On Monday, Twitter’s blue bird icon disappeared from the top of its website and was replaced by the head of an enigmatic-looking shiba inu dog.
But it’s no ordinary shiba inu. Rather, it portrays “doge”, a meme that has come to represent a cryptocurrency with which Elon Musk, the billionaire who bought Twitter for $44 billion in October, has had a long and complicated history.
Since his takeover, Musk has announced ambitious plans to remake Twitter. Monday’s doge news comes while the company navigates backlash over its latest significant change: reserving blue check marks for paying customers.
As doge graced Musk’s social media site on Monday afternoon, the price of dogecoin shot up more than 15%.
Here’s what we know about dogecoin and why its icon is featured on Twitter:
What is dogecoin?
Dogecoin is a cryptocurrency, specifically a “memecoin”, that was invented for laughs. It was inspired by a popular meme “doge”, which features a shiba inu in various absurd circumstances – and in various forms.
At its peak in May 2021, the coin traded close to 70 cents before falling to less than six cents. Even after Monday’s surge, the coin was trading just above nine cents. Despite its individual units being close to worthless, some investors amassed the coin in such volumes that they gained small fortunes whenever the coin saw spikes in value.
On Monday, dogecoin’s market cap hovered just above $13 billion (R232bn).
What is Elon Musk’s relationship to dogecoin?
Musk has long boosted dogecoin, at one point referring to himself as “Dogefather”. In 2021, he detailed plans to launch a satellite, “Doge-1”, to the moon, a mission he said would be funded by dogecoin.
In January 2022, Musk announced that certain Tesla merchandise could be purchased using the coin. Months later, he disclosed that Tesla owned dogecoin.
Before Musk hosted “Saturday Night Live” in May 2021, he tweeted: “The Dogefather SNL May 8.” During the appearance, Musk said during his monologue that his mother would get dogecoin for Mother’s Day. He also said during one sketch that dogecoin was a “hustle”.
Analysts predicted the television appearance would send the coin’s price surging because Musk’s pronouncements about dogecoin until then had coincided with price spikes. But the coin’s price sank in the hours after the show aired.
The coin surged in October when Musk took over Twitter.
Why is doge on Twitter?
Musk has not explained why the Twitter home button is a doge image. But in recent days, news broke that Musk and his lawyers are seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed by dogecoin investors who claim that the Musk drove up the cryptocurrency’s price and then let it crash, according to Reuters.
The lawsuit cites Musk’s “hustle” remark on SNL.
The plaintiffs are demanding $258bn in damages, as Musk’s lawyers argue the lawsuit is a “fanciful work of fiction“.
On Monday, Musk tweeted a meme referencing the icon change.
Later on Monday, he tweeted a reference to an earlier Twitter conversation in which he mused about buying the platform and changing its bird logo to doge. “As promised,” Musk tweeted with a screen shot of the chat.
How did doge become a meme and a cryptocurrency?
The doge meme began with a 2010 photo of a Japanese shiba inu named Kabosu, who was rescued from a dog shelter and whose owner was surprised when her dog’s image went viral. Other shiba inu images have appeared in doge memes, but Kabosu is arguably the most famous.
The shiba inu is sometimes overlaid with ironic interior monologues in comic sans font, as the website KnowYourMeme points out, or photoshopped to take on different forms, such as a loaf of bread.
The doge meme became even more recognisable when software engineer Billy Markus and Jackson Palmer created the dogecoin in 2013 as a bitcoin parody. Markus told CNBC that he created the cryptocurrency in “about two hours”.
“The crypto community can be pretty elitist and not very inclusive, and we wanted to make a community that was more fun, lighthearted and inclusive,” Markus added.