, so he’s clearly feeling encouraged.”

Mr. Musk doesn’t seem to be one of the vendors offering GameStop. He told Business Insider that Tesla is the only public company he owns and that he intends to use his wealth to colonize the cosmos.

“I think it is important for humanity to become a space-enabled civilization and a multiplanet species,” he said. “I want to be able to contribute as much as possible to the city on Mars. That just means a lot of capital. “

Mr. Musk has more capital these days. The value of Tesla stock has risen sharply in recent months. The company’s market cap appears to be disconnected from its modest financial performance in the real world, a dynamic similar to that of GameStop.

Mr Musk himself tweeted in May that Tesla shares were “too high”. And while stocks fell on those statements, they have risen steadily since then, allowing Mr. Musk to dwarf Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, as the richest man alive. (The two men now switch back and forth for this point.)

The surge in Tesla shares had another impact: Last year, short sellers who bet against Tesla lost an estimated $ 38 billion.

When the Tesla rally gained momentum in July, Mr. Musk couldn’t hold back his joy and hit his doubters and his main regulator in the same breath.

“Tesla is going to make fabulous short shorts in bright red satin with gold trim,” he tweeted, announcing a limited edition item of clothing from the electric car maker. “I’m going to send some to the Shortseller Enrichment Commission to comfort them during these troubled times.”