Elon Musk vs Bill Gates – what are they fighting about now? The billionaire Microsoft and Tesla founders’ Twitter beef over Covid-19, bitcoin, electric cars, space travel, climate change ... and more

Tesla’s Elon Musk and Microsoft’s Bill Gates have had plenty to argue about over the years. Photos: Getty, Bloomberg

Bill Gates and Elon Musk don’t exactly see eye to eye.

While the Microsoft billionaire and the Tesla and SpaceX titan have never seemed to have a particularly cosy relationship, things have heated up over the past few years as the two have openly sparred about everything from electric vehicles to the pandemic.

The two moguls are among the world’s wealthiest, with Musk in first place and Gates in fourth, behind Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault. While their public spats may not always be serious, they do appear to fundamentally disagree on how to fight disease; climate change; cryptocurrency, and the importance of space travel.

Here’s where the friction between Gates and Musk began and everything that’s happened since.

Bill Gates discusses his book How to Prevent the Next Pandemic at the 92nd Street Y on May 3, in New York. Photo: Invision/AP
Things first became tense between Gates and Musk in 2020. At the time, they were both involved in fighting the coronavirus – Gates pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the virus, while Musk was working to source and produce ventilators. Musk had also teamed up with the German biotech firm CureVac (in which Gates is an investor) to make a device to aid in vaccine production.

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SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk arrives on the red carpet for the Axel Springer media award, in Berlin, Germany, in December 2020. Photo: AP Photo

But Musk was also frequently downplaying the severity of the virus and strongly criticising stay-at-home orders. He’d promoted the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, falsely said that children are immune to the virus, and questioned coronavirus-deaths data.

Gates took issue with Musk’s behaviour regarding the virus. “Elon’s positioning is to maintain a high level of outrageous comments. I hope that he doesn’t confuse areas he’s not involved in too much,” Gates said on CNBC’s Squawk Box.

Elon Musk is an avid Twitter user, frequently commenting on various issues – and even getting into spats with other public figures – on the platform. Photo: Reuters

The comments struck a nerve with Musk, who taunted Gates on Twitter in response. He jokingly posted multiple tweets about Gates, writing, “Billy G is not my lover” and “The rumour that Bill Gates and I are lovers is completely untrue.”

During a podcast interview with The New York Times in September 2020, Musk defended his role in coronavirus relief efforts. “Gates said something about me not knowing what I was doing,” Musk said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, knucklehead, we actually make the vaccine machines for CureVac, that company you’re invested in.’”

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, speaks during a news conference after the SpaceX Falcon 9 Demo-1 launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in March 2019. Photo: AP Photo

But another major source of tension between Gates and Musk appears to be climate change – specifically, how big of an impact Tesla has in reducing emissions and helping the planet.

During a 2020 interview with the YouTuber Marques Brownlee, Gates said that while Tesla had helped to drive innovation and adoption of electric vehicles, he’d recently bought a different electric car, a Porsche Taycan. The 2022 Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo Turbo S, an electric car similar to the one Gates bought.

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Gates’ comments didn’t get by Musk, who tweeted at the time that his conversations with Gates had always been “underwhelming”.

Tesla cars sit at charging stations in Yermo, California, on May 14. Photo: AFP

Musk also took issue with a blog post Gates wrote that questioned whether it was practical to make vehicles like 18-wheelers fully electric. Though he didn’t mention Tesla, the company is developing a semi, and when a Twitter user asked Musk about his opinion of Gates’ comments, Musk replied, “he has no clue”.

Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, looks on during the IMF/World Bank spring meeting in Washington DC, in April 2018. Photo: AFP

Gates has issued Musk a few rare compliments over the years though. During a podcast interview in 2021, Gates said that what Musk has accomplished with Tesla is “one of the greatest contributions to climate change anyone’s ever made” and said that “underestimating Elon is not a good idea”.

But Gates has also touted his own climate contributions over Musk’s. “I give a lot more to climate change than Elon or anyone else,” Gates said during a June 2022 interview with French YouTuber Hugo Décrypte. “I give a lot of philanthropic dollars, I back companies – you know, electric cars are about 16 per cent of emissions, so we also need to solve that other 84 per cent.”

Musk had a one-word response to the interview on Twitter: “Sigh.”

Elon Musk, multimillionaire, rocket scientist, Tesla and Space X founder, and the man who inspired Tony Stark’s character in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, stands beside a rocket in 2004, in El Segundo, Los Angeles, California. Photo: Getty Images

And while space exploration – specifically, colonising Mars – is a main focus of Musk’s, Gates isn’t impressed. During an interview on a New York Times podcast in early 2021, Gates said that while he may be missing something, he’s “not a Mars person. I don’t think rockets are the solution.” He added that he’d rather spend his money on vaccines here on Earth than on space travel.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, speaks during the Satellite 2020 at the Washington Convention Center, in March 2020, in Washington DC. Photo: AFP
Gates has also taken issue with the mania surrounding cryptocurrencies, which Musk has helped fuel online. He noted how much energy bitcoin uses, making it not very environmentally friendly, and warned investors not to dump money into bitcoin like Tesla has. “My general thought would be that if you have less money than Elon, you should probably watch out,” he said.

Though Musk recently said he’s “moving on” from making fun of Gates, he’s done his fair share of mocking the Microsoft founder over the years. He once tweeted an anti-vaccine political cartoon about Gates, and he recently mocked Gates’ weight online.

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Musk has also publicly taken issue with Gates over what he says is Gates’ multimillion-dollar short position against Tesla. Tesla short-sellers have been a frequent target of Musk’s over the years, to the point where he’s argued that the practice should be illegal.

In a leaked text message exchange between the two billionaires, which Musk said is legitimate, Gates seems to confirm that he’s betting against Tesla, but says he’d still like to work on a climate-focused philanthropic opportunity together. “Sorry, but I cannot take your philanthropy on climate change seriously when you have a massive short position against Tesla, the company doing the most to solve climate change,” Musk replied.

Gates recently seemed to imply, during the interview with YouTuber Hugo Décrypte, that the issue is Musk’s, not his. When asked whether they’re friends, Gates replied, “I like him. I think he does great work. I don’t know him very well.”

This article originally appeared on Insider
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  • Musk and Gates are two of the richest men in the world, alongside Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault – but they don’t always see eye to eye
  • The pair have taken shots at each other on social media and YouTube interviews, over everything from vaccines and cryptocurrencies to their respective philanthropy work