It took less than 48 hours for Elon Musk to reveal just how dangerous his new toy can be to this world. Replying to a tweet from former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the man worth more than $210bn with more than 112 million Twitter followers spread a dangerous conspiracy theory intended to distract people from an attempted political assassination just one week before a major US election.
Clinton had warned that “the Republican party and its mouthpieces now regularly spread hate and deranged conspiracy theories”, in response not just to the attack on home and spouse of Nancy Pelosi but a slew of attempted kidnappings and threats against elected officials who have stood up to the Trump agenda and the attempted overthrow of the US government in January 2021.
Musk replied to it by citing a discredited rightwing blog claiming there was something else at work in the hammer attack that put Paul Pelosi into the hospital, that it might not have been motivated by animus on the extreme right. Musk later deleted his response. “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” Musk wrote on Sunday morning.
That someone of such prominence and power would tweet first and ask questions later is indicative not only of Musk’s bad habits but of the demands of this age. Musk’s takeover of Twitter was greeted on the radical right with glee. Within hours of the announcement that the deal had closed, more than 300 accounts began a coordinated barrage of hateful expressions on to the platform, sending Twitter security officials, many of whom expect to lose their jobs imminently, into a flurry of defensive activity. Musk seems to vacillate between promising to keep Twitter clean and safe while also inviting noxious accounts back to the service and yielding to whatever he thinks “free speech” is.
He has even floated a half-baked idea of creating different Twitter experiences for users to pander to their personal tolerance to disturbing content. How such an idea would work in Turkey, Germany, Morocco or Pakistan is unclear. Then again, everything that Musk expresses is unclear. It’s a series of hunches and feelings, devoid of learning, analysis, rigour or consideration of consequences.