Hiltzik: The Musk meltdown – Los Angeles Times

People trying to track Twitter’s intellectual and moral deterioration under its new owner, Elon Musk, have gotten a few more data points to work with in recent days.

On Sunday, Musk signed on to right-wing campaigns against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the respected infectious disease expert whose role in the battle against the HIV and COVID-19 viruses may have saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives.

“My pronouns are Prosecute / Fauci,” Musk tweeted on Sunday.

Forcing your pronouns on others when they don’t ask…is not good or kind to anyone.

– Elon Musk

When former astronaut Scott Kelly (the twin brother of Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona) rebuked Musk for not only attacking a “dedicated public servant,” but mocking the practice among LGBTQ people and others in posting their favorite pronouns online and in emails, Musk folded.

“Forcing your pronouns on others when they don’t ask for it… is neither good nor kind to anyone,” he tweeted. “As for Fauci, he lied to Congress and funded gain-of-function research that killed millions.”

None of these claims about Fauci have been proven to be true, though they are articles of faith among far-right activists like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The day before, Musk had falsely accused Yoel Roth, the former head of Twitter’s trust and safety team, of advocating that children access adult material online. He did it for quote selectively and misleadingly from Roth’s 2016 PhD thesis at the University of Pennsylvania.

The accusation that gay individuals like Roth are involved in child sexual abuse is a homophobic slur right out of the playbook of the QAnon conspiracy movement.

The claim has been picked up by far-right figures such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who used it against California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who is gay, posted a tweet calling him a “communist perfectionist” just days after Musk reclaimed his Twitter account.

Roth and his family have been forced to leave their home to avoid a torrent of threats and abuse following Musk’s tweet.

Musk has also accepted claims by opponents of broad-based public health policies aimed at combating the pandemic that they have been “censored” by social media platforms, including Twitter.

In December 10 Musk met with Stanford medical professor Jay Bhattacharya, who has claimed in a federal lawsuit and on Twitter that the Biden administration coerced social media companies into blacklisting him in violation of their first amendment rights.

In a tweet after their meeting, Bhattacharya praised Musk for establishing a new Twitter “where transparency and free speech rule.” (He did not respond to my request for more details of the meeting.)

Musk’s latest outbursts have heightened questions about where he intends to take Twitter, how government regulators, lawmakers and the Twitter user community should respond in the long term, and whether his behavior matters.

Gideon Lichfield, Wired’s editor-in-chief, argued Tuesday that Musk’s obsession with the media distracts us from more important questions about “Twitter’s role in the world: its importance to natural disaster management or to any number of communities for which it is a store of social wealth “in favor of a fixation on how much money the platform – that is, Musk – will lose.

Lichfield’s argument was that the attention given to Musk resembled that given to Donald Trump’s outrageous behavior during his presidency, which obscured the deeper damage that Trump’s acolytes were making government policies and the rule of law.

However, this will not do. Musk has far more influence over Twitter than Trump has over the federal government. As the undisputed owner of Twitter, Musk receives no pushback from the platform.

His endorsements of conspiracy theories amplify these false narratives and give them credibility among many of his 120 million Twitter followers and more than 200 million users, including the 13% of Americans who say they regularly receive the your Twitter feed.

Long-term watchers of Musk and his businesses aren’t sure what he’s doing here. Tech reporter Kara Swisher speculate that he is trying to create another right-wing media company to supplant a fading Fox News.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf argues that Musk inviting back to Twitter a horde of tweeters whose accounts had been blocked for hate or incitement to violence or a host of other civil behavior violations had been unfairly scorned by “alarmist” left-wing critics who ignored the “potential benefits” of the amnesty, such as making Twitter more trustworthy. (Good luck!)

His guesses may be plausible. But Musk’s demeanor at this point is indistinguishable from someone experiencing a personality breakdown and seeking assistance from fringe communities willing to shower him with hero worship because they, too, resent the way the big, bad world treats them. as marginalized

Take Bhattacharya, for example. He is one of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, a 2020 open letter that called for allowing the COVID-19 virus to spread among all but the most vulnerable members of society (such as the elderly and chronically ill) by keeping open schools and except for confinements, with the expectation of achieving “herd immunity,” a natural common resistance to disease.

Critics in the medical community call this notion “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.” In fact, it hasn’t worked in places that have tried it, including Sweden, where COVID case and death rates have far exceeded those of the more cautious Nordic countries, Sweden’s closest demographic neighbors.

Bhattacharya is joined in his lawsuit against the Biden administration by Martin Kulldorff, another co-author of the statement, and several other plaintiffs. As writer Walker Bragman has pointed out, they are represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a right-wing litigation factory that has received funding from the Koch network. (The Alliance is also suing to block California’s new anti-medical misinformation law.)

In their lawsuit, Bhattacharya and his co-plaintiffs accuse the Biden White House, seven federal agencies and Fauci, among others, of masterminding one of the federal government’s largest attacks on free speech “in the history of the nation.”

They claim that the administration “subsidized, protected, and encouraged the creation of speech censorship policies at a small and concentrated group of social media companies” through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, with the ‘goal to suppress the Great Barrington. Statement and other criticisms of anti-pandemic policies.

Blaming the administration for social media policies is clearly an effort to prevent the 1st Amendment guarantee of free speech from only applying to government entities, not private companies like Twitter.

Article 230, as I have reported, is the legal provision that inoculates social media platforms, as well as newspapers and other companies that host third-party content or images, from liability for third-party content on their sites. Responsibility lies solely with the actual content producers.

The lawsuit calls it a “single liability shield,” but that’s false. The shield is exactly the same as that enjoyed by bookstores and magazine stands, which cannot be sued for the content of the books and periodicals they sell.

Interestingly, after blaming Section 230 for the censorship the plaintiffs claim they suffer, the suit then attacks the Biden administration for considering a repeal of Section 230. Their argument is that by threatening repeal, Biden is inciting social media platforms to impose greater censorship on Bhattacharya and Kulldorff.

One problem for the plaintiffs is that they cannot point to any specific cases in which the government forced social media companies to censor their critics. They largely refer to efforts by government officials to present private companies with facts to counter critics’ misinformation, but nothing else.

In fact, in a statement filed with the lawsuit, Bhattacharya says that in October 2020, Francis Collins, then director of the National Institutes of Health, called for a “prompt and devastating published takedown” of the statement’s facilities in an email to Fauci.

But, as Bhattacharya admits, this kind of “published takedown” never appeared. Instead, he claims, “covert” censorship took place. (However, the president in October 2020 was Trump, not Biden.)

Musk has been trying to lend credence to those claims by releasing internal files detailing efforts by Roth and other Twitter executives before Musk to deal with the tide of misinformation and disinformation flooding Twitter.

As the documents show, their efforts were not invariably successful – and sometimes they may have gone too far – but at least they were trying.

That doesn’t seem to be true of Musk-era Twitter. On Monday, Musk abruptly disbanded the platform’s independent Trust and Safety Council, which advised executives on moderation policies.

On Tuesday, watchdog group Media Matters for America and LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD reported that “groomers” of anti-LGBTQ slurs have skyrocketed since Musk’s takeover, with right-wing and anti- -LGBTQ that restored representing a large part of the increase.

Musk can defend his leniency toward hate as a victory for free speech, but the question is: free speech for whom? Those who have tried to craft effective online moderation policies do so because harmful and vicious attacks and invectives do not encourage more open discussion, but rather drive thoughtful participants away from the discussion.

If Musk continues down this path, Twitter will not be a beacon of free speech, but a miasmic, foul-smelling swamp. There’s no point in trying to ignore his influence, because Twitter is all about him. Their promotion of lies and attacks on innocent people will not be good for Twitter or anyone who truly values ​​free speech.

How much lower can Musk’s Twitter sink? Those who argue that Musk is trying hard to turn the platform into a successful business seem sure he knows something we don’t. The question is: do we want to know?

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