Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter has not gone through, but he’s sending a message about the far-right future he envisions for the social media platform. On Tuesday, Musk announced that yes, he absolutely would unban Donald Trump from Twitter.
“I think it was a morally bad decision to be clear and foolish in the extreme,” Musk said at a “Future of the Car” event. He added, revealing how little he knows what he’s talking about, “It alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.”
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Let’s take this one part at a time. “I think it was a morally bad decision to be clear and foolish in the extreme.” Donald Trump used Twitter to help incite an insurrection, and Elon Musk thinks it was a morally bad decision to ban him for that. That tells us a lot about Musk. Maybe nothing we didn’t know, but it reinforces what a moral disaster Musk himself is.
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”It alienated a large part of the country ...” Musk says. He is certainly in touch with and very attentive to the people alienated by Trump’s banning, but that doesn’t make them more numerous than those who were relieved by the banning—and it overstates the centrality of Twitter in people’s lives. Just 23% of U.S. adults use Twitter, according to the Pew Research Center, and Democrats and young people are substantially more likely to use the platform. One in four Twitter users thinks that users being banned is a big problem, and Republicans are more than three times as likely to say that. By contrast, 53% of users say that inaccurate or misleading information is a major problem. In other words, Musk either hasn’t done the most basic research into what Twitter users want from the platform or he’s only listening to Republicans, or both. Probably both.
Musk: “… and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.”
Trump still has a voice, to be sure. But he has fallen dramatically out of the public conversation since being banned from Twitter and Facebook (events that also coincided roughly with him leaving the White House, which obviously also had an effect on his public presence). “Mentions of Trump went down by 34% on Twitter and 23% on Facebook the week after he was banned from both platforms following the Capitol riot on January 6,” Recode reported in May 2021. “Since then, Trump mentions have continued to decline around 90% on both platforms from where they were the week of the riots.”
Reports that election fraud misinformation plummeted by 73% after Trump’s banning are themselves a little misleading, since more than 70,000 QAnon accounts were banned around the same time. (Maybe Musk wants to bring them back, too?) But it’s safe to say that the specific types of misinformation Trump favored didn’t increase as a result of his banning.
Trump still has a voice, it’s true. His press releases continue to get coverage and he’s been holding rallies for endorsed candidates. But 100% denying Trump a voice was not the point. Twitter permanently suspended Trump, according to a company statement, “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Twitter went on to cite specific tweets which it said were “likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021, and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as encouragement to do so.”
Literally Twitter’s reasoning was that Trump was using Twitter to incite violence. Elon Musk doesn’t get it, doesn’t care, or both. Probably both.
Musk’s comments about the Trump ban came on Tuesday, but on Monday he made clear who he’s listening to and what he thinks is happening on Twitter. In a reply to Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, Musk said, “Twitter obv has a strong left-wing bias.”
FUNNY. STORY. According to one study, highlighted by More Perfect Union’s Max Berger, “Our results reveal a remarkably consistent trend: In 6 out of 7 countries studied, the mainstream political right enjoys higher algorithmic amplification than the mainstream political left. Consistent with this overall trend, our second set of findings studying the U.S. media landscape revealed that algorithmic amplification favours right-leaning news sources.”
According to another study from the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, “the claim of anti-conservative animus is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it. No trustworthy large-scale studies have determined that conservative content is being removed for ideological reasons or that searches are being manipulated to favor liberal interests.”
Everything about Musk, though, screams out that he’s one of those guys who thinks his intuitions are more powerful than the facts. And in this case, Musk’s intuitions are all about elevating his own political views and his alt-right buddies.
So, yeah. That’s what’s coming if Musk’s takeover of Twitter becomes final. Donald Trump and an owner who believes, in direct opposition to the available facts, that Twitter is skewed to the left and needs to be fixed. Also just more of what we already get in ridiculously large measure at all times: uninformed spew from an uber-wealthy guy who thinks his money proves his intelligence. Fun times.
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