Column: Elon Musk takes Twitter into the sewer

Elon Musk made it official on Sunday – democracy is life support.

For anyone wondering what the richest man in the world had in mind for one of the most powerful social media platforms, the answer came around 5am when Musk sent his 112 million followers a link to a malicious and false conspiracy theory tweeted toys, twitter.

I won’t be repeating that ugly anti-LGBTQ garbage here, but suffice it to say it’s a neatly packed piece of garbage about the hammer attack on Paul Pelosi, which began with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) is married. . It brings together multiple plot lines of hate and conspiracy, all part of the far-right attempt to overthrow a democracy that I personally like.

And of course it includes the frantic fear of sexuality that defined the GOP.

Incidentally, this fake moral panic about who we love and how we identify has long been used by fascists and white supremacists to rally the masses. So let’s not pretend this is just a rich guy’s opinion. There’s more to the story than Mr. Musk claims – it’s just not the story he’s talking about.

Musk, who tried to cover up by saying the theory was a “tiny possibility,” has since deleted his post. Still, it’s reposted on all social media platforms and channels – QAnon, Nazi, and those that advocate violent civil war. But these echo chambers are less important than what just happened on Twitter, with its ability to spread untruths globally in seconds.

An unmoderated Twitter can be the tipping point of democracy if we don’t do something fast. Within 24 hours of Musk acquiring the site, usage of the N-word increased by 500%, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute — though Musk claims his moderation policies haven’t changed yet. Hate has found its home in the middle of our public square.

I am a staunch supporter of freedom of expression. There are no easy solutions here, but this must no longer be a perennial issue for the government. The midterms are days away and violence is already expected. Musk’s tweet shows that Twitter has become a willing participant in feeding the propaganda and lying machinery that leads some to believe violence is justified.

As Professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for Hate and Extremism Studies at Cal State San Bernardino, told me Sunday when I interrupted him while he was walking his dog on the beach, “Companies have the right to set their terms of business, but when some are like that big and influential that it is important that they act with a sense of civic responsibility. And if not, the law should regulate them as much as it can without violating the 1st Amendment.”

Levin added, “The company’s new figurehead sets the tone that Twitter will be a place for misinformation and targeted rumors to circulate with the consent of the man behind the curtain.”

Of course, Musk didn’t come up with this conspiracy theory himself. I watched it take shape in real time in the minutes after the attack – it only took minutes. The right-wing machinery, bent on demonizing and dehumanizing anyone who blocks its path to authoritarianism, came into full swing when news broke that a 42-year-old man had smashed a hammer into the Pelosis’ San Francisco home broke in screaming, “Where’s Nancy?”

The Speaker of the House was in Washington, DC, but her 82-year-old husband was at home. Bold and quick-thinking, Paul Pelosi secretly called 911. A shrewd dispatcher sent help, though Pelosi was unable to speak freely about the situation with his attacker there. Police arrived two minutes later and saw Pelosi fighting for the gavel with the intruder, whom police identified as David DePape. The intruder got the tool and began beating up Pelosi, who was undergoing skull surgery but is expected to recover.

This story made some happy. After I wrote about it on Saturday, a reader named Steve (he gave me his last name but I don’t write it) emailed me with the subject line: “I hope the man who did this is doing well.” .”

Steve continued, “I just wish Pelosi was on the other end of that hammer!”

Steve wasn’t the only person in favor of killing our politicians, and Musk wasn’t the only prominent person to plunge headfirst into the sewers of hate.

The memes and so-called jokes were almost inevitable, many beginning with a variation on “It may be too soon, but…” as if the attempted assassination of America’s most powerful politician was a big joke.

Arizona Republican Legislature Wendy Rogers tweeted a “Halloween costume” of a headband with a hammer poised to hit the wearer’s head.

Former California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder, the “wise man from South Central”, as he calls himself, wrote: “Too, soon? Armer, Paul Pelosi. First he is arrested for drunk driving and then attacked in his home. Hammered twice in six months.”

The story Musk retweeted also came from nearby: The Santa Monica Observer, owned by former city council candidate David Ganezer. That newspaper’s editorial board has labeled this publication for “publishing false news,” including that Hillary Clinton had died and that a body double had taken her place in a debate with Donald Trump.

What makes comments like Musk’s so alarming is that denial is a key element of far-right strategy and supporters find it fun and empowering. Nothing is ever their fault. Nothing is ever what it seems.

It couldn’t possibly have been that DePape had been pushed to the limit on a lightning-fast diet of lies — everything on his personal blog, where he railed against transgender people and Jews and tinkered with conspiracies, including that of an alien race of lizards, has infiltrated society, albeit mostly Democrats .

It had to be something different, something that the extreme right finds abhorrent, even evil. Musk’s post was in response to Hillary Clinton, one of the most hated figures on the far right. Clinton tweeted Saturday, attaching a Times article about DePape’s online gossip: “The Republican Party and its mouthpieces are now regularly spreading hate and deranged conspiracy theories. It is shocking but not surprising that violence is the result. As citizens, we must hold them accountable for their words and the actions that follow.”

When the rich, powerful and influential become dealers in anti-democratic ammunition, they become dangerous to democracy. Musk wrote in a note to advertisers last week: “Obviously, Twitter can’t become a hellscape where anything can be said without consequences.”

But then he did exactly that.

If we don’t hold Musk and others like him accountable now, we may not stand a chance. Column: Elon Musk takes Twitter into the sewer

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