One week after taking Twitter private in a $44 billion deal, Elon Musk tweeted that the social media giant “needs to become by far the most accurate source of information about the world,” describing this as “our mission.” Many were quick to point out that just days earlier, he’d shared a conspiracy theory from a right-wing fake news site about the brutal attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, in the couple’s San Francisco home.
Musk deleted the tweet, but he hasn’t stopped engaging with figures on the far right as he struggles to get a grip on his increasingly chaotic company. While antagonizing powerful Democrats like Sen. Ed Markey — who dared to voice his concern after a Washington Post reporter was able to successfully impersonate him with a paid, verified account — he has patiently listened and replied to suggestions and complaints from those on the other end of the political spectrum.
Among the first he interacted with upon assuming control of Twitter was an anonymous, anti-“woke” reactionary known as “Catturd,” who believes that the previous leadership had “shadowbanned, ghostbanned” and “searchbanned” them, effectively limiting their reach on the site. Musk responded to a post about these alleged issues, promising Catturd that he’d be “digging in more.” Meanwhile, Catturd went about their usual business: casting doubt on the legitimacy of American elections and the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines while denying the reality of climate change and calling liberals “triggered.”
Later on, they tagged Musk again to whine that their visibility on Twitter had been somehow restricted again — this apparently despite shelling out the $8 per month for a verification badge.
Musk has also accepted counsel from Ian Miles Cheong, a right-wing culture warrior who continually weighs in on American politics from his home in Malaysia. He has criticized Covid-19 vaccine mandates (recently arguing that Americans who die of the disease “are typically fat as hell“) and thinks that trans rights advocates “force their beliefs” on others. In the past, he’s praised Adolf Hitler, and, like Catturd, he hates anything he considers “woke” — which is probably why he told Musk to “stop appeasing the activists,” i.e., anyone raising the alarm about hate speech on Twitter. Musk replied, “You’re right.”
Cheong also liked Musk’s post about Twitter becoming “the most accurate source of information about the world,” which to his mind means affording unsubstantiated rumor and misinformation the same platform as mainstream media.
Elsewhere, Musk has replied to a user with 300 followers alleging that Brazil’s latest presidential election was stolen — a claim spread by supporters of the losing candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, as well as right-wingers in the U.S., without a shred of evidence. Although Musk did not explicitly agree with the claim, he was open to hearing if election fraud had been “proven.”
Musk has chatted about Twitter’s fact-checking systems with Mike Solana, a venture capitalist at Founders Fund, which was co-founded by Peter Thiel, a billionaire Trump donor who has become the chief financier of MAGA candidates, including some still contesting the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Solana runs something called “Hereticon,” a “conference for thoughtcrime” pitched as an event for the intellectual dark web: “Imagine a conference for people banned from other conferences,” reads the official description. “Imagine a safe space for people who don’t feel safe in safe spaces.” Solana, too, has implied that U.S. elections are illegitimate. And he, like Catturd, is paying for his blue check.
Impressively, Musk keeps finding worse people to listen to. Just today, he could be found in the replies to Second Amendment poster-boy Kyle Rittenhouse, who at age 17 shot three people and killed two at a 2020 protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was acquitted of murder, and has himself become the proud owner of an $8 checkmark after failing to be verified under Twitter’s old rules. But Musk wasn’t talking directly to Rittenhouse. Instead, he was replying to another paid blue-check account called @FBIPantyRaid, a conservative “parody” account that — you guessed it — spreads election and anti-vaxx conspiracy theories. Musk was struck by their baseless theory that all the negative replies Rittenhouse receives are from bots, and commented, “Interesting.”
After that exchange, Musk replied to crypto influencer Matt Wallace. In March, Wallace and a partner launched a token that surged in value by 12,000 percent, then plummeted to zero, leading to accusations that he had scammed investors in a pump-and-dump exit. Wallace has denied allegations of any wrongdoing. But, once informed of Wallace’s reputation by those who still hold a grudge against him, Musk admitted, “That is not good.” His crypto-loving fans were quite relieved, having tried to warn him away from Wallace in the past without success. The exchange underscored how Musk isn’t always attentive to who he’s conversing with — especially if he happens to like their content or agree with their views.
Is openly fighting members of congress while riffing with this crowd a path to success for Musk’s revamped Twitter? Time will certainly tell. But for now, it’s obvious which customers are most important to him: the ones hoping he’ll let them profit off their most dangerous and extreme ideas.