Hiltzik: Elon Musk goes down the right wing rabbit hole

In the early days after acquiring Twitter on October 27, Elon Musk confused the platform’s users and advertisers with a series of tweets linking himself to far-right memes.

These include a grotesque conspiracy claim about the violent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, and accusations that “activist groups” are pressuring advertisers to leave Twitter.

He invited former President Trump, who was banned from Twitter for his support for the January 6, 2021 uprising, to the platform again.

“Far left San Francisco/Berkeley views spread to the world via Twitter….No more thumbs on the scale!”

– Elon Musk

While Musk deleted some of his more incendiary tweets, including his apparent endorsement of a conspiracy theory about the attack on Paul Pelosi, these became the most cited indicators of him and the platform’s swing to the right.

However, Musk’s latest tweets are even more troubling. She has openly and affirmatively engaged with some of the most extremist far-right figures on the internet, including outspoken advocates of misogyny and white supremacy.

He clearly bought right-wing Republicans’ attack on “wokeness,” a trumped-up complaint about the GOP’s way of demonizing diversity and inclusion.

Musk’s recent tweets epitomize Twitter’s least attractive features as a social media platform: indifference, indifference, a paranoid view of progressive or liberal policies, and magnifying the most extreme views and trying to make them mainstream.

Before his takeover, Twitter staff struggled to curb these manifestations with varying success. Banning or suspending accounts for hateful tweets and the use of anti-Semitic, racist and Nazi language and imagery was part of this process.

By gutting Twitter’s traffic monitoring team and granting a “general amnesty” to previously suspended accounts, as it announced it would do starting this week, Musk risks making the site less useful and inviting to the vast majority of users.

Musk went on to argue that his goal was to facilitate “free speech” on the platform — essentially, a marketplace of ideas, as Louis D. Brandeis put it in 1913.

In practice, however, Musk has paid no more than lip service to the concept. For example, on Sunday, he tweeted, “to people who have different political or other views engage in civil debate on Twitter.”

Yet just an hour earlier, Musk had attacked former Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who is Jewish, using an old anti-Semitic term that describes Jews as tightrope walkers with hidden power over society and tools of the Israeli government. “Windman both puppet and puppeteer“, – Musk wrote in his tweet. “The question is, who is pulling his strings…?”

In recent days, Musk has been “promoting far-right theories and white racist content,” Josh Marshall observed at Talking Points Memo, where he helpfully compiles some of the most glaring examples.

Musk accepted the idea that Twitter suppresses conservative views.


The subtext of many of Musk’s tweets may not be discernible at first glance by the average reader, so it helps provide perspective.

On Thanksgiving, he implicitly agreed with white racist Twitter’s praise for “destroying pedo accounts” and thereby “taking down much of Antifa Twitter.” That tweet equated pedophilia with antifa, a decentralized movement targeting fascism.

Musk responded that “Fixing child abuse is priority #1” and asked the tweeter to let him know “if you see anything that Twitter needs to address.”

The original message came from Paul Ray Ramsey, who tweeted under the handle @ramzpaul. As the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented, Ramsey is a white nationalist who calls women’s suffrage a “cancer” and questions the historical veracity of the Holocaust.

Earlier in the day, Musk implicitly endorsed a tweet by hacker Kim Dotcom accusing the Biden administration of promoting the Democratic Party’s “voter farming strategy” on immigration, that is, increasing the party’s voting base to “maintain power” by legalizing immigrants.

Musk responded: “Behavior follows incentives for political power.” “Kim Dotcom” is the pseudonym of Kim Schmitz, a German-born Internet hacker who has been fighting extradition to the United States in New Zealand for years.

In response to a tweet describing “Wake Up Propaganda.” [sic] Like a Trojan Horse led by ‘Awakening teachers’ to attack ‘children’s brains’ [sic]Musk tweeted his response, “Exactly.”

Musk appears to have fully embraced the right-wing view that, as a public company, Twitter systematically oppresses conservatives and promotes progressive accounts.

“It was really bad” he tweeted on November 23. “Far left San Francisco/Berkeley views spread to the world via Twitter. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to those watching closely. Twitter is moving fast to create a level playing field. No more thumbs on the scale!”

Two days later, he tweeted, “virus of the awakened mind has permeated entertainment and is driving civilization towards suicide. It is necessary to write the opposite”.

It’s unclear what could have caused Musk to shift so blatantly to the right. Marshall framed some of the prevailing assumptions, including his upbringing in apartheid South Africa and his ties to right-wing Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel.

The main theme of these speculations is that Musk has not acted in the right way, but for some reason today he feels empowered to express his long-held views more openly.

It’s also conceivable that Musk craves approval and finds a nice warm, moist spot among extremists who have come to see him as their hero. As Cornell Medical School’s John P. Moore told me a few weeks ago, if you’re being hugged by strangers and “have a psychological need for some kind of validation from the people you’re interacting with, it must be very attractive.”

Whatever the explanation, Musk’s actions could be nothing short of a disaster for Twitter.

His brash temper, particularly his open embrace of right-wing tropes and outright racists and anti-Semites, has predictably irked advertisers on whom Twitter depends for revenue. It’s the rare consumer company whose ads on Twitter today risk appearing near racist, misogynistic or anti-Semitic content.

According to a survey by the progressive organization Media Matters for America, at least 50 of Twitter’s top advertisers in the pre-Musk era suspended or withdrew ads from Twitter. Most have quietly backed off, but some have either publicly announced that their campaigns have been suspended or have been reliably reported to have done so, including Ford, Jeep, Chipotle and Merck.

Musk initially tried to reassure embattled advertisers that he would not allow Twitter to become a “free-for-all hellscape” on his watch, promising to create an independent review board to make decisions on bans or suspensions of problematic accounts.

He later backed down, reportedly calling for corporate executives to be bullied for their intransigence and returning previously banned tweets, including those from Trump and right-wing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), to the platform.

In a Nov. 22 tweet, Musk said he was abandoning his promise to create a moderation board because “a large coalition of political/social activist groups agreed not to try to kill Twitter by depriving us of ad revenue if I agreed to this condition. They broke the contract.”

There is no evidence of such an agreement, and civil rights leaders who met with Musk when he announced the council said they would never agree to such a thing.

Twitter is still the world’s leading platform for up-to-the-minute transmission of news on the ground. Its value to this end has been demonstrated in recent days by reports of protests within China over the regime’s strict anti-COVID lockdowns.

If Twitter collapses because of Musk’s management style, his politics, and his blatant trading with producers of toxic content and commentary, something very useful will be lost and almost impossible to replace, at least in the near term.

Until now, Musk has had no idea of ​​the damage his behavior has caused to the platform he spent $44 billion to acquire, including more than $33 billion of his personal fortune. That’s a problem, because the only way to win back advertisers and preserve Twitter’s role in the public discourse is for Musk to disappear — appoint a CEO with social media credibility among users and advertisers and stop tweeting himself. .

If this were to happen today or tomorrow, Twitter’s credibility recovery could begin immediately.

But Musk has already made it impossible for this recovery to happen quickly. And the signs point to him becoming even more arrogant and more restrained in his behavior. In the last day or two he has the frog tweeted a picture of PepeA meme designated by the Anti-Defamation League as racist and anti-Semitic.

He also said he was fighting Apple He threatened to “take over” Twitter from the iPhone and iPad App store, though he says the big company “won’t tell us why.” He tweeted that Apple had largely stopped advertising on Twitter and asked:Do they hate free speech in America?He followed up with a tweet directed at the Apple CEO: “What’s going on here @tim_cook?”

(Actually, the reason Apple is worried about Twitter is clear: Apple scrutinizes the apps it offers users to ensure they’re clean and hate-free. Musk’s policies may not guarantee those qualities.)

Put it all together, and things on Twitter could get worse before they get better… if they ever get better.

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