This summer, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk blew the internet’s mind by claiming they would fight each other in a “cage match”-style brawl. The rival tech execs were feuding over their platforms’ competition in the microblogging space and their proposed solution to this rivalry was to beat the crap out of each other in front of a live audience. Zuck had been training UFC-style, making him a tad more threatening than his previous iteration as a hoodied Harvard loser. Musk, on the other hand, said he would shed some pounds and get a trainer. The fight promised to be one of the most memorable events in web history.
Of course, this much-anticipated event never materialized. Musk allegedly kept dodging Zuck on plans for the fight, which led Zuck to call the whole thing off. As a result, we may never know which middle-aged billionaire is better at hand-to-hand combat. That said, if you were to size them up by the year they’ve had, it would be hard to argue that there hasn’t been a clear victor. Indeed, between the two of them, Zuck is the undisputed champ of 2023.
The reasons for this should be obvious. Musk had a terrible year. Most notably, the billionaire embarked on a buffoonish adventure to remake Twitter, his ill-advised acquisition. This effort, which involved renaming the platform “X” and attempting to transform it into a so-called “everything app,” floundered from the get-go. Musk continually claimed that X would be really, really awesome just as soon as the necessary changes were made. Of course, a whole lot of changes later, things are still very un-awesome. The platform, which seems near death, has caused Musk nothing but grief over the last 12 months.
At the same time, Musk has also been struggling on other fronts. In addition to suffering an increasing amount of flak and reputation decline for his, shall we say, free-spirited opinions, Musk’s car company, Tesla, is under attack by a cadre of pissed-off Swedish labor unions. It appears the world’s richest man just can’t catch a break.
By comparison, Zuck has managed to stay relatively scandal-free throughout 2023 while also eking out some victories that nobody really thought were possible. Case in point, a report published Monday showed that Meta’s stock is on track to have its best year ever. CNBC reports that the company’s stock rose a whopping 178% over the past 12 months. That means it’s having a better year than 2013 when its stock rose 105% following its IPO. Of course, it bears consideration that Zuck managed to gain that level of corporate buoyancy by firing a whole lot of people. Indeed, in a year full of Silicon Valley layoffs, Meta’s cost-cutting strategy stood out as particularly bloodthirsty.
At any rate, Zuck’s main accomplishment has been to pull Meta out of its previous death spiral. Lest you’ve forgotten, the company spent most of 2022 hemorrhaging money and becoming an ever bigger laughingstock because, in response to a series of public scandals (the Facebook Papers, anyone?), Zuck insisted on pivoting his company away from its traditional business and towards a quixotic effort to build “the metaverse.” The Meta CEO was a steadfast believer in the idea that his company could singlehandedly help create an expanded market for virtual reality services, thus ushering in the next epoch of the internet. Instead, his strategy mostly led the company to lose gargantuan amounts of money, credibility, and stock value.
This year has provided Meta an opportunity to pivot once again, save some face, and look really good in comparison to competitor Musk’s flailing dumpster fire of a year. Meta’s launch of Threads was, if not exactly a blockbuster success, at least a modest one in comparison to X.
While Zuck is the clear winner of 2023, what next year holds for both tech oligarchs is anybody’s guess. Zuck is apparently planning for the future by building a doomsday bunker, and Musk seems to have designs on his own university and, potentially, a Moon base. As Zuck’s own reversal of fortune proves, the future is unwritten and no one knows what the new year will bring.