Christopher Beale never expected to be at the center of the latest drama to arise from Elon Musk‘s takeover of Twitter. True, he’s lived close to the company’s Market Square headquarters in San Francisco since 2020, and regularly uses the app — as an independent journalist it’s a convenient way for him to make connections and promote his work. But then Musk tried to rebrand Twitter as “X,” and Beale was thrust into the spotlight. Literally.

That’s because, while staff attempted the no doubt tedious task of removing each bird logo and mention of “tweets” or “Twitter” from the app interface, Musk on Friday had a giant metal “X” erected atop the main office. As if it weren’t garish enough in daylight, in the evening it pulsed and strobed blinding white light — directly into Beale’s living room. As critics of the design wondered how the eyesore would affect neighborhood residents, Beale tweeted, “Imagine no more. This is my life now,” sharing videos of his view directly into the incandescent illumination. The first clip now has around 40 million views.

What followed was a weekend whirlwind in which Beale’s footage made headlines and spurred calls for the city to immediately remove the structure. After inspectors were twice denied entrance on the property to inspect the “X” — which appeared to be held in place by sandbags — a crew dismantled it on Monday. The company is now set to be fined for this removal, the building permits it never acquired, and an official investigation by the city’s Department of Building Inspection.

Looking back on the ill-considered, short-lived sign, and how it briefly made him a social media celebrity, Beale spoke to Rolling Stone about following Twitter’s ups and downs from close nearby, the absurdity of capitalism in the big tech capital, and whether Musk is paying his rent.

Twitter’s “X” sign, before its removal. Photo by Christopher Beale.

Christopher Beale

First of all, congrats! Did you see the sign coming down?
When I first filmed, it was Friday — I put it up Saturday. And then, Monday, I was on my way back to my real life, back to work. And they still had a crew up there. By the time I got home from work, it was gone.

I imagine it’s been pretty surreal going viral.
That’s been the most surreal part of it, honestly. I have been a content creator literally my entire life, in one form or another. And I don’t mind admitting that nothing I’ve ever made [has reached] 40 million people. The craziest thing, which I wasn’t prepared for, is that when you have a video go viral, you have two choices. You can either capitalize on it and let it consume you for a few days, or you can put your phone down and get out of town. And I didn’t have the option to do the second one. So I had a very busy weekend — the video became a part of everything I did. It’s been emails and tweets and DMs, and it sort of brings a wave of chaos with it.

You’ve been bombarded.
I don’t, like, cover Elon in my day-to-day life. So this really isn’t even on brand for me. And so I’ve started to turn down interviews because I don’t want to forever be “The Elon Guy.”

How long have you lived across the street there?
Been in the neighborhood since 2020. And I moved right across the street in December.

I imagine you’ve actually seen some Twitter drama before. Maybe even employees leaving after cleaning out their desks?
As soon as Elon became the apparent new owner, there’s been a steady stream of protests that happened out on the corner. They’re usually cute. You know, some old white dudes playing music on their guitars. But it’s always been an adventure. A few months back, there was the whole drama — he tried to alter the sign in front of the building to “Titter.” There was like, a trash bag on the side [to cover the letter ‘w’]. And they took it down, so he painted it white. It’s been that kind of petty stuff. It’s almost like Dennis the Menace moved into the neighborhood. This once-quiet office building across the street, now, every day, you almost want to glance out the window and see if there’s some craziness going on over there.

This feels so emblematic of big tech hubris. The idea that they can do whatever they want. And not really thinking about basic stuff like building codes.
San Francisco, obviously, it’s a concentrated tech hub. There’s a lot of wealth here. You get the extreme examples of people that have enough money to be able to get away with whatever they want. Our prime example was our was our last president, right? Because he had access to cash, he got away with all this stuff for a long, long, long, long, long time. And I feel like you see examples in San Francisco all the time. I feel like there was a story recently of a CEO or something here who parked his Lamborghini on the sidewalk, and just had his assistant pay the tickets. But for me, it’s not indicative of the greater culture here. I know a lot of people in the tech industry, and not everybody in tech is Elon Musk.

You had a lot of his fanboys in your replies.
If I saw a blue checkmark, I would immediately realize it was a negative [comment], mostly vitriol for the sake of vitriol. I came out when I was 15 years old, this kind of stuff bounces off of me, whatever. The other thing has been the whataboutism. I can’t tell you how many of the replies said something like, “Oh, so you’re okay with the fentanyl and the drug dealers and the homeless, but this you have a problem with.” I posted a video about this one topic!

I thought that was so funny, because, well, the building inspector doesn’t take care of drugs on the street. It’s a whole different department.
And, of course, the majority of the “what about” part comes from people outside the city. When it comes to San Francisco issues, I almost automatically disregard the opinions of people that aren’t here, experiencing what San Francisco is like. There there has been quite a bit of spin and coverage focused on only the negatives.

Did this incident bring your building together at all?
Everyone’s friendly, but we don’t really interact a lot. Honestly, I’ve met more of my neighbors on Twitter — I’m sorry, on X. People from the neighborhood have chimed in with support. My favorite phenomenon is because the videos went viral, people are starting to rip it off without credit, and people are being vigilantes, going into these videos and tagging me in the comments. I’ve been watching the internet defend my honor. That’s been nice.

Were you able to get any sleep the nights this thing was flashing into your window?
Honestly, I slept like a baby, because there’s a piece of the wall that juts out and obstructs the view of Twitter from our bedroom window. Once we moved into the bedroom, it wasn’t a big deal. The thing it interrupted was our ability to sit on the couch and watch a movie.

I’m still waiting for someone to match it up with a DJ techno set.
It totally was rave-caliber lighting. I love lighting, but not in my living room window.

I saw a lot of comparisons to that to that Seinfeld episode where Kramer is dealing with the bright red light from a Kenny Rogers Roasters across the street.
I got memed! I don’t know that I set out to be a meme. But I’ll take it.

Musk is trying to rebrand the app, but it still has the words “tweet” and “Twitter” all over it. Maybe he wants another way of signaling that he’s won, or conquered the building. It’s almost the quintessential charlatan hype.
When I last checked — has Elon paid his rent on Market Square yet?

Not that I’m aware. [Twitter is facing at least half a dozen lawsuits over unpaid rent and office fees, including two legal actions related to its San Francisco properties, according to a July report in Forbes. The company was evicted from its Boulder, Colorado office in June for failure to pay rent.]
So, not only are you showboating, but you’re grandstanding on a building you’re effectively squatting in. I was chatting with somebody last night about this, actually. I was like, “If I put up an illegal light display on my balcony, and then the police showed up at my door the next day to look at it, and I didn’t let them in, I don’t think I’d have a door.” This unsafe display was put on this roof, and being the richest man in the world entitles you to refuse access to inspectors. It’s less indicative of tech culture and more indicative of capitalism. If you have enough money, what can they do?

He’s also being sued for not paying out severance. It’s an it’s an astounding thing to pay money for that when there are thousands of people you owe money to all over town.
I don’t get it. But I guess it’s not for me to get. As as a content creator and journalist, like 50 percent of my work is independent, self-supportive. So I’m grateful for the views. I’m now just in the phase where I’m trying step back and get my face out of the story. I didn’t set out to be a neighborhood celebrity, I promise.

Well, if you did want to remain the face of the story, maybe it’s time to put up a sign in your window that they can see from across the way?
[Laughs]. Put my podcast logo up in the window. Shine a QR code on my building.

A big, neon QR code.
How do I get that? Somebody make that!

The ‘X’ sign didn’t last, but what about the app? How much longer can this go? I don’t know that [Twitter competitor] Threads has it. The launch was really successful. But based on my limited experience, people have a lot of feature requests that are kind of going unanswered. There are some people that just aren’t comfortable with Meta. But here’s the thing: If everybody that didn’t like Elon Musk left Twitter, he’d still have a successful social media platform.


I’m glad we have you to keep an eye on things over there, because it’s hard to say what’s going to happen day to day.
No, no idea. And there’s still one bird on the side of the building.