Many smartphone users often group their apps for ease of navigation. For those who have a social media group of apps on their phones, the most prominent theme would likely always be the color blue, with apps such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Telegram, etc. all employing different shades of blue. The only oddities of black would likely be TikTok and Clubhouse’s frequently changing dark-hued images. That's all in the past now. Ever since Elon Musk came into the social media ownership picture in October 2022, everyone kind of knew that there would be disruptions beyond our imagination. Well, to start with, we don’t even have a "Twitter" anymore, and the two most popular micro-blogging platforms on the planet both have prominently black icons.

How did we get here? Some of these changes might have been brewing since Mark Zuckerberg transformed Facebook Inc. into Meta, but there’s definitely no bigger factor that set the dominoes falling than Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. Nothing about the takeover was conventional, as it felt as though Musk couldn't wait to get his hands on the app before starting to take it apart and shape it to his liking. Yet, when Musk appointed himself CEO and brought in his own team to clean up the house, none of it was likely to have surprised anyone—or made anyone who wasn't directly affected uncomfortable. But for those who care to observe proceedings closely enough, they’d likely notice similarities between this takeover and Mark Zuckerberg’s takeover of WhatsApp and Instagram.

In both Zuckerberg takeovers, the former owners were soon let go, and radical changes were implemented. Yes, Musk’s personality has always been disruptive, so his approach to Twitter most likely had nothing to do with Zuckerberg, but Zuckerberg must have felt like these disruptions were a leaf out of his book. There was a new player on Zuckerberg’s turf, and he definitely wasn't rolling over and playing nice. The most significant difference between both billionaires was how much noise followed Musk in his actions, from announcing that he was buying Twitter, to reaching an agreement with the company, making accusations that forced them to sue, and going ahead to countersue, all before finally sealing the purchase agreement. Aside from the noise though, the prints weren’t all that different.

However much the mirror effect of seeing much of himself in Musk’s approach troubled Zuckerberg, what was likely to have troubled him most was the similarities being a reminder of his attempted takeover and eventual maneuver of Snapchat and TikTok—but I’ll come to that shortly.

Of course, billionaires going toe to toe for dominion over an industry is nothing new. Not many will forget the decades of competition between Bill Gates of Microsoft and the late Steve Jobs of Apple in a hurry. It did not only blow the fortunes of both men out of proportion, but it also quickened the pace of modern technology and introduced us to most of the advancements we know today. But then, perhaps not many envisaged this level of rivalry when Musk decided to venture from his successes in space travel, electric automobiles, etc. to dabble in social media. In fact, many would say that most of the changes he’s made since taking over the company reflect a level of self-absorption that did very little to acknowledge or even show an awareness of the competition—a rich kid gets an expensive toy and spends all his time fiddling with it; nothing else matters!

Aside from massive layoffs totaling about half of Twitter’s payroll—including key executives like Parag Agrawal and Vijaya Gadde—one of Musk’s other immediate disruptions was the introduction of the Twitter Blue subscription, which required users to purchase the blue verification tick. This opened the floodgates for spam accounts to purchase verification and impersonate public figures, including Musk himself. There was thus a rollback before Twitter announced a new multicolored verification system with different color codes for companies, government officials, and individuals. A few months later, many legacy verification users lost their blue tick under the requirement that verification was now for sale.

As the months rolled by, users were soon able to see the number of viewers on tweets. Twitter Blue users could upload 120-minute videos and post tweets of up to 25,000 characters. Non-paying users were shut out of these; however, perhaps the most provocative change for them was a short-lived limitation introduced in June that meant they could only view a meager 600 tweets per day—300 tweets for newly registered and unverified accounts. This has since been increased to 1,000 tweets per day for non-Twitter Blue users and 500 for newly registered and unverified accounts, but not before Mark Zuckerberg reminded everyone that this was indeed his turf as he launched his Threads app.

The new app felt to many like a redesigned clone of Twitter, and it seemed to have timed its introduction to perfection as it came at a time when many users were growing frustrated at Twitter’s erratic temperament under Musk’s ownership. The shock must have been the rudest for Musk because the Threads app wasn’t even 24 hours old when Twitter threatened to sue Meta, its mother company, claiming that Meta had poached its former employees to create the new app.

Now that we’ve met the Threads app, let’s go back to Mark Zuckerberg’s history with Snapchat and TikTok. In 2013, Zuckerberg reportedly tried to buy a then-two-year-old Snapchat in a bid to boost Facebook’s appeal with younger users. After he and his $3 billion offer were rebuffed, he launched an offensive on Snapchat by introducing Snapchat-like story features on all his social apps—Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp. In like fashion, in 2016, Zuckerberg reportedly spent six months trying to buy, the Chinese app that later merged with another to become TikTok. When this attempt failed, not only did Zuckerberg launch an active campaign against the app, highlighting its "Chinese censorship" and labeling it a "threat to democracy," but he also eventually introduced Reels, an obvious TikTok copy, on both Facebook and Instagram.

Interestingly, Zuckerberg’s shark instincts had never really troubled Twitter through the years, despite the latter’s impressive numbers, but it is not far off to think Musk’s acquisition and unpredictable running of the app must have had Zuckerberg thinking. This is a new player who is not only more than twice as rich as he is but who perhaps is even more bullish and daring, especially if one looks closely at Musk’s antecedents. With Musk seeming to fiddle with his new expensive toy with little attention or acknowledgment of his competition, Zuckerberg perfected his plans and launched with a bang! Yes, the Threads app was another Zuckerberg copy, but perhaps the genius stroke in this particular execution was the tying of the Threads accounts to existing Instagram accounts, resulting in 150 million users in the first two weeks alone. A great feat if you consider that Twitter has a relatively not-too-distant figure of 396.5 million monthly users.

Many say Zuckerberg had to move fast because Musk was "apparently" planning to own the social media space. Perhaps this is true because the initial shock has obviously worn off and Musk has made moves of his own. Instead of Twitter, we now have X. After becoming a private company following Musk’s acquisition, one of the earliest proofs of Twitter, Inc. being merged into Musk’s X Corp—thereby ceasing to exist as Twitter, Inc.—was spotted a long time before the Threads app in an April 4, 2023, document related to a lawsuit brought against Twitter and Facebook by far-right activist Laura Loomer. Well, with the name change now official, the blue bird logo has been retired for a simplistic X design. The X is now in all our faces, and its predominant black color is perhaps the most aesthetic retaliatory undertone.

Zuckerberg chose an unusual color for his Threads app: black. Perhaps he was just experimenting. But Twitter morphing into a new name and identity that has the same bold black color as Threads doesn’t quite seem like a coincidence. What more? The Threads logo is basically a variation of the @ key, which is simply the lowercase letter A encircled in an extension of its own arm. The X logo is simply the letter X. But beyond mere aesthetics, one of the interesting changes announced by Twitter before the name change was a plan to share ad revenue with content creators, something that has been active on Facebook and Instagram, through Reels, for a while. Perhaps Zuckerberg had a genuine reason to strike after all, because this revenue sharing is now active on X—for creators who meet certain criteria—and this has greatly driven up content creation and engagement for Elon Musk’s platform.

It's interesting to know that the heightened tension between these two billionaires did not start today. The feud dates as far back as 2016, when Zuckerberg's $200 million satellite went up in flames during a pre-launch test on one of Musk's SpaceX rockets, an incidence for which Zuckerberg blamed Musk’s company. That’s not all. In 2018, Musk tweeted, "What’s Facebook?" in response to a #deletefacebook post on Twitter, after which he deleted the Facebook accounts of his companies, SpaceX and Tesla. These accounts have never been reinstated.

Things got heated when Musk tweeted a sub at Zuckerberg after hearing about the Threads app, and a Twitter user jokingly warned that he be careful because Zuckerberg knew jiu-jitsu. Musk’s response to this was that he was up for a "cage match," and Zuckerberg soon posted a screenshot of this response, captioning it, "Send me a location." In an interesting turn of events, Musk responded with the words "Vegas Octagon," a venue owned by the UFC. At this point, many still thought the exchange to be a drawn-out joke, but UFC president Dana White has since claimed that after taking time to speak to both men, he can confirm that they’re both "dead serious." With several martial arts training pictures of both men surfacing online since then, perhaps there is a fight on the horizon after all.

With all that being said, however, one thing is for sure: Be it in a cage or at the helm of affairs at their respective companies, we are in the age of a rivalry much fiercer than Gates vs. Jobs. The die is cast! Better buckle up, guys!