The reaction among the press and tech communities to Elon Musk’s efforts to purchase Twitter has been nothing short of apocalyptic. A common theme has been that democracy itself would be under threat if unelected billionaire oligarchs controlled what was allowed online. Yet this is precisely how social media works today. The Musk controversy, like the Cambridge Analytica story before it, highlights the real issue: the fight over content moderation is less about online safety and more about who controls the digital public square.
Only a year ago, the media cheered the unilateral decisions by a handful of billionaires to effectively banish then-President Donald Trump from the digital public square. Lawmakers and media outlets alike proclaimed the societal benefits of private companies controlling the digital public square beyond the reach of government. In contrast, the possibility of a libertarian-leaning billionaire like Musk wielding that same power has been presented as nothing short of an attack on democracy itself.
In January, the Washington Post argued that oligarchs banning Trump wasn’t censorship; now it warns of the “risks of social media ownership.” Former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos argued, “If you want people to be able to interact, you need to have basic rules” for speech. Former FCC chair Tom Wheeler went further, proposing a “First Amendment-respecting process in which the government doesn’t dictate content but does cause there to be an acceptable behavioral code.” In short, tech billionaires enforcing speech rules that align with Democratic Party priorities is a benefit to society; Republicans or libertarians wielding that same power is a threat.
This double standard has been in place for some time. Consider how it played out a few years ago, in the Cambridge Analytica “scandal” involving the Trump campaign.
After Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection victory, the media had heralded his campaign’s “groundbreaking” “dream team” of “masterminds” that “built a database of every American voter” by mass-harvesting their personal data from Facebook. As a campaign lead later put it, “We ingested the entire U.S. social graph … We would ask permission to basically scrape your profile, and also scrape your friends, basically anything that was available to scrape. We scraped it all.” They even scanned users’ photographs, “looking for who were tagged in photos with you, which was a really great way to dredge up old college friends – and ex-girlfriends” in their attempts to reach voters. These efforts were combined with offline data “showing which [television] channels they were watching, sometimes on a second-by-second basis” in order to build a holistic view of the American electorate. The Obama campaign’s own analytics director later conceded the scale of personal information acquired was “creepy.”
Despite the campaign’s downloading of a measurable fraction of the data Facebook held on the American public, Facebook took no action, allegedly telling campaign staffers that “they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”
When Facebook rolled out new policies in 2014 that would limit the ability of future campaigns to replicate the Obama campaign’s mass downloads, media coverage lamented the loss of such a powerful political targeting tool. Concern focused on how future campaigns would be able to construct such detailed voter data, rather than on the privacy and societal implications of mass-harvesting people’s data without their consent. As the 2016 campaign drew to a close, with Hillary Clinton the expected winner, media coverage touted her campaign’s adroit use of mass data harvesting and analysis, while scoffing at the Trump campaign’s apparent failure to incorporate big-data analytics.
All that changed in 2018, when the story broke that Trump’s campaign had almost exactly replicated Obama’s strategy of mass-harvesting Facebook data. Suddenly, the mass download of social media data was a “scandal” involving the “dangerous” “misuse” of “surveillance” technology that “exploited” voters’ privacy and represented a “serious breach of the law.”
How did the work of Obama’s “masterminds” become “misuse” in the hands of Trump’s campaign?
On a technical level, the two campaigns had done exactly the same thing: recruit supporters to allow them to harvest the data of their friends to build a massive database of Americans. The difference, as a Facebook spokesperson later clarified, was that the Trump campaign had acquired the data from a third party – Cambridge Analytica – while the Obama campaign had harvested the data itself. According to the spokesperson, if Trump’s campaign had downloaded the data itself instead of receiving it from Cambridge Analytica, it would not have been in violation of any Facebook policies. Despite demanding that Cambridge Analytica delete all of the Facebook data it had downloaded, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed that the Obama campaign would be allowed to keep all the data it had harvested and continue to use it for future Democratic campaigns because there was nothing wrong with what it had done.
In short, the “scandal” was merely that the Trump campaign had contracted out the data collection instead of using its own staffers to download it. In the eyes of the media, however, Trump’s use of Facebook data had undermined democracy. Across the media, condemnation was swift and furious, with calls for new rules governing the use of social media data for campaigning.
In the end, the battle over Elon Musk controlling Twitter has nothing to do with oligarchs or online safety, just as the Cambridge Analytica controversy had nothing to do with a technical distinction between contractors and employees. Instead, it is merely the latest chapter in the battle over who controls the digital public square – and which political party determines its rules.
Tone-Deaf MSNBC Pundit Says Musk-Run Twitter Could Be Manipulated For Political Reasons
MSNBC's Ari Melber may be the most tone-deaf pundit on the planet, after suggesting an Elon Musk-Run Twitter could be 'manipulated' to change political outcomes in favor of Republicans by suppressing stories that might harm a conservative candidate - exactly what Twitter did to Donald Trump during the 2020 US election.
"If you own all of Twitter or Facebook or what have you, you don't have to explain yourself. You don't even have to be transparent. You could secretly ban one party's candidate or all of its candidates, all of its nominees, or you could just secretly turn down the reach of their stuff and turn up the reach of something else," said Melber. "And the rest of us might not even find out about it until after the election. Elon Musk says this is all to help people because he is just a free speech, philosophically clear, open-minded helper."
To review, Twitter suppressed perhaps the biggest bombshell in US politics in October 2020when it banned the New York Post for truthfully reporting on Hunter Biden's laptop - which contained revelations of shady Biden family business dealings involving Joe Biden.
In addition to damning emails, the laptop also contained a cache of text messages, photos and financial documents which revealed that Joe Biden absolutely lied when he said he had no knowledge of Hunter's dealings - and may have been collecting 10% of Hunter's income.
More via The Post Millennial:
Emma Jo Morris, who broke the Hunter Biden laptop story in the Post, shared the Melber clip, saying "@AriMelber that would be crazy. Hey, similar thing actually already happened tho- next time you’re in New York I’ll show you this hard drive I got that belongs to Joe Biden’s corrupt son and that Twitter banned my reporting about 3 weeks before the last presidential election."
The New York Times, NPR, Politico and the Washington Post, worked to suppress the story, with the Times by publishing an article calling the report "unsubstantiated" in September 2021, then editing the story without publishing a formal correction notice.
Recently, several of those same outlets have recently confirmed the legitimacy of the content of the laptop.
A poll previously released by the Media Research Center showed that 16 percent of voters who were unaware of the Hunter Biden laptop scandal would have switched their minds and not voted for Joe Biden, had they known about it at the time.
According to a December 2020 Rasmussen poll, a majority of Americans believed that the media purposely buried the Hunter Biden laptop story to influence the 2020 election.
After the election, Hunter Biden revealed that he was under a federal investigation. Hunter Biden has been under investigation for failing to pay taxes since Joe Biden was US Vice President. In 2018, the inquiry expanded to investigate how Hunter’s international business dealings connected with President Biden’s political career. There are even reports that Hunter could be under as many as four investigations.
Republicans have repeatedly criticized Twitter over alleged bias against users who politically lean conservative. Sen. Tom Cotton, (R-AR), was locked out of his account after tweeting about the Black Lives Matter riots in June 2020.
During a 2019 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), questioned a Twitter executive regarding the alleged bias.
During the testimoney, Twitter Director of Public Policy and Philanthropy Carlos Monje Jr., apologized to Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), for the company's decision in October 2017 to block one of her campaign ads.
The Libs of Tik Tok account, which highlights videos liberals post of themselves to the social media app TikTok, was locked out for "hateful conduct" by Twitter twice in one week. The company did not explain which tweet contained "hateful conduct."
Congressional Republicans such as Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), have been censored for tweeting on transgender issues.
Twitter also banned President Donald Trump following the January 6 riot in 2021, but allows well known bigots, antisemites, dictators and users who’ve been accused of murder full access to tweet.
Twitter's Top Lawyer Breaks Down In Tears During Musk Takeover Meeting
Twitter's top lawyer, Vijaya Gadde, reportedly broke down in tears during a virtual meeting with the company's policy and legal teams to discuss the ramifications of Elon Musk's purchase of the social media platform.
According to Politico, "Gadde cried during the meeting as she expressed concerns about how the company could change," and "acknowledged that there are significant uncertainties about what the company will look like under Musk’s leadership."
Having been with Twitter since 2011, Gadde was the key executive in charge of 'trust and safety, legal and public policy functions' - described by Politico as the company's "moral authority."
Gadde holds one of the most controversial positions at Twitter: Her teams decide how to moderate content. That’s made her a target of right-wing criticism, particularly when Twitter blocked the distribution of a New York Post article about President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, in 2020. She faced a renewed wave of criticism after multiple reports confirmed she was behind the decision to ban Trump from Twitter. -Politico
In other words, Gadde is likely the exec who signed off on ZeroHedge's February 2020 ban for speculating that Covid-19 may have emerged from a Wuhan Lab, and President Trump's January 2021 ban in connection with the capitol riot.
She has shepherded Twitter through some of its most contentious political battles, including the decisions to remove all political advertising and to boot former President Donald Trump from the platform in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill — a position that has earned her devoted fans within Twitter, as well as a large contingent of right-wing critics.
But as news of Musk’s official takeover broke, policy and legal employees fretted at the meeting about what his leadership could mean for Twitter’s carefully crafted online speech rules, including its policies against hate speech, misinformation and even political advertising. -Politico
She played a 'leading role' in the negotiation between Twitter and Musk, according to the report.
"I think everyone at Twitter, regardless of how they feel about the news, is feeling reflective and emotional," said a Twitter employee. "We’ve gone through a lot in the past two years and I think it’s generally instigated a lot of reflection. I think this was more of an acknowledgment of the uncertainty everyone is feeling right now."
As a reminder, Gadde is crying because her new boss is a 'free speech absolutist,' while she wants to silence divergent opinions from her own.
"I’m often inspired by the vigorous debates on controversial issues that occur on Twitter, but I’ve also been seriously troubled by the plight of some of our users who are completely overwhelmed by those who are trying to silence healthy discourse in the name of free expression," Gadde wrote in 2015. "At times, this takes the form of hateful speech in tweets directed at women or minority groups; at others, it takes the form of threats aimed to intimidate those who take a stand on issues."
What a crying shame.
By Tyler Durden
Project Veritas Leaks Audio Of Twitter Meeting Following Musk Acquisition
James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas just released leaked audio of Monday’s Twitter staff meeting and sharing their emotions after Elon Musk’s purchase of the platform.
Employees and management of the company alike appear to be distressed in footage that has leaked from Project Veritas thus far.
“I believe Twitter grows as a service, allows for more people to use the product… because we have built tools, processes for people to be able to feel safe and control their experiences… Sometimes that means more thoughtful moderation,” Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal could be heard saying during the meeting.
Twitter board member Bret Taylor reportedly kicked off the meeting by taking a moment to recognize the emotional shock that he and others at the company experienced following Musk’s acquisition.
“I also just want to acknowledge all the emotions of today. It is an emotional day. I want to acknowledge it,” Taylor said. “By law, we are required to act in the best interest of our shareholders,” he said while justifying the company’s sale.
Agrawal made similar comments, telling employees “it’s important to acknowledge that all of you have many different feelings about what is happening.”
“Many of you are concerned, some of you excited, many people here are waiting to understand how this goes and have an open mind,” he continued.
Project Veritas has promised that more leaks will follow soon.
As Elon Musk made yet more headlines today - by doing nothing today apart from tweeting this...
It appears someone decided he needed to be punished for daring to preserve free speech (oh the horror!) as TSLA shares tumbled over 11% today, raising questions from many on who was behind this move...
As Trey Henninger (@TreyHenninger) detailed, "If $TSLA stock hits $570, Elon Musk will be margin called on his Twitter purchase loan. If that occurs, he'll have two business days to either pay the entire $12.5 billion margin loan, post $3.57 billion USD in CASH, or sell his $TSLAQ collateral shares. So, Soros has to short TSLA to 570 to kill the deal."
TSLA's tumble weighed heavily (given its weighting) on the major indices, with Nasdaq clubbed like a baby seal today, back below March's lows (down 3.5% today)...Nasdaq's worst day since Sept 2020
But Bonds & Black Gold were bid amid all the chaos.
Treasuries were bid across the curve today, led by the short-end (2Y-9bps, 30Y -3bps).
Or does The Fed need a crash to justify jawboning the extreme hawkishness back from the cliff's edge?
Elon Musk 'Clarifies' Free Speech Stance After EU Threats
Elon musk clarified what he meant by "free speech," writing in a Tuesday tweet: "I simply mean that which matches the law."
The European Union has put Elon Musk on notice - warning that he faces hefty fines or even a ban if he allows free speech on Twitter.
EU commissioner Thierry Breton told the Financial Times that Musk must follow rules on moderating illegal and harmful content online, since words have been elevated to 'sticks & stones' when it comes to the dangers of modern life.
"We welcome everyone. We are open but on our conditions. At least we know what to tell him: ‘Elon, there are rules. You are welcome but these are our rules. It’s not your rules which will apply here," said Breton.
Musk’s take-private deal for Twitter could transform the Tesla chief executive, who has used the platform to attack regulators and critics, into a social media baron, given that millions of people rely on the San Francisco-based platform for news.
He said on Monday that “free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy” and described Twitter as “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated”. -FT
Breton's comments come just days after Brussels signed a major piece of legislation targeting big tech for not doing enough to police content online, which runs counter to Musk's plan to loosen Twitter's content moderation policies to match his stated "free speech absolutist" ideology that could even see the return of former President Donal Trump to the platform (despite Trump's insistence he won't be back).
According to Breton, he's simply offering Musk a "reality check" over plans for less stringent moderation, as a lack of compliance risks a ban in Europe.
"Anyone who wants to benefit from this market will have to fulfill our rules. The board [of Twitter] will have to make sure that if it operates in Europe it will have to fulfill the obligations, including moderation, open algorithms, freedom of speech, transparency in rules, obligations to comply with our own rules for hate speech, revenge porn [and] harassment," said Breton, adding "If [Twitter] does not comply with our law, there are sanctions — 6 per cent of the revenue and, if they continue, banned from operating in Europe."
By Tyler Durden
Elon Musk says Twitter’s censorship of Hunter Biden laptop story was “incredibly inappropriate”
Musk speaks out amidst speculation about Twitter's new direction.
After it was confirmed that entrepreneur Elon Musk would be acquiring Twitter yesterday, the media has been awash with constant speculation about what it would mean for the future of the company and exactly what it was that spurred Musk to want to return the platform to its free speech roots.
Musk has given some indication of this in his most recent comments.
Musk criticized the “extreme antibody reaction” from “those who fear free speech” and said it “says it all” as he began his pushback against some of Twitter’s most sensitive employees.
Musk said that whatever speech is legal should be allowed on the platform.
“By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law,” Musk added in a later post. “If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people,” Musk said.
Today, in comments on Twitter, Musk alluded to the censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story and said that it was “ incredibly inappropriate” for Twitter to have censored it.
In October 2020, just before the US presidential election, the New York Post published a story about Hunter Biden’s potentially corrupt dealings when his father, Joe Biden, was vice president. The story was based on damning emails obtained from a laptop Hunter left at a repair shop in Delaware.
Twitter censored the story over the “origins of the material” and suspended the New York Post’s account for two weeks. The online platform also prevented users from sharing the story.
Many speculated that the censorship was to protect President Biden’s chance of winning the election.
This year, even The New York Times confirmed the authenticity of what the New York Post called the “laptop from hell.”
The Breaking Points podcast host Saagar Enjeti took to Twitter to comment on a story from Politico that stated that Twitter’s top censor Vijaya Gadde was in tears during meetings about the Musk purchase.
“Vijaya Gadde, the top censorship advocate at Twitter who famously gaslit the world on Joe Rogan’s podcast and censored the Hunter Biden laptop story, is very upset about the @elonmusk takeover,” Enjeti said.
By Cindy Harper
Mass Deactivations Have Taken Place On Twitter Following Elon Musk's Takeover
Twitter has been facing reports of high profile accounts losing thousands of followers in the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover, with the company saying the ‘fluctuations in follower counts’ stems from ‘organic’ account closures.
According to NBC, former US president Barack Obama, the most followed account on Twitter at 131.7 million followers, lost more than 300,000 followers after the news on Monday, 25 April, while singer Katy Perry, the third-most-followed, lost more than 200,000.
The outlet reports that, meanwhile, some accounts on the political right have seen their follower counts skyrocket. This includes Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who had 539,000 followers the day before the Musk buyout, but had 632,000 by Tuesday evening.
Off the back of the strange pattern, Rep. Matt Gaetz – a close ally of former president Donald Trump – tweeted: “It really is something how conservative accounts are getting massive follower increases today.”
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is a right-wing populist, also gained almost 90,000 followers in the day after the announcement.
While Twitter has not provided an exact number or accounts that have been closed or activated since Monday, the company confirmed it was looking into the ‘recent fluctuations in follower counts’.
In a statement to NBC, Twitter said: "While we continue to take action on accounts that violate our spam policy which can affect follower counts, these fluctuations appear to largely be a result of an increase in new account creation and deactivation.”
A spokesperson said the accounts experiencing the most severe drop-offs in followers were ‘high-profile accounts’.
Musk has vowed to make Twitter a home for 'free speech', while also 'defeating the spam bots'.
In the statement announcing the agreement, he said: "Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.
"I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it."
Bret Taylor, Twitter's Independent Board Chair, said: "The Twitter Board conducted a thoughtful and comprehensive process to assess Elon's proposal with a deliberate focus on value, certainty, and financing.
"The proposed transaction will deliver a substantial cash premium, and we believe it is the best path forward for Twitter's stockholders."
The EU puts Elon Musk on notice with its censorship demands
The EU expects Musk's Twitter to censor.
Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is the kind of stuff you can’t make up – and for once, even EU bureaucrats are prepared to acknowledge (they ostensibly always see it, but like to deny it) that there’s a new, emerging reality they live in.
A new sheriff in town, if you will.
And the Twitter takeover story seems to have the EU positively frazzled.
After all, Musk is a billionaire who has worked as a part of, within, and thanks to the system for years now to become who he is. Why would they doubt that he would fully comply?
Well, Musk has been having some “revolutionary” thoughts of late. And as we know, “in a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Like this: Twitter, with its influence and mindshare power, is in fact, a digital town square. That’s how Musk recently put it. That’s very different from the way this, and other Big Tech platforms have been defending their “right to censorship” – namely, that they are merely “plain and simple, privately-held companies” and therefore not subject to legal limitations such as those imposed by the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
We can only imagine the kind of alarm bells that this one statement alone must have set off, in so many places. But as far as Europeans are concerned – why would the EU even care about any of this? Unless that is, the EU has in the meantime adopted the US Constitution, along with all its amendments.
Cedric O, France’s digital minister, said that while there are “some interesting things” Musk wants to push for at Twitter, the EU’s new Digital Services Act “will apply regardless of the ideology of its owner.”
Either way, with the Musk acquisition, what we are seeing is several rattled establishments. How long that remains the case, and what it’s really worth – only time will tell.
But it is very telling right now of the way the EU functions as the junior partner in the “trans-Atlantic partnership” – when it comes to controlling social media.
“Moderation” aka, “censorship” is the key concern here going forward. How will Twitter enforce it now? Musk, a man who is now labeled as “eccentric billionaire” is warned that in the EU, it is the-fresh-out-the-mint, Digital Services Act, that will have the last word.
That (ideology?) will apply regardless of “the ideology of (Twitter) owner,” said France’s digital minister.
Well. Game on.
Is Twitter "Burning The Evidence" By Unshackling Conservative Accounts?
Conservative Twitter users have noticed a massive uptick in followers and engagement following Elon Musk’s Twitter buy, while leftists on the platform are experiencing the inverse, prompting some to wonder if the company is undoing evidence that it rigged the reach of people it deemed to be undesirable.
The trend is so extreme that it prompted Twitter to address it, claiming that it is all organic owing to new accounts being created and existing accounts being deactivated.
“We’ve been looking into recent fluctuations in follower counts. While we continue to take action on accounts that violate our spam policy which can affect follower counts, these fluctuations appear to largely have been a result of an increase in new account creation and deactivation,” the company said in a statement.
Not everyone is buying Twitter’s explanation, however.
Human Events Daily host Jack Posobiec noted Wednesday, “They’re deboosting liberal accounts right now. Anna Navaro had a post up that said that she’s losing followers, Meanwhile, myself, Cernovich, LibsofTikTok… Everybody on our side got a massive boost out of nowhere.”
“You know what it is, they’re pulling the breaks out, they’re trying to cover up all of their tracks, because they know what they’ve been doing. James O’Keefe proved this with the shadow banning,” Posobiec continued, adding “He proved it. James O’Keefe found the algorithms within Silicon Valley, they do this stuff.”
“Elon… He didn’t just purchase a company, he purchased evidence. He purchased evidence in criminal cases. That’s what he’s got here, and that’s what you’re seeing. He called it himself, an antibody-like response to his action,” Posobiec further asserted.
Fox News host Sean Hannity also covered the development Wednesday, suggesting that Twitter is attempting to “cover their tracks” before Musk’s takeover is complete.
“Conservatives on the platform—all of a sudden out of nowhere—enjoyed a massive bump in followers and interactions,” Hannity said, explaining “For example, in just two days, Donald Trump Jr.—wow, magically—he got 200,000 new followers. That is roughly a 2,000 percent increase daily. Wow. It’s almost as if Twitter employees lifted a broad anti-conservative, anti-Trump shadow ban—which we all knew was taking place anyway—in an effort to cover their tracks before the new boss takes over.”
Elon Musk is, of course, completely aware of the evidence pointing to shadow banning:
By Steve Watson