- A TikToker claimed to be a Twitter engineer who was fired via an Elon Musk meme.
- The video was a joke, but many didn’t understand that. It’s been viewed more than 14 million times.
- Twitter laid off an estimated 50% of its workforce on November 4 after Musk took over.
When 28-year-old comedian Matt Shaver heard the news that Twitter might be laying off an estimated 50% of its workforce, he quickly filmed a video pretending to be an employee fired via Musk meme in a now-viral TikTok video.
In the November 4 parody, Shaver told viewers he was a Twitter engineer who’d been with the company for five years and that he’d received an email that morning from HR — firing him via meme of a laughing Musk and the text: “time to leave the nest, you’re fired.”
The video, which took the Ohioan 15 minutes to make, has since been viewed 14 million times.
What surprised him more than the video’s mega virality was the the vast majority of people seemed to mistake it as truthful.
Shaver, who said he thought the premise would be “just absurd enough” to be discernible as a joke, told Insider he was shocked by the response.
“I know society’s bad at this point, but firing someone with a meme?” Shaver said. “I think it makes a big statement about Elon Musk, and how he’s publicly perceived, that people were willing to believe this is something that he or someone under him would do.”
Twitter laid off roughly 3,700 employees on November 4, shortly after Musk took over. Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary called the mass layoff a “good case study” for MBA programs on “how not to fire people.”
Shaver estimated to Insider that about 80% of the comments came from people who mistook the satire as fact, and about 20% from users who understood the video was a joke.
Shaver told Insider he didn’t want to explicitly correct confused viewers because that would “ruin the joke,” so, instead, he filmed a part two and three — each one, by his description, growing increasingly absurd.
In part two, published on November 5, Shaver told viewers he was responsible for building a Twitter feature that doesn’t exist — something that shows you an Elon Musk tweet every time you open the app — and included another doctored meme with the text: “a little bird told me… cease and desist.” In part three, published on November 8, he told viewers he was being invited back (some Twitter employees have, in actuality, been offered their jobs back) and another fake meme, with the text: “don’t take flight, come home to roost.”
And still, he said, people seemed to believe him. In part, Shaver said, because it seemed like people weren’t watching the entire videos, while others were using what he’d jokingly said to reinforce their existing beliefs about Musk, tech, and American politics.
Shaver said among the majority who believed the video to be factual, about 25% of commenters posted kind messages; he said tech recruiters got in touch and TikTokers tagged him in videos from lawyers interested in a class action lawsuit. The rest, he said, were negative.
For Shaver, who said he wanted to find the “knife’s edge” between absurdity and reality, the confusion was actually the mark of a job well done.
This isn’t the first time a satirical TikTok has gone mega-viral and duped many. In September, a 22-year-old convinced millions that he was actually AI in a TikTok viewed 25.5 million times. In early October, a TikTok of a Photoshop-enlarged frog managed to confuse millions of viewers.
Social media isn’t conducive to consistent fact checks, and TikTok’s algorithm gives viewers even less context for the content they consume and the creators that make it than apps like Instagram and Twitter. The FYP, ruled by a mysterious algorithm, regularly shows users videos from strangers they don’t follow. Shaver said he had about 100,000 followers when he posted the video. Of the 14 million views his Musk meme video recieved, many were likely engaging with Shaver’s content for the first time. And, likely, many of them didn’t go the extra step of checking out Shaver’s profile, which is full of more recognizable comedic parodies.
For Shaver, being able to discern fact from fiction is a “shared responsibility” between tech companies and their users. Ultimately, he doesn’t believe it’s too difficult for viewers to discern what’s real if they put in a little effort.
While he doesn’t plan to explicitly correct TikTokers, he did take to Twitter to reveal the truth.
“It’s insane to me how many people thought that they were real, and how many more people wanted them to be real so they had someone to hate (me or Elon Musk),” his November 7 tweet reads in part.
Shaver was moved to issue the clarification after hearing that Musk was banning accounts that impersonated him.
“I’m not impersonating him,” he explained to Insider, “but just to be safe.”