The remark amplified an unfounded report regarding the assault on Nancy Pelosi’s husband and sparked outrage. Elon Musk, who has more than 100 million followers, had been in control of Twitter for less than three days when he shared an inaccurate post, which was removed a few hours later.
He responded to Hillary Clinton on Sunday by writing that “there is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story” regarding the assault on Paul Pelosi in San Francisco. He included a link to an opinion piece in the Santa Monica Observer, which fact-checkers have labelledd as an extreme right-leaning source with low credibility.
Without any supporting evidence, the article asserted that Pelosi was intoxicated and “in a dispute with a male prostitute” at the time of the assault. The report, spread by some right-wing figures, did not cite any sources and credited its information to the internet abbreviation “in my humble opinion” (IMHO).
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Users reacted angrily to Musk’s tweet right away, accusing him of spreading untrue conspiracy theories and showing his ownership of Twitter to be insincere. Yael Eisenstat, a former Facebook executive and commenter, noted on Twitter that Musk was breaking his promise to advertisers last week that the website would not turn into a “hellscape” while in his ownership.
David Rothkopf, a political commentator and former Clinton administration official with over 293,000 followers on Twitter, claimed that Musk would eventually have to self-ban. Musk removed his message some hours later. It wasn’t immediately apparent why he did it.
This is fake – I did *not* tweet out a link to The New York Times! pic.twitter.com/d6V6m5ATW2
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 31, 2022
It does, however, draw attention to the dilemma that Musk faces as he takes over a social media platform whose moderation policies he frequently criticizes as being too strict while also promising that he won’t let it turn into a free-for-all that advertisers might not want to be associated with.
Musk has already been forced to admit that accounts that have been suspended, like that of the late president Donald Trump, won’t be unfrozen until a “moderation council” has met to make decisions about the future of the platform. Musk is among the most active users on Twitter and has one of the most significant followings of any public figure.
He has a history of engaging with and amplifying a group of prominent right-wing influencers online while using his account to promote or hint at false information. Before finalizing his acquisition of Twitter, Musk argued for minimal policing beyond platforms removing illegal speech and offered an expansive view of free speech.
The policing of false information, misleading information, harassment, bullying, and other content that Twitter and other social media companies take action against through a system of removals, notices, and quiet demotions known as “shadow bans” would be prohibited under that strategy.
1/ “With an official-sounding name & a professional-looking website, the Observer is one of a number of outlets masking themselves as legitimate news sources,” writes @smasunaga of the outlet that shared the false story about the attack on Paul Pelosi https://t.co/cHUTplCuDU
— The News Literacy Project (@NewsLitProject) November 1, 2022
However, now that he owns Twitter, his willingness to spread false information — or to encourage it by using the strategy of “just raising questions” — could lead to significant conflicts for both him and the company. Due to how it was written and that Twitter only bans certain kinds of misinformation, Musk’s tweet from Sunday didn’t seem to violate any of the current rules.
It’s unclear if he was under pressure from advertisers or Twitter before deleting it. Owners of social media companies, like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have historically tried to steer clear of controversial public political opinions because they don’t want to appear to be interfering with the algorithms that control public expression.
To combat the spread of false information on their services, social media platforms like Twitter have made it a point to direct users toward reliable sources of information. A crucial component of Twitter’s and other companies’ strategies to combat false information is posting carefully selected links and labels to reliable news websites.
Also known to object to such content are advertisers, Twitter’s primary source of income. Facebook’s adoption of stricter policies on hate speech was made possible in part by an advertiser boycott in 2020.
When it comes to spreading false information about politics, having Musk control Twitter is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, according to Joan Donovan, research director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“When he was just a user, that didn’t matter as much as it does now because if people don’t trust the platform’s owner’s core values, they might start to distrust the platform itself,” Donovan claimed that Musk’s tweet did not appreciate the value of Twitter as a resource for people looking for reliable information on everything from geopolitical conflicts to elections.
She added that he ought to issue an apology. “We would imagine that to be seen as a trusted interlocutor, like a politician, business owner, or journalist, he would care about the quality of news in the so-called public square,” she said.
Misinformation is generally not prohibited on Twitter, with a few exceptions. Launched earlier this year during the conflict in Ukraine, the company’s “crisis misinformation policy” enables it to flag and degrade content that “mischaracterizes conditions on the ground” as a conflict develops.
The organization also prohibits “deep fakes,” or the uploading of any altered images or videos, as well as false information regarding the coronavirus. The company’s algorithms demote content that intentionally tries to mislead the public about voting procedures or an election outcome. Such content may also be given warning labels and links to reliable sources of information.
Posting that tweet about Paul Pelosi was hateful and IRRESPONSIBLE.
They’re right, you really are a QUNT. https://t.co/z7F0weD4K0
Within hours of the attack on Paul Pelosi, conspiracy theories deflecting blame for the assault on the husband of U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi…
— OldEnglishSoul 🌊🌊🌊 (@OldEnglishSoul3) November 1, 2022
Children of all ages can contract the coronavirus and experience complications, according to the Mayo Clinic, although they are less likely to become seriously ill. In 2020, Musk tweeted that “Kids are essentially immune” to covid-19, a claim that appeared to directly violate Twitter’s ban on content that contradicts this information.
Musk allegedly misled investors when he tweeted in 2018 that he had “Funding secured” to take Tesla, private at $420 per share. The Securities and Exchange Commission then accused Musk of doing so. In a settlement with the SEC, Musk agreed to give up his position as Tesla’s board chairman in exchange for the firm paying a $20 million fine.
In the past, he has also deleted tweets. In the past month alone, Musk tweeted and removed a meme depicting himself, former president Donald Trump, and rapper and fashion designer Ye (previously Kanye West) ruling over major social networks (Ye bought the conservative network Parler and Trump controls his network, TruthSocial). Screenshots of the tweet that stated, “In retrospect, it was inevitable”, were taken by Twitter users.