It’s the time of year when strange things happen. There are unexplainable noises, eerie sights and unexpected events. Amid this backdrop of the macabre, there is the inexplicable Twitter takeover by Elon Musk.
In order to control the people, you must control the messaging. That’s why Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is so frightening. He’s called the move a victory for free speech, but those on the right are already salivating at the prospect of it becoming a haven for hate speech as Musk promises he will do less to restrict content. He also says he will review lifetime bans, likely opening the door for Donald Trump’s return to his most powerful propaganda tool.
While Twitter boasts millions of users, it cannot be touted as a place for in depth thinking. Despite doubling its character limit to 280, it still boils complex issues down to what can be expressed on the average bumper sticker. Which is why those who use Twitter must be laser focused on their messaging in order to get the maximum impact.
And it’s all about the messaging. A well-timed phrase, or Tweet, can be more effective than a bullet in causing irreparable harm to an individual, or a nation. Because of the brevity of Tweets, there is no ability, or reason to, support what you are saying with facts. Musk’s purchase of Twitter threatens to unleash a torrent of conspiracy theories, hate speech and misinformation that heretofore had been relegated to the dark web or certain so-called news outlets.
A Dark History
Autocracies have always thrived when they have controlled the message. Nazi Germany and the horrors of the Holocaust could not have happened without Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The current Russian invasion of Ukraine is dependent upon pushing the message that it’s Ukraine that poses the threat. When protests began in China and Iran, one of their governments’ first responses was to limit access to outside sources, thereby allowing them to push their own version of events.
That’s what makes our current situation so dangerous. Restrictions on misinformation via social media weren’t put in place until after the 2016 presidential election, which forever casts a shadow over Donald Trump’s victory. Elon Musk has promised to remove these limitations, thereby allowing the events of 2016 to repeat themselves.
Leading the misinformation charge in 2016 was the media empire controlled by Rupert Murdoch. With Fox “news” commentators singing Trump’s praises, while demonizing his opponent, Hillary Clinton, it became the main source of propaganda for millions of his followers. They equated ratings with facts and mindlessly adhered to whatever narrative those on Fox pushed on them.
But Fox wasn’t alone in elevating Donald Trump’s profile. The mainstream media reported on every misstep, outlandish comment or controversy. They thought each time would be the final straw and they wanted to outdo each other by being the first to report it. As a result, he was given an unending stream of free air time each night. As political capital, this was priceless.
Then came the 2020 election and Twitter was ablaze with the typical Trump 3 AM Tweetstorms: spreading falsehood, name-calling and sharing conspiracy theories. Twitter execs did nothing to stop it, declaring Trump’s tweets to be “in the public interest” and therefore immune from the typical restrictions placed on the average user.
Even before all the votes had been counted, Trump took to Twitter on election night to declare himself the winner and demand that states stop counting “illegal” votes. Once it was apparent he had lost, he refused to concede, again taking to his favorite social media outlet to push baseless accusations of a rigged system and a stolen election. It all culminated in his invitation to his followers to join him in a protest that he promised would “Be Wild”, which resulted in the attack on the Capitol.
Yet, it was Trump’s follow-up tweet in support of the insurrection that led to his “lifetime banishment”. This is something Musk has stated he wants reversed.
When Musk made his bid to acquire Twitter for an astronomical $44 billion, those on the right cheered. The Twittersphere lit up with cries to “Bring Back Trump” to his largest audience. What followed was several months of will-he-or-won’t he as Musk threatened to pull out of the deal. It was only after an approaching court date forced his hand that he finalized the deal.
One of his first acts was to fire several of the top executives as he promised to take a hands-on approach to running the company. As stated earlier, he also vowed to review those, including Trump, who had received lifelong banishment while also declaring he wouldn’t allow the social media outlet to become a “Free-for-all Hellscape”.
That final comment was met with a knowing nod-and-a-wink from those on the right who envisioned a Musk-run Twitter as a safe haven for all sorts of conspiracy theories and outlandish claims. They took their cue from Musk’s comments that he would be promoting “free speech”, which meant it could become a cesspool of misinformation much like Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Yet, immediately following Musk’s takeover, none other than LeBron James called out Musk as use of the N-word on Twitter spiked almost 500 percent. He demanded that Musk address this issue even as Musk himself has railed against Twitter restrictions on hate speech and misinformation, calling it biased and unjustified censorship.
As if to reinforce this notion, following the horrific attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA), Musk shared an unfounded conspiracy theory about an alleged connection between 82-year-old Paul Pelosi and his attacker. The since deleted tweet was in response to Hillary Clinton’s call for Republicans to stop spreading “hate and deranged conspiracy theories”. So, how does Elon reply? By sharing a deranged conspiracy theory, of course.
So, buckle up, buttercup. This season of the strange and unusual, there is promise of more of the same as those on the right threaten to overwhelm Twitter with their outlandish claims, conspiracy theories and misinformation.They are coming out of the shadows of the dark web and into the light of mainstream America.
These are indeed scary times.