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Elon Musk’s Twitter flame-throwing has new magnitude

6 min read
Photo: Reuters


The entrepreneur’s method will get new scrutiny now that he owns the platform

For years, Elon Musk has used Twitter to impress, preach and go on the offensive in opposition to criticism and perceived threats from rivals, regulators, and common people.

His flame-throwing has a brand new magnitude—and the notion of impunity—now that Mr. Musk owns the social-media platform the place he has been a so-called tremendous person for years.

The world’s second-richest man, who didn’t reply to a request for remark, has greater than 120 million Twitter followers, about 10 million shy of former President Barack Obama.

In the weeks since he bought Twitter Inc. in October, Mr. Musk has made it clear that those that set off his ire needs to be ready for him to make use of it to focus on them. In latest days, for instance, he has attacked Yoel Roth, who till a couple of month in the past was a high-ranking Twitter govt, with unsubstantiated insinuations that he was an advocate of sexualizing youngsters. He additionally known as for the prosecution of Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser and the federal government’s prime infectious-disease official, primarily based on his dealing with of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And Mr. Musk has threatened to set his rhetorical crosshairs on Twitter’s advertisers, lots of whom have minimize or halted spending due to their considerations about his administration of the corporate and his habits on the platform since taking up.

In the wake of what he known as “an enormous drop in income” in early November, Mr. Musk responded to a supporter’s tweet suggesting he name advertisers who cut spending by vowing: “A thermonuclear name & shame is exactly what will happen if this continues.”

Some advertisers have been vocal about their considerations, whereas others have shunned altering their spending on Twitter or discussing their worries publicly as a result of they worry that Mr. Musk will publicly goal them for criticism, unleashing a backlash from his followers, based on advert patrons.

“Some entrepreneurs are afraid of drawing unwelcomed consideration from Elon,” Lou Paskalis, a veteran marketing executive, said. Companies are also “very concerned about what Elon’s acolytes might do to their brands if they publicly distanced themselves from the platform.”

Mr. Musk just lately confronted Apple Inc., claiming it curbed advert spending on Twitter and requested, “Do they hate free speech in America?”—before tweeting two days later that he and the iPhone maker had resolved their issues. Apple hasn’t commented.

Mr. Musk has said he wants to ensure that Twitter remains open to competing ideas—even ones that offend—and has suggested that he welcomes criticism on the platform.

“I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” he tweeted earlier this 12 months, the day Twitter accepted his supply.

He additionally has urged that dissemination of assaults on Twitter shall be curtailed, tweeting final month: “New Twitter coverage is freedom of speech, however not freedom of attain. Negative/hate tweets shall be max deboosted & demonetized, so no advertisements or different income to Twitter.” It is unclear if any related rules have been implemented.

Twitter’s harassment policy currently posted on its site says it aims to facilitate healthy dialogue. “We prohibit behavior that harasses or intimidates, or is otherwise intended to shame or degrade others,” it says, including that abusive habits can threaten folks’s security and result in bodily and emotional hardship.

In latest years, social-media firms together with Twitter and Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook have confronted a few of their thorniest points over incidents that arose from somebody utilizing their platforms in ways in which incite harassment of an individual—akin to what some worry from Mr. Musk’s personal habits on the platform.

“There are clear questions that if the phrases of service are violated, who’s going to rein him in, who’s gonna put the brakes on that?” said Brianna Wu, a former Democratic congressional candidate and software engineer who received threats during so-called the GamerGate incident almost a decade ago when women coders faced intense harassment online.

“If you have a big platform, you have to think carefully about how you use it,” she stated, “as a result of it’s very clear, when you begin accusing folks of being pedophiles, if in case you have a really massive platform, you understand what the result goes to be.”

As soon as Mr. Musk tweeted on Saturday in a way that misrepresented the academic writing of Mr. Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety—suggesting he was in favor of children having access to adult internet services—people raised concerns for Mr. Roth’s safety.

In the wake of harassment following Mr. Musk’s tweets, Mr. Roth has moved out of his house temporarily because of threats to his safety, according to a person familiar with the situation. CNN earlier reported on Mr. Roth’s safety concerns.

The sharp turn that Mr. Musk took on Mr. Roth contrasts with how he defended him and praised him in October, when he wrote in a tweet: “My sense is that he has high integrity, and we are all entitled to our political beliefs.”

But Mr. Musk’s tone modified after Mr. Roth left the corporate and went public with considerations about content material moderation below the brand new regime.

In April, Mr. Musk was requested at a TED convention about his behavior of partaking in public fights somewhat than taking the excessive street.

“I’m form of a combined bag,” Mr. Musk responded, chuckling. “I don’t like to lose—I’m not sure many people do—but the truth matters to me a lot…like sort of pathologically it matters to me.”

Mr. Musk has proven that he’s conscious of the facility of his following on Twitter. When Tesla Inc., the place he’s CEO, struggled to ship Model 3 compact vehicles in 2018, Mr. Musk put out a tweet in search of volunteers to assist out by educating new house owners, they usually obliged him.

On different events, his followers have taken his lead in additional hostile methods. He focused a professor who was appointed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a prime adviser, tweeting: “Objectively, her observe report is extraordinarily biased in opposition to Tesla.” The adviser, Mary “Missy” Cummings, a Duke University engineering professor who had been crucial of Tesla’s superior driver-assistance system, confronted a barrage of criticism, usually vulgar, after Mr. Musk’s tweet.

At Twitter, Mr. Musk has overseen the discharge of inside firm paperwork which have included names and emails of employees, subjecting them to the cruel gentle of public scrutiny. Some observers have urged the discharge of the personal particulars violated Twitter’s phrases of service for so-called doxing. Mr. Musk has stated releasing the unredacted particulars was a mistake.

“Publicly posting the names and identities of front-line staff concerned in content material moderation places them in hurt’s method and is a basically unacceptable factor to do,” Mr. Roth said on the social platform Mastodon at the time.

Mr. Musk has been more sensitive about his own information.

On Wednesday, the account that used public data to track Mr. Musk’s private plane was suspended. Jack Sweeney, a student at the University of Central Florida who ran the account, said he wasn’t given a reason for the move. Mr. Sweeney created an algorithm that calculated the whereabouts of the jet using public data from plane transponders that log longitude, latitude and altitude.

Mr. Sweeney’s personal account and several other ones he held were also suspended.

Mr. Musk suggested the account violated Twitter’s terms of service. “Real-time posting of someone else’s location violates doxxing policy, but delayed posting of locations are ok,” Mr. Musk wrote, including later that monitoring of his location endangered his household.

—Suzanne Vranica, Jeff Horwitz and Elisa Cho contributed to this text.

Write to Tim Higgins at and Alexa Corse at