Whenever you hear a Silicon Valley influencer talking about “freedom of speech,” it’s often fair to assume that they’re finding a way to justify taking away someone else’s. This is either done through the outright banning of certain voices - such as banning prominent left-wing accounts - or through elevating (or unbanning) the voices of those whose ideology is entirely centered on oppression, such as the founder of White Supremacist media outlet The Daily Stormer. Elon Musk allegedly purchased Twitter because of “media groupthink” and “free speech,” and to protect the world’s “digital town square,” but also because he believed it was a poorly-run business, which he has fixed by causing it to lose lots of money.
In the process, Musk has become the platonic form of the culture warrior, a chronically online and ever-aggrieved misanthrope that can be both repressed and censored while having massive platforms with millions of viewers. He spends every day oscillating between the many axes he grinds, be it arguing with Apple over their cut of app store sales, calling New York Times workers’ 24-hour walkout “woke V woke,” or, of course, the mind-numbingly boring “Twitter Files.”
These two multi-tweet threads, peddled by fellow ideologically-bankrupt culture warriors Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss, are meandering nothing burgers. Their “revelations” focus on things like shadowbanning (Twitter marking down how often a tweet would be seen, which Twitter quite literally briefed the press on in 2018), or that Twitter, at the behest of the DNC and Joe Biden, removed pictures of Hunter Biden’s penis from the internet, a thing that absolutely matches the terms and services of the website (specifically those regarding non-consensual imagery). These “Files” also included numerous emails between Twitter’s staff that showed, at length, how very important it was to make sure that doing this was in line with Twitter’s company policies.
If you are reading this and thinking “wow, that sounds extremely stupid, why would anyone care?” you are completely correct, because the Twitter Files are both massive storms in tiny teacups. Weiss’ primary cries of “censorship” hinge on multiple conservative influencers being “trends blacklisted,” meaning that they wouldn’t trend, or cut off from search, mostly because all of these accounts were posting misinformation or things that would otherwise lead to people getting hurt, such as bomb threats to childrens’ hospitals. These were not innocent journalists trying to tell the truth - they were groups of eager-to-harm shitheels that existed to drum up anger and resentment toward anything perceived as a threat, such as trans kids.
There is a reason that Musk picked Taibbi and Weiss to cover this story - they are similarly ideologically hollow hypocrites that will champion any cause that promotes their overall sense of victimization. They thrive off of Musk-adjacent hypocrisy, where their audience knows that nothing about what they’re talking about really matters, other than the sense that the people with power, who continually harass others, who have the platforms and reach to cause real harm, are somehow the ones being vilified and exiled from society. In the case of the Twitter Files, we see users using a user, with two so-called independent journalists desperate to kiss up to and use the resources of a multi-billionaire who doesn’t remotely care about the outcome, to the point that he “hardly read any” the Twitter Files that he claimed were so incendiary.
That’s because none of these people believe in anything. Continual controversy is a mask worn by people who want to avoid analysis. They are desperate to be taken seriously, and even more desperate for you to take their ideas seriously, knowing that if you do they’ve already won, because this is about “winning” rather than “being right.”
Except Elon Musk is absolutely terrible at it.
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I cannot be clear enough how easy it would have been for Musk to have turned the Twitter situation into a net positive. The easiest first move would’ve been to do nothing - taking stock of the company, understanding its culture and its people - and then very clearly saying “I will be taking my time to make sure this works.”
He could have then tweeted pictures of him in the office hanging out with people, and even thrown in a few “interesting things happening at Twitter!” type tweets that would have made people forget who he was or how he’d acted. Instead of just firing people, he could have called in a big accountancy firm and let them take the fall for the already-advertised layoffs, while showing that he wouldn’t, say, fire thousands of people at once based on his own intuition and a stark ultimatum.
The problem is that he is absolutely desperate to be told he is right, and he must be told so on his terms. He outright refuses to be diplomatic unless he absolutely has to (such as meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook), and clearly lacks even the situational empathy - or basic awareness - to say “is this going to make me look good or bad.” The Twitter Files are extremely embarrassing to Musk on many levels, chief of them that, despite having all the power and platform in the world, he still cannot convince everybody that he was right to buy this website.
He is desperate to prove that he is “right” for Twitter by telling some sort of salacious story but not desperate enough to deeply read the material because, deep to his core, Elon Musk is an entitled little brat that believes the world should cater to his ideologies and whims. His frustration isn’t just that people don’t like him - it’s that he is being forced to justify or explain his actions in a way that he has never had to in the past. That’s why he’s suddenly attacking Fauci and people’s pronouns - he needs people to love him with the exact same level of two-dimensional groupthink that he claims to be trying to destroy.
Previously, Musk could simply tell a lie or a half-truth and the media would run with it - to the point that there are hundreds of times where Musk has got presumptive press for doing things that have never happened. Like every narcissistic demagogue, Musk refuses to adapt to a world that has, albeit slowly, begun to ask him to back up the things that he says, which was never part of the deal. Now he’s desperate and annoyed, drowning in a sea of continual dunks and critiques that have appeared seemingly all at once, delivered at high speed to a website that he paid $44 billion for. He has never had to generate goodwill, and thus lacks the ability to draw on it and the muscles one builds to gain it, leaving him in a situation where the only people he can recruit to his cause are the craven, desperate and evil.
Which is why he’s hanging out online with nazis, welcoming them back into Twitter and posting Hitler-related references that they absolutely adore. Musk’s desperation for attention is creating an onramp for the scum of the Earth, people that have grown stronger by other people who are scared that they will be considered “anti-free speech” if they start explaining away Musk’s actions as “unintentional.”
If you are wondering where the slippery slope begins, it’s here. Musk is tolerating - if not outright encouraging - people who believe my people should be put to death. If he is willing to reveal massive amounts of internal data as a means of empowering right-wing voices, he is capable of making policy changes that leave the vulnerable unprotected and the powerful (and racist) unburdened by the rules that, however confusingly, kept them in check. It would be so easy to fix this, which is why I am so certain that he has no intention of doing so.
I don’t think Elon Musk is a nazi. In fact, I would fully believe he just hasn’t thought about it, and views allowing nazis back onto the platform as a means to improve his overall popularity and drown out voices. He is playing footsie with fascist iconography and platforming white supremacists so that he can feel popular on his nasty little website.
As someone who has had entire branches of my family tree cut off and burned by the nazis, I believe that if you are willingly consorting with nazis, you approve of what they're saying. It really is just that easy. If you resent being called a nazi, or a nazi sympathizer (which is being a nazi, by the way!), perhaps stop hanging out with or sympathizing with nazis. We do not need to “humor them.” We do not need to consider “good ideas” that you’ve cherry-picked from a pile of noxious shit.
If you find yourself having to defend yourself from being called a nazi, perhaps the question isn’t “am I a nazi?” It’s “why do people think I am one?” Nazis and their associates operate in a culture of whataboutism, constantly trying to find ways to espouse their views in a defensible way that can also be understood as a direct endorsement of their ideology. They want to be defended in the same way as the people who they constantly hurt. They crave legitimacy and respectability, and deserve the direct opposite.
If you are fighting for free speech and your arguments begin with “just asking the questions,” you are being used, just like Elon Musk is being used - or at least will claim he’s being used when his lackluster moderation policies end up with someone getting hurt or killed.
I’ll leave you with a story.
In a 2020 thread, editor Michael B. Tager described a situation in a crust-punk bar where a patron was thrown out almost immediately on entering. The patron, a pleasant-seeming guy wearing what seemed to be regular punk gear, was told to get out before he could order a beer, and the bartender revealed that the patron in question was wearing nazi memorabilia. The bartender explained that once one tolerates a “nice” nazi, they bring a “nice” nazi friend, and suddenly you have a bar full of nazis because they were, at one point, pleasant to you. And once they’re entrenched, it’s very, very difficult to remove them.
You have to get rid of them immediately, no matter how willing they are to be “good,” because they’re despicable pieces of shit.