Elon Musk and Tesla have had a uniquely outsized influence on price movements for bitcoin (BTC, +2.78%) and dogecoin (DOGE, +4.84%) in recent days and weeks. Through a series of announcements, tweets and “Saturday Night Live” quips, the electric carmaker and its CEO have sent those prices on wild rides and likely helped juice the overall crypto market.

But some might wonder whether all that signaling amounts to market manipulation. Musk has a track record of recklessness here, having paid a $20 million fine to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2018 over misleading tweets about Tesla stock. But whether out of bounds or not, Musk’s adventures through crypto-land cast important light on how token markets work – and on larger questions of market influence in the social media age.


Here’s the recent tape: On the evening of May 13, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO tweeted that he was “Working with DOGE devs to improve system transaction efficiency.” The price of the dogecoin cryptocurrency immediately jumped 14% and has continued legging up. It continued weeks of dogecoin mentions by Musk, which helped the coin skyrocket – despite the fact that it was literally started as a joke and has no meaningfully differentiating technological features.

It was the latest in a head-spinning series of jokes and statements about DOGE. Musk was substantially responsible for a meteoric run-up in DOGE that started in early April. But an expected push even higher short-circuited when he called the meme-coin “a hustle” while hosting “Saturday Night Live” on May 8. That dismissive quip sent DOGE down more than 35%.

Musk and Tesla have also been assertively moving the price of bitcoin. Tesla first announced it would accept bitcoin as payment on Feb. 8, at the same time it announced it was buying $1.5 billion worth of the cryptocurrency. That announcement helped push the price of bitcoin over $50,000 for the first time ever. When the option to use bitcoin then went live on March 24, it was notably clunky – so primitive, in fact, that buyers were apparently left at risk of inputting the wrong wallet address. Its unveiling was nonetheless followed by a BTC rally to over $58,000.