OpinionElon Musk reveals how his Twitter may fuel right-wing extremism

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HR King
May 29, 2001
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By Greg Sargent
Columnist |
Today at 11:44 a.m. EDT
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SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. (Britta Pedersen/AFP/Getty Images)
Elon Musk, the most powerful Twitter troll in our soon-to-be interplanetary species, has spent the past 24 hours trolling Democrats. In tweet after tweet, he has claimed the Democratic Party has lurched into leftist extremism, leaving no option for noble centrists — a class that coincidentally includes Musk himself — but to turn toward the GOP.
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Musk’s core claim has been brutally debunked. As observers quickly demonstrated, the data shows the opposite: By numerous metrics, it’s the GOP that has grown far more extreme.
But it’s a mistake to evaluate Musk’s trolling purely as an empirical matter. It might better be seen as a statement of intent. Musk’s trolling might be revealing in real time how his pending purchase of Twitter will fuel and enable right-wing extremism.
“I strongly supported Obama for president, but today’s Democratic Party has been hijacked by extremists,” Musk tweeted about Barack Obama. He added: “The far left hates everyone, themselves included!” And there’s this:


The idea that conservatives haven’t moved right, as depicted here, is false by many ideological metrics. But the rub here is not the empirical failing. It’s the signal of intent to turn a blind eye to the realities of right-wing extremism. This graphic literally depicts Musk himself doing this.
ADVERTISING
That’s only one tweet, and it’s a troll. But his entire public argument hints at that underlying aim, with real-world implications.

Musk has vowed to relax Twitter’s moderation policies. He has attacked those who fear what this means as opponents of “free speech,” while suggesting that those previous policies had a left-wing bias.
It’s not hard to see what that might add up to: It might mean relaxing moderation of the sort of tweeting on the extreme right that had previously been moderated against, in the name of “free speech” and restoring ideological “balance.”
To be clear, the point here isn’t that moderation policies shouldn’t be rethought. Surely some moderation of particular right-wing speech has been excessive. If Musk can make the moderation process more transparent, great — though that’s easier said than done.
The point, rather, is that simplistically equating less moderation with “free speech” — and more moderation with “censorship” — doesn’t do any real-world work. There are all kinds of Twitter expressions where moderation isn’t an easy call — online harassment, rank disinformation, efforts to foment violent insurrection or undermine democracy with deliberate propaganda, and so on.
In such cases, more moderation might facilitate the flourishing of free exchange. The question is whether Musk will yank that back and allow the destructive practices to flow unchecked. It’s in this context that Musk’s downplaying of right-wing extremism hints at the dark turns this could take.
A visitor from, say, Mars might notice two big things coming from Republicans and right-wing propagandists these days. First, they are widely applying the terms “groomer” and “pedophile” to Democrats and corporations that oppose Republican bills restricting classroom discussion of sex and gender.
Second, they’re concertedly trying to impede efforts to get to the bottom of Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. Meanwhile, many Republicans are running for office on undiluted propaganda about 2020, to install themselves in positions of control over future elections.
This stuff doesn’t map onto Musk’s diagram of leftism and conservatism. As David Lurie notes, it’s not a move in a “conservative” direction. It’s a turn away from the constitutional order itself. Musk is telling us that those abnormalities will not register in his understanding of the moment.
Yes, Musk denounces the “far right” along with the “far left.” But all this shows is that he’ll fall back on absurd equivalences to downplay how virulent and destructive the former has truly become.
And notably, many members of the Republican Party are trafficking in “groomer” smears and helping to feed the party’s insurrectionist streak. As Brian Beutler shows, Republican officials are threatening use of institutional power to help secure Musk’s Twitter takeover, meaning they see a big advantage in how that would alter the politico-information environment.
What does this mean in practice?



No wonder they’re so excited.
 
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cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
70,085
49,541
113
Danielle Citron, a University of Virginia law professor who studies online harassment, suggests a worst-case scenario: A less-moderated Twitter might be weaponized in online harassment campaigns to paint Democratic officials — especially ones who attack GOP bills on sex and gender identity — as groomers and pedophiles.
“If Democratic politicians are accused of being pedophiles,” Citron tells me, you can imagine “deep fake sex videos” that employ depictions of child porn with the “politician swapped in.”
Alternatively, says Citron, you can see a much more extensive outpouring of “disinformation” about our elections, particularly amid another coup attempt.
“Twitter looked like that 12 years ago,” Citron tells me. Indeed, some current Twitter employees fear returning to exactly that.
Harassment does happen on both sides. But current moderation at least tries to keep up with it. In a world where that’s relaxed, it could grow worse on both sides, but on the right, it would plainly be more in direct sync with the agenda of many Republican politicians, who are on board with the agenda of painting Democrats as groomers and undermining democracy.
It may be that Musk might not end up allowing anything like this to happen, once his vague “free speech” bromides collide with messy moderation realities. But when he displays his determination to downplay the radicalization of the right wing of the GOP, he’s showing us a potential future information landscape that far-right Republicans are surely dreaming about.
No wonder they’re so excited.
The idea that conservatives haven’t moved right, as depicted here, is false by many ideological metrics. But the rub here is not the empirical failing. It’s the signal of intent to turn a blind eye to the realities of right-wing extremism. This graphic literally depicts Musk himself doing this.
ADVERTISING
That’s only one tweet, and it’s a troll. But his entire public argument hints at that underlying aim, with real-world implications.


Musk has vowed to relax Twitter’s moderation policies. He has attacked those who fear what this means as opponents of “free speech,” while suggesting that those previous policies had a left-wing bias.
It’s not hard to see what that might add up to: It might mean relaxing moderation of the sort of tweeting on the extreme right that had previously been moderated against, in the name of “free speech” and restoring ideological “balance.”
To be clear, the point here isn’t that moderation policies shouldn’t be rethought. Surely some moderation of particular right-wing speech has been excessive. If Musk can make the moderation process more transparent, great — though that’s easier said than done.
The point, rather, is that simplistically equating less moderation with “free speech” — and more moderation with “censorship” — doesn’t do any real-world work. There are all kinds of Twitter expressions where moderation isn’t an easy call — online harassment, rank disinformation, efforts to foment violent insurrection or undermine democracy with deliberate propaganda, and so on.
In such cases, more moderation might facilitate the flourishing of free exchange. The question is whether Musk will yank that back and allow the destructive practices to flow unchecked. It’s in this context that Musk’s downplaying of right-wing extremism hints at the dark turns this could take.
A visitor from, say, Mars might notice two big things coming from Republicans and right-wing propagandists these days. First, they are widely applying the terms “groomer” and “pedophile” to Democrats and corporations that oppose Republican bills restricting classroom discussion of sex and gender.
Second, they’re concertedly trying to impede efforts to get to the bottom of Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. Meanwhile, many Republicans are running for office on undiluted propaganda about 2020, to install themselves in positions of control over future elections.
This stuff doesn’t map onto Musk’s diagram of leftism and conservatism. As David Lurie notes, it’s not a move in a “conservative” direction. It’s a turn away from the constitutional order itself. Musk is telling us that those abnormalities will not register in his understanding of the moment.
Yes, Musk denounces the “far right” along with the “far left.” But all this shows is that he’ll fall back on absurd equivalences to downplay how virulent and destructive the former has truly become.
And notably, many members of the Republican Party are trafficking in “groomer” smears and helping to feed the party’s insurrectionist streak. As Brian Beutler shows, Republican officials are threatening use of institutional power to help secure Musk’s Twitter takeover, meaning they see a big advantage in how that would alter the politico-information environment.
What does this mean in practice?
Danielle Citron, a University of Virginia law professor who studies online harassment, suggests a worst-case scenario: A less-moderated Twitter might be weaponized in online harassment campaigns to paint Democratic officials — especially ones who attack GOP bills on sex and gender identity — as groomers and pedophiles.
“If Democratic politicians are accused of being pedophiles,” Citron tells me, you can imagine “deep fake sex videos” that employ depictions of child porn with the “politician swapped in.”
Alternatively, says Citron, you can see a much more extensive outpouring of “disinformation” about our elections, particularly amid another coup attempt.
“Twitter looked like that 12 years ago,” Citron tells me. Indeed, some current Twitter employees fear returning to exactly that.
Harassment does happen on both sides. But current moderation at least tries to keep up with it. In a world where that’s relaxed, it could grow worse on both sides, but on the right, it would plainly be more in direct sync with the agenda of many Republican politicians, who are on board with the agenda of painting Democrats as groomers and undermining democracy.
It may be that Musk might not end up allowing anything like this to happen, once his vague “free speech” bromides collide with messy moderation realities. But when he displays his determination to downplay the radicalization of the right wing of the GOP, he’s showing us a potential future information landscape that far-right Republicans are surely dreaming about.