Twitter may be getting a new CEO, but Musk hasn’t changed
Musk is still using the platform to push dangerous conspiracy theories and racist dog whistles — behavior that's already scared off advertisers
In the days since Twitter’s Elon Musk announced advertising executive Linda Yaccarino would be the company’s new CEO, Musk has continued to tweet racist, antisemitic, and anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theories and amplify QAnon-supporting figures — behavior that scared off some then-advertisers when he took over.
On May 12, a day after Musk proclaimed that a new CEO would be starting in roughly six weeks, he announced that Yaccarino would be filling the role, seemingly choosing the ad executive to give the platform more legitimacy with advertisers and help give Twitter its desired revenue boost. When CNBC’s David Faber asked Musk about the choice during a May 16 interview, Musk replied, "Well, Twitter, it’s very much an advertising-dependent business. Linda is obviously incredible at that.”
But Yaccarino may not represent much of a break from Musk's ways. Tech journalist Kara Swisher has described her as “a fan of President Trump,” who is “definitively conservative” and “comfortable” with Musk’s politics. Further, Yaccarino has been supporting Musk since he took over the platform. And since announcing her to be the new CEO, Musk has continued engaging in the same behaviors which drove advertisers away.
In fact, Musk defended his problematic tweets to Faber, saying, “I’ll say what I want to say and if the consequence of that is losing money, so be it.”
When it comes to actual freedom of speech, however — meaning freedom from being required to say what a government wants you to say, or freedom to say something a government doesn’t approve of — Musk’s Twitter has seen a decrease in freedom of speech. As Swisher explained while discussing Twitter’s censorship in Turkey, “Before the takeover, Twitter fully complied with half of government demands it received. It was one of the most aggressive pushback of government requests in tech at the time. Since the takeover, the number’s gone up to 80%.”
Musk is still tweeting racist dog whistles and misinformation
Since taking over Twitter, Musk has restored the accounts of numerous figures who are known to push antisemitic, anti-LGBTQ, and white nationalist rhetoric and conspiracy theories on the platform. Musk himself has shared a Hitler meme and allowed corporate ads to run alongside tweets from Holocaust deniers. This is unsurprising since Musk has presided over a workplace faulted for racism before.
Just days before Musk announced that he’d hired a new CEO, he indulged an egregiously misleading and racist tweet claiming that mainstream media misrepresent interracial violent crime statistics, replying by calling it “odd” and asking why the media would do so to “such an extreme degree.” In the days since he made the announcement, Musk has shown that he remains quick to tweet racist dog whistles and misinformation.
- On May 15, Musk once again promoted the misleading and racist tweet about media coverage of interracial crime. In response to a tweet that featured the graph, Musk replied, “Interesting.”
- On May 15, in response to a tweet from 9/11 conspiracy theorist Luke Rudkowski with a meme claiming that people react to interracial violence only when the assailant is white and the victim is Black, Musk replied, “Accurate.”
- In reply to an Ian Miles Cheong tweet on May 15 of an article about comedian Dave Chappelle blaming “woke leadership” for the “downfall” of San Francisco, Musk replied, “Rightly so. The disaster that is downtown SF, once beatiful and thriving, now a derelict zombie apocalypse, is due to the woke mind virus.”
- Failed right-wing political figure & climate denier Michael Shellenberger linked to an article about San Francisco’s “Doom Loop” on May 11 and wrote, “A reporter tried to debunk the horror stories about San Francisco, but couldn’t because they’re true. Some of the street addicts were rotting, literally: their decomposing flesh attracting flies.” In response, Musk tweeted, “Yup.”
Musk’s recent antisemitic tweets have led one neo-Nazi to praise him for “coming in hot … against the Jewish agenda”
Musk has also joined other right-wing media figures in fearmongering about immigration amid the ending of Title 42, including by tweeting antisemitic talking points known to be part of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which has been tied to mass shootings at synagogues and in majority Black communities in recent years. Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin later celebrated Musk’s tweets, saying, “It is very powerful to have the richest man in the world – who people also say is a genius – coming in hot like this against the Jewish agenda.” Further, after roughly 150 members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front marched through Washington, D.C., on May 14, Musk seemingly downplayed the threat of white supremacist violence by indulging a right-wing conspiracy that these men were actually FBI agents engaged in a “false flag” operation.
- On May 12, Musk quote-tweeted a New York Times tweet that read, “Crowds of people are gathering along the U.S.-Mexican border as Title 42, which has allowed border agents to remove migrants on public health grounds during the pandemic, lifts at midnight,” adding, “Wow.”
- In reply to a May 11 tweet from Collin Rugg, co-owner of Trending Politics, that reads “JUST IN: Thousands of Haitians are forming in Mexico across from McAllen, TX waiting to storm the southern border. Look at all those women and children!” with a video that claims to show Haitian people at the southern border, Musk wrote, “This is next-level.”
- In reply to Turning Point USA reporter Savanah Hernandez’s May 11 tweet sharing a video of an Ecuadorian woman and noting that in a longer version she said “that her husband was waiting for Title 42 to expire before he crosses,” Musk tweeted, “You can post over over an hour of 480p video on Twitter now.”
- In response to a tweet that dubiously claims that “Unlawful crossings topped 10,000 per day this week, the highest levels ever” on May 13, Musk replied, “!!”
- On May 13, in response to a tweet suggesting the country used to be better, featuring images claiming the country is overrun with crime, homelessness, migrants, and that all tax money is going to Ukraine, Musk replied, “🤔.”
- On May 15, Musk tweeted, “Soros reminds me of Magneto,” in reference to George Soros, the billionaire whose philanthropic and political donations often make him the target of antisemitic attacks from right-wing media, and Magneto, the Marvel character. In response, investigative journalist Brian Krassenstein tweeted that, as Holocaust survivors, both Magneto and Soros have had their perspectives shaped by the Holocaust, but only Soros gets attacked because people “disagree with this political affiliations.” Musk retorted, “You assume they are good intentions. They are not. He wants to erode the very fabric of civilization. Soros hates humanity.”
- Later, Musk defended his comments on Soros on May 17 by saying, “I’d like to apologize for this post. It was really unfair to Magneto.” Musk also then responded to a tweet from a QAnon influencer claiming that a report which found that antisemitism on Twitter has increased since Musk’s takeover was funded by George Soros. Musk replied, “Wow, what a coincidence …"
- Fellow right-wing tech investor David Sacks then chimed in on May 16, blaming Soros for “carnage” in American cities. Musk replied in agreement, adding that Soros has instructed his “pet prosecutors” to minimize prosecuting violent criminals.
- Shellenberger also tweeted about the report on May 17, claiming it to be false, and stated that “in truth, media elites are ‘attacking Twitter for not complying.’” In response, Musk tweeted, “True.”
- Musk then also tweeted on May 18, “Does the public realize that Soros wants open borders? Literally not even checking to see if they’re convicted serial killers on the run, which has happened more than once.”
- A video showing reportedly over 150 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front marching in Washington, DC was posted on Twitter on May 13 with a caption saying, “What do you think? They are a false flag FBI (or other federal agents) pretending? Or a real group of protesters?” In response, Musk tweeted, “Someone should go ask them.”
- On May 17, in response to a tweet accusing Vice of “attempting to start a race war for clicks” for condemning the right for “lionizing Daniel Penny,” who has been charged with killing a homeless man on the New York subway, Musk replied, “🤣🎯.”
Musk has continued to amplify QAnon figures, narratives, and memes
Shortly after taking over Twitter, Musk broke his promise to advertisers to maintain the platform’s content moderation policies by restoring the accounts of QAnon figures who had previously been banned, despite the real world harm associated with the conspiracy theory. In less than a month, these and other Musk behaviors drove away half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers.
In the time since, Musk has routinely engaged with and promoted QAnon figures, narratives, and memes. Less than 24 hours after announcing Yaccarino would be taking over as CEO, Musk tweeted at KanekoaTheGreat, a QAnon influencer whom he has boosted on the platform over two dozen times since reinstating their account.
- In a May 11 tweet from End Wokeness praising Musk for being “the best Big Tech CEO” and turning Twitter into “one of the safest havens for free speech on the internet,” KanekoaTheGreat added that “with Elon in charge, as long as Twitter remains committed to free speech, there are endless possibilities for growth.” Musk replied to the thread saying, “It will get better rapidly.”
- On May 13, Musk tweeted a Pepe the Frog meme, a symbol that’s popular in far-right circles, with the caption “Explaining Constitutional Amendments.” The meme in part depicts Pepe in tactical gear and a gun next to the statement “The Second Amendment is for when they try and stop me from sharing memes with frens.”
- On May 13, Musk replied “Feels so long ago …” to a quote-retweet of a video that shows a man going by the pseudonym “Daniel Johnson” who claims to have worked for Twitter as a data engineer talking about being recently laid off from the company. In response to Musk’s quote-retweet, an account requested for Musk to restore the account of QAnon influencer ULTRA Pepe Lives Matter, saying it had created the meme. The same account then tried to encourage others to ask Musk to restore ULTRA Pepe Lives Matter’s Twitter account. At the writing of this article, the account is still suspended.
- Musk replied “Covid Cult Culture” to a May 13 tweet that said, “Never forget how easily half of the country was brainwashed into hating those who refused to take Pfizer and Moderna's experimental mRNA injections. Do they stop infection or transmission? Why are so few taking boosters? Are they safe and effective?”
- In reply to a May 12 tweet suggesting Yaccarino is either “far right anti-LGBTQ MAGA” or “far left woke globalist,” Musk tweeted, “Is it possible to be LGBTQAnon?”
Musk has also continued to indulge anti-LGBTQ extremists and even advocated for a national abortion ban after 12 weeks
Musk has repeatedly and baselessly denied that Twitter has become a more extreme and hateful place since he took over — including at a private dinner in Miami with new CEO Yaccarino and top marketing executives. But Media Matters and others have demonstrated that since Musk took over, hate speech on Twitter has increased substantially, sometimes shared by Musk himself.
Since announcing Twitter’s new CEO, Musk has continued to indulge extreme anti-LGBTQ Twitter accounts. He also expressed support for a national abortion ban after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
- On May 12, Chris Elston (aka “Billboard Chris”) — an anti-LGBTQ extremist who was previously banned from Twitter — expressed his concerns about Yaccarino to Musk, to which Musk replied, “I hear your concerns, but don’t judge too early. I am adamant about defending free speech, even if it means losing money.”
- Elston, who on Tucker Carlson Tonight referred to puberty blockers as “the biggest child abuse scandal in modern medicine,” replied to Musk by insisting that “Children are being maimed and sterilized,” and that “on Twitter” people “weren’t allowed to speak freely about a craze sweeping through our culture — an immense social contagion, which combined with experimental medical practices, is irreversibly harming our kids. This craze is promoted by the WEF and every mainstream media organization, including NBC where Linda comes from.” Musk replied, “Anyone who maims children should go to prison for life. This shouldn’t even need to be said.”
- On May 13, in response to a reply to a Libs of TikTok tweet that reads “The biggest mistake woke people ever made was coming for our kids. That is the beginning of the end for them!” Musk replied, “Yeah.”
- Also on May 13, in response to a tweet proposing that there should be a national abortion ban after 12 weeks of pregnancy, Musk tweeted, “I agree.”
- On May 18, in response to a tweet from anti-LGBTQ extremist Chris Rufo celebrating that “Texas legislators have passed a bill banning child sex-change procedures statewide,” Musk replied, “Thank goodness.”
Musk is not actually defending free speech on Twitter
Despite Musk’s insistence that “I’m allowed to say what I want to” and that he purchased Twitter to defend freedom of speech and protect the future of humanity, on May 12, on the eve of an election in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced his strongest electoral challenge in 20 years, Twitter’s Global Government Affairs team shared a thread explaining that the company would be taking action to “restrict access to some content in Turkey” that day. Musk repeatedly defended the decision.
The truth is, Musk has proved himself to be more than willing to follow the requests of governments to crack down on users they oppose (which is absolutely not “par for the course for all internet companies,” no matter what he may claim), as Slate reported:
This is evidenced by the fact that Twitter under Musk has approved censorship orders at a higher rate than it ever had before his takeover, especially in repressive places like Turkey and India. In the latter’s case, Twitter has bowed to government requests to censor unfavorable content from global view altogether—such as links to investigative documentaries—and to obscure Indians’ access to foreign governments’ official accounts.