Elon Musk won’t stop getting himself into trouble through Twitter
Despite the criticism that continues to shine in the conspiracy theories, Elon Musk publishes about it.
In the last five days, Musk has doubled down on his conspiracy theory the shooter from Allen, Texas; he tweeted that billionaire philanthropist George Soros (who has long been the target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online) “wants to undermine the very fabric of civilization” and “hates humanity”; and promoted Rumor quickly debunked who falsely claimed that Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz was related to the founder of the Internet Archive.
When CNBC reporter David Faber asked Musk about his promotion of conspiracy theories in a live interview on May 16, Musk acknowledged that he supports those theories, such as the Hunter laptop scandal Biden, because “some of those conspiracy theories” like the Hunter Biden laptop story. “it turned out to be true.” When Faber pressed Musk on whether his propagation of conspiracy theories was damaging Twitter’s reputation with advertisers, Musk was defiant.
“I will say what I want to say and if the consequence is that you lose money, then so be it,” said the billionaire.
Musk’s argument is that it’s good to entertain conspiracy theories because sometimes they can be true. Musk is right that the Hunter Biden laptop story turned out to be true, even though many media outlets questioned its original veracity. Twitter, the company Musk now owns, even controversially blocked the publication of the New York Post story. It is also true, as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has explained, that there can be valid, non-anti-Semitic reasons for criticizing powerful figures like Soros.
But many of the conspiracy theories that Musk peddled to his 140 million Twitter followers have been proven wrong. And some say there is a potential danger that Musk will spread misinformation or heated rhetoric. According to Jonathan Greenblatt, President of the Anti-Defamation League, the way Musk characterizes Soros, for example, is meant to “encourage extremists”. Musk accused Greenblatt of defaming him, strongly denied that he was personally anti-Semitic and said “if anything” in the recent CNBC interview that he was “pro-Semitic”.
At the outset, let’s be clear that Musk has a First Amendment right to say whatever he wants, with some limited legal exceptions. And as the owner of Twitter, a private company, he has the final say on what is and isn’t allowed on Twitter. But because Musk is the leader of the platform and one of the richest and most influential people on the planet, his actions have consequences, both tangible and symbolic. In addition, Musk’s tweets are distracting from the very real challenges Twitter faces in trying to win back more advertisers who have abandoned the brand, largely due to concerns about Musk’s behavior.
A closer look at Musk’s “flirting” with conspiracy theories
Musk’s exposure to conspiracy theories in recent weeks has not been straightforward. He has been described as “flirting” with these theories, often responding to a conspiracy theory tweet rather than directly tweeting himself. He often took the approach of simply asking questions, particularly on subjects where information was lacking.
For example, in the week of the recent Texas shooting, early coverage of the incident, including that by the open-source intelligence research group Bellingcat, claimed that the alleged shooter was a white supremacist, based in part on the his activity in social media. Soon after, Musk threw himself into the fray. He was responding to a cartoon meme posted by an account called “The Redheaded Libertarian,” which raised questions about whether the alleged gunman, who is Hispanic, could really be a neo-Nazi and whether his account is on a – Russian social media – This app was legit.
“Isn’t this the story from @bellingcat, who specializes in psychological operations in the truest sense of the word? I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but this is either the weirdest story ever or a very bad psyop!” Musk replied.
Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins has long dismissed theories about his organization’s ulterior motives, saying in a previous interview that contributors are just “people with laptops and free time.” But even if you don’t believe Higgins or Bellingcat regarding the Texas assassin, don’t take their word for it. That’s because Texas law enforcement officials confirmed on May 9, the same day Musk issued his first tweet alleging the shooter’s ties to white supremacists, that the alleged shooter was a “neo-Nazi” idea, which was confirmed by patches and tattoos on his body. .
Despite this additional evidence, Musk reiterated his lack of faith in the shooter’s ideology in a CNBC interview a week later, saying there was “no evidence” that the shooter was a white supremacist. Musk either doesn’t know about it, or doesn’t want to mention the law enforcement bill here. That’s not to say there’s never any reason to question the officers’ photos of a crime, but Musk didn’t do that here; He simply avoided acknowledging a remarkable piece of evidence that contradicted his theory.
Race and crime appear to be topics of particular interest to Musk. Last week, he responded to a tweet that included a chart showing that black versus white crime rates are higher than other categories of crime by race. Many criticized the chart for being skewed, but Musk seemed to support it. “Strange, why is the media misrepresenting the real situation?” Musk tweeted.
Others said the graph Musk is referring to is misleading because it is adjusted for population percentage: Since white people make up a larger percentage of the US population, it makes sense that they would be victims of crime in a larger number. Furthermore, it was not included in the table White on white crimewhich ranks among the highest rates of crime by race in the United States.
As with many of Musk’s flirting conspiracy-theoretic tweets, when combined, a broader picture emerges: a specific complaint. In this case, it is the way the media portrays race and crime.
What’s going on with Twitter and Musk’s businesses?
It should be noted that Musk is making controversial tweets at a particularly critical moment for the future of Twitter.
The company has lost more than half of Twitter’s top 1,000 advertisers since Musk acquired it in January, according to January data from analytics firm SensorTower. Some big companies like Disney, Amazon, and Apple continued to spend money on the platform, and Musk said that other advertisers were coming back. But more advertisers need to do their part if they want to transform Twitter’s business.
Musk announced last week that former NBCUniversal advertising executive Linda Yaccarino will replace him as CEO. Because of her position in the advertising industry, she is seen as someone who can help restore Twitter’s reputation with big brands.
“If anyone can do it, it’s Linda,” an advertiser who asked to remain anonymous told me last week. It seems that Yaccarino has already managed to contribute to the image of Twitter with GroupM, one of the best advertising agencies in the world. The agency, which is part of WPP, had classified Twitter as a “high-risk company” for advertising to its clients, but recently removed the designation, according to the Financial Times.
If Musk’s tweets brought him positive attention or diverted attention from another larger issue, it could be said that his tweets serve as a useful distraction or a clever way to get free media coverage. Instead, Musk’s behavior is self-destructive. His controversial tweets could exacerbate Twitter’s most pressing problem: its relationship with advertisers.
Musk’s continued flirtation with conspiracy theory threatens to undo any progress Twitter is making on this front. Back in November, Musk’s tweet promoting a conspiracy theory about the violent attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband was considered one of the turning points for many industry insiders advertising to decide whether or not to continue advertising on Twitter.
It is clear that the repeated propagation of Musk’s conspiracy theories has real ramifications for his business. Whether there is a deeper reason why Musk continues to spread these theories — beyond simply saying what he wants to say — despite the consequences — remains unclear. Whatever the reasoning, Musk is posting despite the firestorm and getting a lot of attention for it. Maybe that alone is worth the effort.
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