Senator Edward Markey and Musk exchange barbs on impersonation scandal


A powerful senator on Sunday threatened to crack down on Elon Musk’s companies after the billionaire took a cheeky swipe at him on Twitter, showing how Democrats might engage with the billionaire now that they have retained control of the congressional chamber.

“One of your companies is under [a Federal Trade Commission] consent decree,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) tweeted at Musk, referring to the mogul’s new acquisition. “Auto safety watchdog NHTSA is investigating another for killing people. And you’re spending your time picking fights online. Fix your companies. Or Congress will.”

Markey was responding to Musk’s tweet at the lawmaker that the senator’s account “sounds like a parody.”

The spat began after a Washington Post columnist wrote Friday that he had impersonated Markey, with his permission, to show how easy it is to get a blue check mark under Twitter’s new verification system. “In a few minutes, I got a blue check mark on an impersonation of the lawmaker,” Geoffrey A. Fowler wrote.

Markey then wrote a letter to Musk criticizing the new policy.

“Safeguards such as Twitter’s blue checkmark once allowed users to be smart, critical consumers of news and information in Twitter’s global town square,” he said. “But your Twitter takeover, rapid and haphazard imposition of platform changes, removal of safeguards against disinformation, and firing of large numbers of Twitter employees have accelerated Twitter’s descent into the Wild West of social media.”

Markey said he would like a response explaining the process by Nov. 25.

On Twitter, he wrote, “I’m asking for answers from Elon Musk, who is putting profits over people and his debt over stopping disinformation.”

In response to the impersonation issue, Musk wrote, “Perhaps it is because your real account sounds like a parody?”

The fake Markey account has since been taken down.

A Twitter spokesperson and a Markey spokeswoman did not reply to a request for comment.

Markey’s response lends new prominence on Capitol Hill to the issue of Musk’s Twitter ownership. A number of congressional committees could decide to investigate Musk and ask him to testify, as they have with other tech executives. Among those is the Senate Commerce committee, which Markey sits on.

Markey in the past has also called for greater scrutiny of Tesla, including when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said earlier this year Tesla vehicles were in roughly 70 percent of the crashes involving advanced driver-assistance systems in a recent period.

The Twitter disagreement comes just days after Musk called on independent voters to support Republicans in the midterm elections, a request that did not appear to have moved the needle, as Republicans underperformed in many races.

“To independent-minded voters: Shared power curbs the worst excesses of both parties, therefore I recommend voting for a Republican Congress, given that the presidency is Democratic,” he wrote.

The news is the latest controversy to erupt since Musk took over Twitter last month, which bought a slew of firings and resignations. Legal experts have also raised questions over whether Musk has violated the FTC’s consent decree with his actions.

And Musk is set to go to court for a lawsuit over his 2018 Tesla pay package, which at the time was valued as high as $56 billion.

Tony Romm contributed to this report.