Last week, there was another bombshell story by the Washington Post on the purported evil that is Elon Musk. Quickly amplified by MSNBC and other media, it was another hit job on Musk and could be viewed as what many in the media love to call “disinformation.” Musk himself noted that the premise of the piece (that his tweets were artificially boosted during a recent period) was demonstrably false. Yet, the countervailing facts found little space in the long Post piece. None of that is particularly surprising. Musk became a hunted man when he sought to restore free speech protections to social media. The media regularly offers him little quarter or consideration. However, what was most striking was that the underlying controversy may have been Musk’s targeting of “bots” in his restructuring of Twitter.
The Post story was written with the usual telltale signs of a hit piece. First, there was the breathless headline (notably amplified on its own Twitter account) expressing a combination of shock and scorn: “Elon Musk reinvents Twitter for the benefit of a power user: Himself.” Then came the lead line of how Musk had transformed the company into the “billionaire’s personal sandbox.” It reported how Musk ran amok at Twitter headquarters firing people in a rage over the failure to artificially boost his own tweets in the system. It portrays employees cowering from his wrath and rushing to change algorithms to increase his tweet visibility.
Musk immediately responded with a simple but seemingly major point: there was no such spike or adjustment. He tweeted “Several major media sources incorrectly reported that my Tweets were boosted above normal levels earlier this week. A review of my Tweet likes & views over the past 6 months, especially as a ratio of followers, shows this to be false. We did have a bug that briefly caused replies to have the same prominence as primary Tweets, but that has now been fixed.”
The Musk tweets do not necessarily end the controversy but it raises core factual questions that seemed to be largely omitted in the Post coverage. Indeed, it was simply ignored by media who continued to push the narrative regardless of the serious questions over the premise of the article. Sound familiar? The Russian collusion scandal, the Hunter Biden “Russian Disinformation,” the Lafayette Park “Photo Op” conspiracy, the Nick Sandmann controversy, the Jussie Smollett case, the Migrant Whipping scandal. This list seems endless of false stories where the “facts were too good to check.” However, that is not “disinformation.” Not at all.
If you read the Post piece, it becomes clear what the real fight at Twitter may have been over. Buried in the piece is this observation: “Even before he bought Twitter, Musk emphasized the site’s need to crack down on spam and bots, particularly those shilling cryptocurrency.” The Post noted that Musk declared before buying the company that “If our Twitter bid succeeds, we will defeat the spam bots or die trying!”
Musk has been riding roughshod over engineers to remove certain algorithms and combat bots to restore the company’s transparency and integrity.
Bots and AI systems, however, have a growing alliance in Washington.
Democratic leaders have called for a type of “enlightened algorithms” to frame what citizens access on the internet. In 2021, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called for algorithms to be created to protect people from their own bad choices. She was upset that people were not listening to the informed views of herself and leading experts. Instead, they were reading views of skeptics by searching Amazon and finding books by “prominent spreaders of misinformation.” She denounced Amazon and declared that “this pattern and practice of misbehavior suggests that Amazon is either unwilling or unable to modify its business practices to prevent the spread of falsehoods or the sale of inappropriate products.” She gave the company 14 days to change its algorithms to throttle and obstruct efforts to read opposing views.
More recently, Bill Gates seemed to go “full Borg” in calling for AI to stop certain views from being “magnified by digital channels.” The problem is that we allow “various conspiracy theories like QAnon or whatever to be blasted out by people who wanted to believe those things.” Gates added that AI can combat “political polarization” by checking “confirmation bias.”
So AI overlords will bring unity through forced content assimilation where, to paraphrase the Borg, “free speech is futile.”
The Post does not go to bat for bots like Gates in this piece and even acknowledges that ” it wasn’t that crypto bots weren’t a problem,” but then returns to the Musk press mosh pit.
I previously discussed how Washington has gone to war with Twitter with an alliance of political, corporate, and media interests. It has been unrelenting and includes a campaign to get companies to suspend or reduce advertising until censorship is restored. The media has kept a steady stream of hit pieces on Musk that often border on wartime propaganda.
Musk is not perfect. No one is and being a billionaire gives you a billion ways to magnify your own idiosyncrasies. However, Musk has brought a level of transparency to Twitter (and his own controversies) that is unmatched in any social media company.
I will admit to a bias in favor of Musk as a long-standing free speech advocate. I previously wrote that, despite his incredible achievements in space and transportation technology, Musk’s greatest legacy may prove his defense of free speech. His release of the Twitter Files has revealed a comprehensive system of censorship coordinated with the government. He has also restored free speech protection to a major social media platform. The move is transformative and historic.
The campaign against Musk reflects a degree of desperation as the control of social media collapsed with his purchase. If you are to control speech on social media, it must be complete and total. Musk shattered that unified front and, with it, the ability to maintain approved narratives by silencing critics and barring particular views. Elon Musk did not “reinvent” Twitter as much as restore Twitter to what it was. However, there is a reinvention of journalism in a new and more menacing image.