At one time, Twitter worked hard to banish the QAnon conspiracy cult and its accompanying disinformation, not to mention its hateful agenda, the culmination of which envisions the mass execution of American liberals. Last year, the social media platform boasted that it had suspended 150,000 QAnon accounts.
This week, its new owner, Elon Musk, signaled to his 121 million followers that, not only is he now red-pilled, but he too subscribes to the QAnon universe of conspiratorial beliefs—with a simple one-word/one-emoji tweet: “Follow [rabbit emoji].” Like much of Musk’s recent right-wing trolling, its simplicity offers plausible deniability, but “follow the white rabbit” is a well-established QAnon motto urging its adherents to plunge down its otherworldly conspiracist rabbit holes.
Almost as if on signal, Donald Trump—who openly embraced QAnon at his Truth Social platform this summer—went on a tear, amplifying at least seven different QAnon accounts 19 times. As Alex Kaplan notes, at least one of the amplifications featured explicit QAnon imagery.
The ”white rabbit” meme arises originally from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but its main currency arises from its appearance as a metaphor in the film The Matrix, which also gave birth to the notion of “red-pilling,” so it’s a common metaphor in the conspiracy-theory world. However, the spread of the QAnon cult (one infamous “Q drop” references white rabbits) and its adoption of “follow the white rabbit” as a motto and a movement hashtag has all rendered it into a specific “Q” reference for people operating within the conspiracist. It’s a wink-and-nudge signal for the knowing.
University of Maryland behavioral scientist Caroline Orr Bueno—who studies QAnon and other conspiracist phenomena—pointed out: “Elon Musk is now explicitly encouraging his 120 million followers to start following QAnon,” she tweeted, adding: “Put differently, Elon Musk is encouraging his 120 million followers to join a domestic terrorism movement.”
This elicited a predictable denial from the Musk-adjacent right-wing Hodgetwins account: “@elonmusk: tweets an emoji of a rabbit. Crazed leftist: ‘Elon is encouraging 120 million people to join a domestic terrorist group’” [row of laughing emojis]. Musk himself joined in the sneer: “Lmaooo.” He later tweeted a clip of the well-known Monty Python “killer rabbit” scene, apparently as a mocking response.
Musk’s blithe dismissal notwithstanding, as Orr Bueno promptly noted, the message was clearly being received loudly and clearly within the ranks of QAnon believers. On platforms where QAnon believers fled after the previous purges, such as Telegram, Gab, Truth Social, and Parler, there was general elation that Musk was clearly signaling his approval of their movement.
One QAnon account said that Musk’s tweet “leads me to suspect he is in pursuit of disclosing who is leading the cabal.” Another wrote: “The storm is ramping up. Ironically, it’s clear as day. Here we fucking go I can feel it. Everything is ramping up for the 2024 election. 2023 is gunna be absolutely wild.”
In typical QAnon style, one account offered its deep analysis of the tweet’s meaning:
From what I have read, the white rabbit is the adrenochrome molecule. The molecular shape of adrenochrome is pictured as shaped like a rabbit.
The pictures we have been seeing from Balenciaga, and other sources of children have shown a white rabbit. I think the white rabbit indicates those children are for sale for adrenochrome harvesting.
The ultimate reveal that unites the people are the rabbit holes that lead to the discovery of what the cabal has done to the children. The children will unite the world against them.
A far-right Oregon “Patriot” named Louis Marinelli leaped at the opportunity to draw Musk’s fans further down the conspiracist rabbit hole: “Follow the Rabbit [emoji] then follow me if you’re a patriot and you love your country and you are ready to party like it’s 1776,” he tweeted.
(Marinelli is an insurrectionist who has proclaimed “the people who rallied with President Trump on January 6th 2021 and whose voices were heard in the halls of the Capitol that day are great patriots to their country,” and was delighted with Musk’s “Twitter Files” project, tweeting his eagerness for revenge against “the Marxist cabal at Twitter” who removed Trump, vowing that “they certainly won't be laughing when we bring those traitors to justice.”)
Other QAnon accounts began discussing whether the original Q drop referencing the “white rabbit” meant it wasn’t Trump who would issue the call to action, but rather Musk. One of them asked fellow believers how they would respond if or when “Elon posts a Q drop on Twitter.”
Musk’s nonresponsive dismissal, in fact, is fully in line with classic alt-right behavior, particularly in how trolling works to spread disinformation and mistrust. As Orr Bueno observes: “The whole point of memes and ‘memetic warfare’ is to convey a message while maintaining plausible deniability. The ambiguity is the key feature. Using comical images/language is what allows bad actors and networks to organize violence behind the veil of humor and plausible deniability.”
That, in fact, was what proceeded from Musk’s trollish behavior on Twitter this week—particularly in his astonishing turn against the former head of Twitter’s Trust and Safety division, Yoel Roth. Musk not only held up Roth for excoriation as part of his dubious “Twitter Files” project, but openly implied that Roth is a pedophile who enabled the spread of child pornography on the site.
Roth, who was one of Musk’s early defenders during the initial stages of his takeover of the company, was forced to flee with his family from their home because of the deluge of threats that ensued. The online mob he unleashed also sent threats to people Roth had replied to on Twitter, and professors who had reviewed his dissertation were harassed. Some of Roth’s family and friends were forced to delete their Twitter accounts.
The smear that Musk perpetrated against Roth was egregious. First, he claimed that Roth appeared to argue “in favor of children being able to access adult internet services in his Ph.D. thesis”—linking to an excerpt from Roth’s University of Pennsylvania dissertation about safer alternatives to dating apps for LGBTQ youth.
Next, Musk highlighted a 2010 Roth tweet asking: “Can high school students ever meaningfully consent to sex with their teachers?”—which he had asked in response to a Supreme Court ruling declaring Washington state teachers can be convicted of a crime for having sex with a student under 18.
Thanks to Musk’s tweets, though, Twitter was soon awash in threats directed at Roth, including via memes. One such meme showed a box of bullets labeled “Box of pills that cure pedophilia,” while others showed corpses being fed into woodchippers, firing squads in action, and a Spongebob meme with a coffin reading: “Groomers get the forever box.”
One day after attacking Roth, Musk dissolved Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council—comprised of advisers from a range of civil-rights organizations and academic groups—with an email informing them that they no longer were “the best structure” to bring “external insights into our product and policy development work.”
As The Washington Post remarked:
In less than two months, Musk has undone years of investments in trust and safety at Twitter — dismissing key parts of the workforce and bringing back accounts that previously had been suspended. As the body unravels, Musk is tightening his grip on decisions about the future of content moderation at Twitter, with less input from outside experts.
Michael Hiltzik sums things up in The Los Angeles Times:
If Musk continues down this road, Twitter won’t be a beacon of free speech, but a miasmic, malodorous swamp. There’s no point trying to ignore his influence, because Twitter is all him. His promotion of lies and attacks on innocent people won’t be good for Twitter or anyone who truly values free speech.
How much lower can Musk’s Twitter sink? Those who argue that Musk is striving to remake the platform into a successful business seem confident that he knows something we don’t know. The question is: Do we want to know?
Eventually, Yoel Roth’s fate is what lies in store for anyone Elon Musk and his bosom buddies on the red-pilled right wants to target for their ongoing campaign of antidemocratic eliminationism, wielding a platform with millions on it as a tool for stochastic violence. We all will be walking in his footsteps someday.
Well, that was an awesome way to finish out the 2022 election cycle! Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard revel in Raphael Warnock's runoff victory on this week's episode of The Downballot and take a deep dive into how it all came together. The Davids dig into the turnout shift between the first and second rounds of voting, what the demographic trends in the metro Atlanta area mean for Republicans, and why Democrats can trace their recent success in Georgia back to a race they lost: the famous Jon Ossoff special election in 2017.
We're also joined by one of our very favorite people, Daily Kos Elections alum Matt Booker, who shares his thoughts on the midterms and tells us about his work these days as a pollster. Matt explains some of the key ways in which private polling differs from public data; how the client surveys he was privy to did not foretell a red wave; and the mechanics of how researchers put together focus groups. Matt also reminisces about his time at "DKE University" and how his experience with us prepared him for the broader world of politics.