Reporter behind viral Eli Lilly parody account peels back curtain on ‘stupid little tweet’ that helped trigger insulin price cap

Sean Morrow, a reporter for More Perfect Union and the author of a viral parody tweet claiming Eli Lilly would offer insulin for free, explaining why he made the tweet  (screengrab/YouTube/More Perfect Union)
Sean Morrow, a reporter for More Perfect Union and the author of a viral parody tweet claiming Eli Lilly would offer insulin for free, explaining why he made the tweet (screengrab/YouTube/More Perfect Union)

Sean Morrow, a reporter covering corporations and politics at More Perfect Union, was looking for a way to poke fun at Elon Musk's new Twitter pay-to-play verification system when he discovered the perfect target – big pharma.

Knowing that more than 30 million Americans are diabetic, and that 31 per cent of that group requires insulin to survive, he decided to take aim at a drug company producing the generally cheap to manufacture but expensive to purchase medicine.

He discovered Eli Lilly was one of the nation's top producers of the drug, and decided to lift the company's name for his contribution to the slew of parody accounts that cropped up after Mr Musk's attempt to monetise the verification system.

Using an old parody account — it had originally been a parody Twitter page detailing the Mothman's run for public office in West Virginia — he changed the name to "Eli Lilly" and the handle to "EliLillyAndCo" and tweeted out that the company was making insulin free.

The tweet garnered huge interest before Twitter banned the account, and its timing could not have been more perfect — just hours before the tweet was published, stock prices for Eli Lilly and other pharmaceutical companies tanked, leaving many on social media wondering if the tweet helped kneecap the major drug producers.

Months later, following a law passed by the Biden administration requiring insulin producers to cap their prices at $35 for seniors, Eli Lilly — the real Eli Lilly — announced that it would be capping certain insulin products at $35 for everyone, and the compnay’s CEO, David Ricks, publicly called for other insulin producers to do the same.

Commenters online praised Mr Morrow's tweet at the time of its posting and after the price cap was announced, crediting it for both the tanking of the companies' stock prices and the cap.

He told The Independent that that praise is likely misplaced, noting that the stock market is a complicated beast, that the companies’ prices bounced back shortly after, and that advocates for affordable medicine have been pressuring companies like Eli Lilly to reduce insulin prices for years before his tweet. He does admit, however, that his tweet highlighted the discrepancy between the cost to produce insulin and its sale price for a much larger audience than may have otherwise considered the issue.

"With regards to the fact that Eli Lilly was the first one to make this move that President Biden suggested all three manufacturers make, I think there's a lot of activists and politicians have been working on this for decades," he said. "So I'm not going to say, like, my stupid little tweet, I spent 10 minutes on had any big effect, I'd say maybe it's sped it up a little."

He pointed to Congresswoman Lucy Bath, who helmed the bill that was eventually signed into law by the Biden administration capping prices at $35 for seniors, as more deserving of credit.

Congresswoman Lucy Bath (POOL)
Congresswoman Lucy Bath (POOL)

"Like she actually, you know, won a congressional seat and wrote a bill rather than just sending a silly tweet out," he said. "So I want to make sure that that that's where all the real credit is going."

Though Mr Morrow's reporting beat is much broader than the pharmaceutical industry, he has kept up with the insulin pricing, primarily through TikTok videos explaining the change, congratulating Eli Lilly for the move, and also challenging them to drop the prices further.

He said the existing $35 cap was a good start, but said the ultimate goal, in his mind, would be universal healthcare.

"What solves this is this universal health care ... where whatever agency ends up being put in charge of it is able to negotiate the prices directly with the with the pharmaceutical companies, that's what's going far enough," he said.

That desire for universal health care tracks with the rest of the left-leaning publication's coverage, which often focuses on workers’ rights, union wins, and, as Mr Morrow covers, corporate greed. The insulin tweet isn't the first time More Perfect Union has capitalised on social media to take a complicated political story and blow it up for a broader audience.

More Perfect Union used YouTube, TikTok and Twitter to amplify coverage by reporter John Russell on the Ohio train derailment to highlight not only the accident but the warnings rail workers gave about safety conditions months before the disaster. Mr Russell's reporting on the derailment preceded the media swell in East Palestine in mid-February, reaching tens of thousands on social media, with later videos reaching hundreds of thousands.

That success is by design; Mr Morrow told The Independent that the publication employs journalists, political experts, and social media experts to tailor its coverage and utilise digital spaces to help deliver its reporting to new — and often younger — audiences. A recent video focused on a beef rancher who nearly took his own life after he was forced out of business by corporate farming's stranglehold on the industry. The video has more than 300,000 views on YouTube.

He noted that YouTube has traditionally been generally dominated by right-wing political content. The company has been criticised in the past for its auto-play algorithm feeding users incresingly more extreme political content. Mr Morrow said the publication entered the space partially in hopes to break through that saturation and offer users left-leaning political content.

“So that's, that's a big part of it, too — if there's some 17-year-old kid in in Missouri who's just watching YouTube for entertainment, and they watch a couple Joe Rogan videos, hopefully they'll get one of ours next,” he told The Independent. “And that all clicked for them. That'll change something for them.”

Mr Morrow focuses on a section of the publication called "The Classroom," which builds out explainers — both in print and video — that highlight the how and why of issues that affect everyday people.

"That's my my main responsibility ... we build out explainers that choose economic topics or choose things that people are already mad about, and kind of explain how we got here, whose fault it is, how the system was built in a way that created so much inequality," he said. "And our job is kind of to make it fun, to make it engaging, to make it something that people will almost consider entertainment, but they are learning and we're shifting minds."