Friday, December 16, 2022

The Ongoing Musk-Twitter Story: A Compendium of Commentary — "Glaringly Obvious Silencing Campaign Against Credible Journalists" and Brain Death

So much to say about the ongoing débacle that is Twitter under Elon Musk's ownership. As with Donald Trump, the minute you think he/it has gotten the worst that is possible, a new low arrives — with Musk and Twitter yesterday, shutting down the accounts of journalists who have dared to criticize him. I'm chronicling the Musk-Twitter story on my new Mastodon page, where you're welcome to follow me if you wish. Here's a selection of items I've shared there:

David Rothschild

For a brief moment Twitter was a unique platform where thought leaders in politics, academia, journalism, business, came together to yell at each other, dialogue, and engage with voters, customers, anyone with an idea they wanted to share. It was not always civil, it was not always productive, but it gave people a voice, it inspired as much as it infuriated. I am so sorry that Elon Musk burned it down, but hopeful that new platforms will emerge that learn & grow from Twitter's ashes.

Charlie Warzel

Whether intentionally or not, Musk has, in effect, been governing Twitter using the classic Frank Wilhoit maxim: "Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect."

Put differently, the billionaire has been advancing a long-running right-wing political project described recently by my colleague Adam Serwer as a "belief in a new constitutional right. Most important, this new right supersedes the free-speech rights of everyone else: the conservative right to post." ...

Musk is interested in preserving the political values and systems that keep him on top as a revered member of culture. It’s a philosophy that the writer John Ganz has described as "bossism" or "bosses on top." For Musk, right-wing activism serves that role.

And a predictable outcome of what Musk is doing on Twitter: after he smeared Twitter's former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth — who is openly gay and Jewish — with filthy insinuations about pedophilia, Roth had to flee his home due to threats he received. Here's Donie O'Sullivan at CNN, whose account Musk shut down last evening, reporting on that story recently. 

Joseph Menn notes that in smearing Yoel Roth, Elon Musk used QAnon tactics and placed Roth's life in danger. Menn writes,

Several internet safety experts said that Musk’s comments put Roth at grave risk. Roth, who is openly gay, worked past Musk’s October takeover. He then resigned and said Musk’s hands-off approach to moderation was increasing danger to users.

"He’s putting Yoel’s life in danger and he knows it," tweeted Alejandra Caraballo, an instructor at Harvard Law School. Roth did not respond to a request for comment.

In imputing nefarious motives to Twitter’s former managers and saying a crime had been committed, Musk adopted techniques used by the QAnon conspiracy movement, which falsely claims that Democrats and elites are running child sex abuse networks.

Ken White of Popehat:

The last straw was Elon Musk sending lunatics and bigots against former employees and leaning into conspiracy theories. So I’m exercising my free speech and free association and leaving, and shuttering the account.

Greg Olear:

In the last six weeks, Trump has broken bread with grotesque anti-Semites, Kanye West has come out as a full-on Hitler apologist, and Musk has done almost every single terrible thing I said he’d do. "It’s inescapably, incontrovertibly clear now that Elon Musk is a bad actor, an agent of chaos. If he’s not working on behalf of hostile foreign powers—either knowingly or as a useful idiot—he is one of the world’s biggest assholes.

Media Matters has found that prominent anti-LGBTQ accounts' “groomer” rhetoric has exploded in reach since Musk's takeover – retweets of their use of the slur have increased over 1200%. 

As AP reports (via NPR), on 12 December under control of Elon Musk, Twitter shut down its Trust and Safety Council. This was an advisory group of about 100 independent civil, human rights, and other organizations whom Twitter convoked as a group in 2016 to address hate speech, child exploitation, suicide, self-harm, and other problems on the platform.

Center for Democracy and Technology:

We, who are former members of the Twitter Trust & Safety Council, condemn the dramatic changes to, & arbitrary enforcement of, content moderation policies & practices at Twitter, including the abrupt disbanding of the Council on Monday night….

Phil Lee:

This is significant ...

The German office for data protection and freedom of information hosts the official #Mastodon server for government departments 

They are now calling for all ministries on the server to put their focus on Mastodon

They are also asking ministries which are not yet on Mastodon to join as soon as possible

Meidas Touch:

In the past 24 hours, Ukrainians have been been blocked from signing up for Twitter using their phone numbers and using 2FA and accounts tracking Russian oligarchs' jets have been suspended.

What happens on Twitter can seem like a sideshow, but Elon Musk's actions are a direct threat to democracy.

Rita Armstrong:

Dear fellow Mastodon users,

in the light of recent bans of Ukrainian accounts on #Twitter, I’ve joined this platform to continue spreading breaking news about #Ukraine. 

🚨Follow for updates on the Russian war on Ukraine. 

Tom Watson:

It's time for the US Federal government to exit Twitter. It cannot publish on a censorship/disinformation channel. 

Bill Comeau:

PSA: Twitter is no longer an acceptable platform for science or moderation of views. I will be increasingly posting from mastodon and reducing my twitter presence.

 My goal is to leave twitter by end of January at latest, after I have done my best to inform Canadians about the ⤵️

Oliver Darcy:

The bans also raise a number of serious questions about the future of the free press on Twitter, a platform that has been referred to as a digital town square. Will news and media organizations remain on the platform, while Musk hastily bans their reporters without explanation? Will they pull their reporters? Their content? And what will major advertisers such as Apple and Amazon do?

Emily Russell:

“It’s a bit like a bad developer moving to your town and changing everything without actually asking the people who live there,” Emily Bell, founding director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, said about Musk’s Twitter takeover on this week’s Kicker episode.

Musk’s ownership of Twitter, Bell told Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, creates serious problems for journalists who rely on the site for developing sources, finding stories, and driving readership. It’s not safe to do journalistic business on the platform anymore. Twitter’s Trust and Safety Team is being “eviscerated,” Bell noted in an article for CJR; direct-message inboxes, a convenient arena for chatting with sources, are no longer protected from nefarious breaches of privacy, and there’s no board to keep a watchful eye on Musk’s operations. 

Kyle Anderson:

A glaringly obvious silencing campaign against credible #journalists and the valuable coverage they provide just happened.

Is it time to consider staying on #Twitter  complicity through silence?

CNN reporter Donie O'Sullivan, whose Twitter account was shut down with no explanation yesterday, tells Anderson Cooper, 

Musk seems to be just stamping out accounts that he doesn't like.

Joyce Vance:

[T]he action Musk took [in shutting down accounts of journalists critical of him] is about suppressing free discussion of ideas and about democratic values in a society where advancing technology offers unprecedented opportunities for expressing ideas, but also, at least in the case of private ownership of an entity like Twitter, for one man to silence anyone he wants to, on a whim, and without any obligation to disclose why.

Sally Buzbee of Washington Post:

The suspension of Drew Harwell’s Twitter account directly undermines Elon Musk’s claim that he intends to run Twitter as a platform dedicated to free speech. Harwell was banished from Twitter without warning, process or explanation, following the publication of his accurate reporting about Musk. Our journalist should be reinstated immediately.

Russell Cameron Thomas:

Reporters who have tweeted about tonight's suspensions (bans) are now getting suspended themselves, including @w7voa Steve Herman, Chief National Correspondent at Voice of America

(The Night of Elong Knives is not over.)

David Kurtz concludes that in banning journalists, Elon Musk continues showing us exactly who he is:

Broken, petulant, emotionally stunted rich white men are nothing new. What might be new is that decades of regressive tax policy, feckless anti-trust enforcement, and market worship by policymakers have created an untethered and unaccountable new billionaire class.

Hunter mocks media narratives about Elon Musk which suggest he's a "complicated" man whose motives at Twitter  re murky:

Musk may spend the majority of his days engaged in obsessive self-promotion, but his politics are materially no different from the politics of the Koch brothers or other billionaire political gadflies. Musk's politics are "the government should do things that help me make money, and should not do things that might cost me money." ...

His politics are not in doubt: He seeks to promote misinformation by the far-right while using his authority as Twitter's owner to "expose" the supposed liberals inside Twitter who sought to keep the most dangerous misinformation off the platform.

The two brands of conspiracy theorists he has most favored, pandemic hoax promoters and election 'fraud' conspiracy theorists, are both responsible for violence and deaths.

Aaron Rupar and Noah Berlatsky dissect the faux populism of Elon Musk. It's about punching down at the marginalized to assert his "right," as the man on top, to control despised others and not be checked by them. They write,

Musk, as a rich white man, sees himself as rightfully at the top of a traditional hierarchy of power. Nothing he does, or can do, is overreach.

If his employees criticize him, and he fires them, swarms of reactionary accounts on Twitter will race to his defense, insisting that workers who are not completely subservient to their corporate overlords deserve to be destroyed. If he targets trans people over and over, noted transphobe Dave Chappelle will trot him out on stage as a hero.

Chappelle and Ye are both Black, but they can bond with Musk and his fanbase over their deserved elevated status as Christians, as cis people, as wealthy men. In contrast, marginalized people who dare to speak up for themselves, or who simply want to live their lives without being insulted, tormented, or brutalized, are pilloried as vaunting elitists who must be confronted, overthrown, destroyed."

Black athletes like quarterback Colin Kaepernick and basketball player Britney Griner who protest police violence against Black people are labeled as entitled and ungrateful. LGBT people are pilloried for their 'lifestyle' choice, as if being queer is a luxury good. In fact, LGBT poverty rates are higher than those of cis straight people — as you’d expect, since LGBT people are stigmatized, discriminated against, and may not have support from homophobic family members.

Jim Stewartson offers powerful insight into what Elon Musk is about with his acquisition of Twitter. Stewartson notes a letter the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer sent to friends on the 10th anniversary of Hitler's becoming chancellor of Germany.

Bonhoeffer wrote,

The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them."

It's not, in many cases, that people are born stupid: the problem is that people are made stupid or that they choose to allow themselves to be made stupid.

Stewartson proposes that Elon Musk is banking on this human characteristic of deliberately choosing stupidity, with his  recreation of QAnon on Twitter — and this is why he acquired this influential international opinon-making and information-spreading  network. He's all about making as many of us stupid as he possibly can.

And it will work if we allow it to work, if we allow Musk to keep doing this to all of us.

As Katherine Alejandra Cross notes, Musk and others claim that his release of the "Twitter Files" constitutes radical transparency. In truth, it's transparency theater, meant to distract us from how he's consolidated power at the platform, and how capriciously he exercises it.

Kos at Daily Kos:

Elon Musk has decided to literally destroy his personal brand—and Tesla’s along with it—in his bizarro turn toward the QAnon dark side.

Abby Olheiser:

People don’t die in an instant. Death is, instead, a process of shutting down. You stop breathing; your organs stop working, bit by bit. Your brain ceases to function. Brain death is permanent, but your heart can still keep beating on its own for a time.

The state of Twitter since Elon Musk’s takeover feels like this sort of brain death: the processes that keep it online are somehow still beating, but what Twitter was before Musk is never coming back.

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