As Elon Musk inches closer to succeeding in his hostile takeover of Twitter, many stakeholders are speculating about what this would mean for some of the platform's basic functions. But they don’t have to look far to understand his views; a review by Media Matters found that Musk’s Twitter account is full of right-leaning content, including COVID-19 misinformation and anti-trans rhetoric, and interactions with numerous right-wing outlets, figures, and conspiracy theorists, including anti-LGBTQ site The Babylon Bee, “alt-right” personality Mike Cernovich, and Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson.
How Musk uses Twitter to promote right-wing content, outlets, and personalities
Musk also interacts with numerous right-leaning accounts on Twitter, often amplifying their content to his 84 million followers. He is a glowing fan of the conservative satire account The Babylon Bee, which has been locked out of Twitter since March 20 for intentionally misgendering U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine. Its editor has also pushed anti-trans content on Fox News following the suspension, and right-wing media have called for Musk to restore the account if he takes over Twitter.
Musk is also found in threads discussing Twitter’s sale price and content policies with far-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, floating discussion topics and lamenting COVID-19 restrictions with famed misogynist Jordan Peterson, praising anti-trans Spotify host Joe Rogan, and chatting about tech monopolies with far-right conspiracy theorist and former Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson.
Musk has pushed COVID-19 misinformation and skepticism on Twitter
Since early 2020, Musk has been posting about his skepticism of the severity of COVID-19, spreading harmful misinformation about debunked treatment methods, expressing his dislike of public health measures and vaccine restrictions, and going as far as to compare Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Hitler, in a since-deleted tweet. In March 2020, in a move reminiscent of the lies being told by then-President Donald Trump, Musk falsely predicted that there would be “close to zero new cases” of COVID-19 in the U.S. by the “end of April.” (On April 30, 2020, there were more than 30,000 confirmed cases in the U.S.)
In his tweets, Musk has claimed multiple times that “false positives” were “messing up the numbers” of COVID-19 cases, stated that he believed COVID-19 would be “comparable to other forms of influenza,” and promoted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment.
- In a criticism of Canada’s COVID-19 public health policies, Musk compared Trudeau to Hitler in a since-deleted tweet by posting a picture of the German dictator with the caption, “Stop comparing me to Justin Trudeau. I had a budget.”
- During so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests against COVID-19 restrictions, Musk tweeted, “Canadian truckers rule.”
- In response to a video of Barstool Sports founder and noted misogynist Dave Portnoy complaining about COVID-19 lockdowns, Elon Musk tweeted, “Well said! Please run for office. The politicians & unelected bureaucrats who stole our liberty should be tarred, feathered & thrown out of town!”
- Musk tweeted, “There is considerable conflation of diagnosis & contraction of 'corona.' Actual virality is much lower than it would seem. I think this will turn out to be comparable to other forms of influenza. World War Z it is not.”
- Musk promoted hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19 in March of 2020.
- Musk suggested that COVID-19 false positives are the cause of a lot of the panic around the coronavirus, saying that he thinks “most cases” are false positives, and pointed to a chart of death rate trends in July of 2020.
- Musk replied to a tweet from the New York Post linking to an article detailing his comments calling GoFundMe “professional thieves” for withholding $10 million from an anti-vax rally. Musk replied: “I’m pro vaccination, but anti vaccination mandate.”
Musk has promoted transphobic rhetoric on Twitter
- Musk tweeted, “Pronouns suck.”
- Musk tweeted a meme of a British redcoat soldier with a hat that says “I love to oppress” and the caption “when you put he/him in ur bio.”
- Musk liked a tweet from Libs of Tik Tok linking to a Babylon Bee article about liberals being concerned about Libs of Tik Tok for just reposting their own content.
Musk’s history suggests his potential Twitter takeover will lead the platform to more misinformation and harassment
While Musk has tweeted that he wants to reduce the number of bots on the platform, authenticate all human users, and make the platform's algorithms open source, right-wing media and figures are excited for his promise to “restore” so-called free speech to the platform.
The issue of free speech on social media platforms has taken a central role in right-wing politics, despite study after study debunking conservatives’ claims that they are disproportionately impacted by various platforms’ content moderation policies. This relentless misinformation effort now seems to be informing Musk’s ideology as well: Days before launching his bid for Twitter, he tweeted a poll to his followers asking if they thought “Twitter rigorously adheres'' to the principle of free speech. (Musk followed up with another tweet saying, “The consequences of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully.”)
Musk has claimed that he wishes to make all legal speech permissible on Twitter, and it is unclear how he will balance his stance as a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” with the safety of all users, as well as Twitter’s employees and stakeholders.
For one, Musk has shown a significant lack of empathy for the experiences of Twitter users who are subjected to abuse and harassment. In a thread from 2018, he reacted to an article published by The Daily Beast, detailing the experiences of female journalists who were hounded by Musk’s supporters after they wrote about him critically. In response, Musk lashed out, saying, “Hello, have you met the Internet? Everyone gets harassed regardless of gender, especially if they say false things. Saying I’m against science is like saying Beyoncé doesn’t know beats. Blowback from latter (all genders) would make my comment stream seem like Socratic dialogue.”
Musk’s self-aggrandizing as a champion for free speech is also undercut by his extensive history of malpractice and abuse against his own employees for exercising their speech. A California judge ruled in 2019 that tweets from Musk and activities he had directed at Tesla had illegally undermined unionization efforts at his company. Whistleblowers at the company describe intense harassment campaigns against them at Musk’s direction. Employees have reportedly been fired for pointing out safety concerns within factories.
Tesla employees have also alleged an environment of pervasive and uncontrolled sexual harassment and racism. In 2021, a former employee was awarded $137 million in a lawsuit alleging a culture of unchecked racism with the awareness of factory supervisors, and Tesla became the subject of a series of sexual harassment suits. While Musk is not named in the suits, some of the women who brought them forward cited his public comments and tweets about women as part of a corporate culture that encouraged and tolerated harassment of its female employees.
Notably, Musk has repeatedly faced legal scrutiny for his use of Twitter already. In 2018, Musk settled a lawsuit from the Securities and Exchange Commission after he tweeted that Tesla had secured funding for a private takeover. The suit resulted in Musk facing a three-year suspension from his chairmanship of Tesla’s board. In 2019, a jury cleared Musk of defamation charges brought by a British diver who aided in the Tham Luang cave rescue, after Musk tweeted in response to criticism that the diver was a "pedo guy.”
If Musk’s use of the platform is any indication of how he will run it, Twitter’s content moderation will likely become significantly more lax under his leadership, potentially setting back efforts by the platform to curb misinformation and abuse against marginalized groups.