Something was going down outside Twitter headquarters on Monday afternoon.
Less than a day after owner Elon Musk changed the company’s logo from a decade-old internationally recognized symbol with sky-high brand awareness value to the letter ‘X,’ workers had moved in to start dismantling the building’s giant Twitter sign.
The only problem was that Musk hadn’t secured the correct permits for the crane now blocking the street, according to a witness at the scene. Officers with the San Francisco Police Department quickly arrived and started “shutting it down,” he tweeted. The half-finished removal operation left only the sign reading just “er.”
A spokesperson for the SFPD told The Daily Beast in a statement that nearby officers had responded to “a report of a possible unpermitted street closure. Through their investigation officers were able to determine that no crime was committed, and this incident was not a police matter.”
It was just the latest beat in the comedy of errors that has been Musk’s attempted overhaul of the social media platform he scooped up for $44 billion last year. The gambit, which officially began on Sunday with the removal of the blue bird logo from the site, immediately obliterated anywhere between $4 billion and $20 billion in value, Bloomberg News reported.
But—even worse for Musk—it has also already been judged a deeply humiliating self-own.
“Devoid of colour, bland, generic… BORING!” one user tweeted. “This is branding suicide.”
Other users were quick to compare the new logo design to that of a porn site, “a bad Call of Duty gamebattles team from 2008,” or “an app for a membership only human trafficking gentlemen’s club headquartered in Budapest.”
“It’s nothing but a cheap, meaningless play to get his name in the press,” comedian Adam Conover observed.
Another user, apparently making fun of the meaninglessness of the letter, posted a photoshopped image of a Musk tweet and captioned it, “Cool website you fucking idiot.”
After Musk tweeted about wanting “a good enough X logo” early Sunday, his followers flocked to offer their suggestions. An acolyte named Sawyer Merritt posted several designs in his replies, with Musk selecting what he called a “minimalist art deco” icon. “Probably changes later, certainly will be refined,” the billionaire added.
The crowdsourced logo closely resembles a generic Unicode character, an international symbol that would be impossible to trademark, according to Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins.
Making matters even more chaotic, both Meta and Microsoft own the trademarks for similar versions of the X symbol, portents of potentially long and bloody legal scraps to come. The revamp may be just as much of a legal headache overseas, with Japanese users chiming in to note that the rights to the term “X Japan” are owned by a popular J-rock group.
“I’m not a [copyright] lawyer but I think he should have figured out if he owned the name before changing it,” journalist and former Daily Beast contributor Molly Jong-Fast tweeted.
Nevertheless, a towering version of the symbol was proudly projected on the side of Twitter headquarters late Sunday.
Inside the building, according to a New York Times report on Monday, the removal of various “bird-related paraphernalia” was soon underway. Projections of the X logo were blasted into the cafeteria, while conference rooms were renamed things like “eXposure” and “s3Xy,” an old Musk favorite.
But, try as Musk might, Twitter persisted in other ways. The “Tweet” button and search bar prompting users to “Search Twitter” remained on the site’s homepage. The URL Twitter.com still reliably directed users to the site, while the domain X.com redirected some users, including former company owner Jack Dorsey, to an empty GoDaddy portal.
“Twitter was acquired by X Corp both to ensure freedom of speech and as an accelerant for X, the everything app," Musk tweeted Monday night. “This is not simply a company renaming itself, but doing the same thing. The Twitter name made sense when it was just 140 character messages going back and forth – like birds tweeting – but now you can post almost anything, including several hours of video.”
He added users should expect additions including “comprehensive communications and the ability to conduct your entire financial world.” on the platform in the months ahead. "The Twitter name does not make sense in that context, so we must bid adieu to the bird,” Musk said.
The mayhem will be familiar to anyone keeping even a casual eye on Musk’s messy takeover of Twitter. After assuming control in October, he fired or pushed out the majority of Twitter’s staff through multiple rounds of layoffs; the site then suffered from bugs and intermittent crashes. Musk demanded that the company’s remaining staffers adhere to a “hardcore” work culture. Office perks were pared back. Workers even complained about the lack of toilet paper at headquarters.
Meanwhile, to the delight of many right-wing users, Musk upended Twitter’s approach to content moderation, arguing that his predecessors had improperly clamped down on free speech. In some cases, however, he appeared to make exceptions when it suited his interests. He booted an account that tracked the movements of his private jet, and multiple journalists who had criticized him were suspended.
But ‘X,’ as a concept, has had a special place in Musk’s heart for nearly three decades. His infatuation appears to have started with his work as cofounder of the online bank X.com, which launched at the height of the dot-com bubble in 1999. Soon after its founding, the business merged with a rival called Confinity—whose founding team included Peter Thiel—and rebranded as PayPal.
That year, Musk attempted to convince the company that working the letter in (for “X-PayPal,” with an eye toward eventually phasing out the suffix entirely) was a fantastic business idea.
According to author and Bloomberg News reporter Max Chafkin, however, the company’s marketing team conducted a series of focus groups “showing that customers disliked the brand name, because it reminded them of porn.” But Musk was “unmoved.”
The next year, he was ousted from PayPal. In 2017, he bought back the domain from his former company. “No plans right now, but it has great sentimental value to me,” he tweeted at the time.
After PayPal, Musk proceeded to sprinkle X over many of the projects he’d had a hand in—among them SpaceX, Tesla Model X, xAI, and X Æ A-Xii, his son with ex-partner Grimes.
“Short version is this X rebrand is the tech bro version of drunk-DMing your university girlfriend on Facebook to tell her you still think she’s hot,” a Twitter user observed on Monday.