In the summer of 2008, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos dug into his personal venture capital fund to find some money to invest in a fledgling social media company. The firm’s platform had been online for two years by then, but had staked its future on an ambitious goal to transform itself into “a global communication utility.” A new round of private funding was needed to take that next big step and Bezos was the kind of player who could help them level up. At that point, the company already had over 200,000 active users joining each week, but despite the company touting Bezos as “more than an investor and advisor,” he wasn’t actually one of them. He’d made an account but hadn’t used it. His profile would remain inactive for over seven years before he would finally give into temptation and send his first tweet.
Almost 15 years later, Twitter has become a very different place than it was when Bezos initially invested in (and ignored) it. For other billionaires in Bezos’s orbit, it has become a launchpad for presidential campaigns and a tool to manipulate stock prices. While Bezos joined Twitter long before Donald Trump and Elon Musk, he has only recently decided to become one of them: a Twitter user. Over the past few months, Bezos has attempted to ape Musk’s “unique” online presence, to—well… let’s charitably say “varying degrees of success.” He started a back-and-forth with Joe Biden over inflation, chatted with the creator of the cryptocurrency Dogecoin, insinuated that Tesla was secretly beholden to China, and—for reasons known only to him—made a joke about his ass.
Bezos and Musk have long had a sort of cat-and-mouse presence in each other’s lives as their ambitions have intersected over the years; that the Amazon founder has taken after the Tesla mogul in a few odd ways is hardly a surprise. While Bezos founded his spaceflight company Blue Origin two years before Elon Musk started SpaceX, Musk already had a habit of live-tweeting his rockets launching (and exploding) by 2015. In Bezos’s first tweet he followed suit, sharing a video showing the company’s successful landing using a reusable rocket.
This is largely how Bezos would use the site for the next several years. He still didn’t follow anyone, didn’t reply to anyone, didn’t retweet anyone, and his rare Twitter commentary had a bland, overly polished feel. To this day, his Twitter footprint is comparatively miniscule—around 350 tweets—and his posts have never quite gotten the engagement that other online-obsessed oligarchs have cultivated. (Elon can tweet “Happy Father’s Day” and get almost half a million likes; it’s an open question as to whether this sort of thing was the dream of Twitter’s founders.)
The odd entanglements between Bezos, Musk, and Twitter hardly end there. In 2016, long before Musk could afford to buy the company, Twitter’s stock price took a tumble, losing more than 50 percent of its value in just three months, sending its valuation down to a measly $12 billion. There was an opportunity for a billionaire sugar daddy to step in and right the ship, and Fortune named Amazon as one of the possible acquisition candidates. But in doing so, the magazine cast a skeptical eye on the possibility of a match being made, and Bezos’s relative unfamiliarity with the product, along with his seeming apathy toward ever becoming a committed user, was cited as the reason why: “Just because Bezos has the money doesn’t mean Amazon is interested in buying a social tool that he seems to have no affinity for,” they wrote.
By any definition, Bezos has never been what you might call “good” at using the platform. In 2019, after having an account for over 10 years, Jeff Bezos finally decided to follow someone on Twitter. His choice was the most awkward one he could have possibly made: his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie Scott, who had joined the site specifically to announce that their divorce had been finalized. (She never followed him back.)
Bezos’s wan efforts have yet to inspire the same fervent fanbase of diehard stans that Elon Musk has cultivated. To his flamethrower-wielding legion of loyal Redditors, Musk is a real-life Tony Stark. By contrast, the most flattering pop culture analogue the terminally online have come up with for Bezos is Dr. Evil. Whenever Bezos tries to spark the kind of conversation that might make him Twitter’s main character for a day, it typically falls flat. Again, this is being charitable: At Super Bowl LIV, Bezos tweeted an expressionless selfie with the singer Lizzo, accompanied by this prose offering: “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% @lizzo ’s biggest fan.” As you might expect, instead of communicating to Twitter’s online horde that he was a fun, normal guy who also enjoys human music, he inspired users to spend days mocking him.
According to Forbes, Bezos has called branding “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” For one of the richest men on the planet, the solution to the abundant Twitter hate he managed to so easily garner was simple: Pay people in the room to say nice things about you. By 2018, he was ready to start a new pushback campaign. At a Wired conference, Bezos criticized social media for increasing and promoting “identity politics” and “tribalism.”
That same year, Amazon launched a new ambassadors program among its workforce to combat “false assertions in social media and online forums.” The paid Twitter ambassadors, under the codename “Veritas,” would “set the record straight” and leave “no lie unchallenged.” According to internal documents obtained by Ken Klippenstein at The Intercept, Amazon gave these ambassadors specific instructions on how to defend Bezos against pressure for better pay and working conditions. “Everyone should be able to enjoy the money they’ve earned/saved. It’s theirs. They should be able to do with it as they please. That includes Jeff Bezos,” one training response reads. These online amanuenses would be chosen partly for their “great sense of humor,” a quality that Bezos’s tweets had critically lacked.
While the program prohibited ambassadors from tweeting about unionization, it is clear that the cherry-picked workers sharing “their own experiences” was just a drab part of the company’s larger union-busting strategy. “Did you know that Amazon pays warehouse workers 30 percent more than other retailers? I feel proud to work for Amazon – they’ve taken good care of me. Much better than some of my previous employers,” read one example. Some of the ambassadors tweeted about unions anyway, often using identical, copy-pasted arguments such as: “If the decision should be up to the workers I can honestly say as an Amazon employee I do not want a union.”
The Twitter ambassador program continued running for the next couple years. Then in 2021, the union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama started gaining national attention. The company created a hamfisted #DoItWithoutDues campaign on social media and the ambassadors resumed tweeting a fresh barrage of now-explicit anti-union sentiments. At the same time, Bezos had reportedly mandated the company to respond more openly and forcefully to Twitter criticism.
This led to a series of bizarre tweets from the company’s verified “News” account. “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us,” read one. This led to a multiday pile-on in which the company was forced to admit that many of its workers do, in fact, pee in bottles. According to The Financial Times, senior executives “were unhappy with the [ambassador] scheme’s poor reach.” Amazon quietly scrubbed all of the tweets and accounts. Still, the Bessemer vote ultimately failed, as Amazon’s union-busting efforts created an “atmosphere of confusion, coercion and fear of reprisals.”
This year, when Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island voted to unionize, Bezos was left without his army of Twitter trolls to do P.R. on his behalf. He was forced to roll up his sleeves and put in the work himself. His tweet on April 6—the first after the union win—is indistinguishable from those previously written by Amazon ambassadors. “We must be better every day, and we know there is even more to do, but super proud of Amazon being ranked the #1 place where people want to work by LinkedIn.” That’s some hot content right there.
Still, after a long period of loose semi-interest in the platform, Bezos has in recent months actually made an attempt to use Twitter. He has, for example, finally followed people who aren’t his ex-wife, including various tech CEOs, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald, and The Rock. Fully 95 percent of his liked tweets—all but two—have been since the successful union vote less than three months ago. Bezos may have lost some influence over his workers, but he apparently now harbors the notion that he could still be an influencer.
Bezos’s timing sure is interesting. During the previous presidential term, there were countless instances of Trump trying to bait Bezos into responding to his criticism on Twitter. There were constant tweets attacking Amazon, The Washington Post, and “Jeff Bozo.” But their Twitter feud was mostly one-sided and Bezos demonstrated an all too rare quality among the Twitter-pilled: restraint. Over a decade after investing in the site, those days are over, and it sure looks as if the origin story of this new and antagonistic online version of himself emerged because President Joe Biden took things a step beyond Trump’s petty insults by actually appointing aggressive pro-labor leadership to the National Labor Relations Board, which has in turn forced Amazon to allow organizing and follow labor law. And so, a bitter battle has been enjoined.
How has this new Bezos, Joker-fied into existence because of his workers’ desire for dignity, fared on Twitter now that he’s decided to throw the same sharp elbows as his billionaire peers? Well, in May Joe Biden made an innocuous statement on Twitter saying that it was time for the wealthiest corporations to “pay their fair share.” The tweet didn’t name Amazon or Bezos, but he felt compelled to respond all the same. “The newly created Disinformation Board should review this tweet, or maybe they need to form a new Non Sequitur Board instead,” he wrote. Poor guy: He can deliver over 5 billion packages a year, but he still can’t deliver one joke.