Elon Musk ran a Twitter poll over the weekend asking users if he should step down as the head of Twitter, and promising to “abide by the results.”
The people voted — for Musk to get lost.
But instead of responding the Twitter public with the same decisiveness he applied to the poll-based decision to reactivate Donald Trump’s account, Musk not only remains in charge, he says he’s changing the way Twitter’s populist decision-making will proceed from here on out.
So long, free speech; hello, fee speech!
Previously, Musk’s populist motto was “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” — or the “voice of the people is the voice of God.” Now, that Godly power will be limited to the folks who pay Musk $8 to $11 a month for the privilege of a “Twitter Blue” checkmark.
Musk made the change at the behest of Twitter Blue subscriber Unfilteredboss1, whose bio identifies himself as a right-wing, America-First, “crypto enthusiast.” (The missive by Musk appeared in a Twitter thread that also featured Kim Dotcom, the one-time tech titan whom the U.S. government is seeking to extradite from New Zealand for a slate of felonies including fraud, racketeering and money laundering.)
This is the second major Twitter governance initiative that Musk has declared will be put in the hands of Twitter Blue subscribers. On Dec. 16, in a missive that’s received little attention, Musk announced that “Twitter will start incorporating mute & block signals from Blue Verified (not Legacy Blue) as downvotes.”
What does this mean? In short, whether user content ends up “shaddow-banned” (or limited by the Twitter algorithm in its reach on the platform) will be influenced by the actions of the Musk stans and status seekers whom he’s convinced to pay a monthly fee.
And who are these all-stars of Twitter Blue whose blocks and mutes can “downvote” your speech? Twitter does not publish a list of Twitter Blue subscribers. But click on any individual user’s blue checkmark, and the service will reveal if it’s a paid account or a legacy checkmark, from the era when Twitter used the designation to validate noteworthy accounts.
Members of the paid-Blue Twitterati include:
Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man acquitted of murder during unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Catturd, the trollish right-wing wit with the fecal name who frequently banters with Musk.
Libs of TikTok, the influential account often accused of spreading anti-LGBTQ hate.
Gays Against Groomers, an account that smears tans people and drag artists as “grooming” youth.
Jason Kessler, the leader of the Unite the Right hate rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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Musk’s decision to let such luminaries shape the discourse of his public square has sparked criticism, from users, verified and not, who see it as Musk moving to privatize his “public square.”
Others see the initiative as a dystopian step toward Musk developing a “social credit” score for users, much maligned in popular television. “Cool,” snarked former libertarian Michigan congressman Justin Amash. “Kind of like that Black Mirror episode.”