Elon Musk has managed to piss off just about everyone on Twitter, and after announcing that he would be instituting what appears to be a shadowbanning policy on the platform, even the right wingers who lauded him as the savior of “free speech” are in an uproar.
Twitter is currently being held together by digital duct tape and a skeleton crew of employees after Musk spurred a mass resignation among the platform’s already severely pared-down staff. Despite internal emails revealing that Musk asked remaining employees to fly to San Francisco and help him “understand the Twitter tech stack,” the billionaire is still making policy proclamations about his favorite topic: content moderation.
“New Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach,” Musk tweeted. “Negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter. You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of Internet.”
“Shadowbanning” is, loosely, the artificial suppression of a user’s profile or content by a platform outside of established content regulation mechanisms and without the user’s knowledge. Twitter has previously stated that they do not engage in shadow banning, but conservatives ranging from internet trolls to federal lawmakers have repeatedly accused the platform of suppressing their views. Studies have disproved this notion, indicating that the opposite is true, and that conservative content performs better on major social media platforms.
Musk’s new policy seems like it would effectively codify the practice into Twitter’s functionality.
Conservative commentators have been flocking to Musk’s mentions since he announced his intent to purchase Twitter in the spring in the hopes of influencing the platform’s new direction. Musk has been trying to placate them, but there have been plenty of clues that he isn’t as committed to “free speech” as he wants them to believe. He quickly rolled out a plan to algorithmically prioritize paid subscribers, said it would take a while before bringing back banned users, and began firing employees who criticized him.
Right-wingers have been irked at some of this, but his announcement on Friday sparked a new outcry that he is reneging on his promises.
“How is this any different than the previous policy?” replied conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey. “People’s tweets suppressed because a biased rando at twitter thinks a tweet is mean or mad?”
Other pundits, including right-wing YouTuber Lauren Chen and Fox News host Will Cain, demanded to know what exactly Musk would define as “negative/hate tweets.” Daily Wire host Matt Wash, ever fixated on his crusade against transgender people, asked if is “still considered ‘negative/hate’ to refer to a biological man as a man?”
“It’s your company,” replied former Republican-turned-Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash, “but free speech includes speech that challenges and sometimes offends others. … Making “negative” tweets harder to find hurts this process, and there’s no way this policy can be applied evenly.”
Alongside the new content model, Musk announced that he had reinstated the accounts of Jordan Peterson, Kathy Griffin, and The Babylon Bee, but had yet to come to a decision on reversing Donald Trump’s ban. One user asked if Musk would reinstate the account of InfoWars founder and Sandy Hook truther Alex Jones, to which he replied “no.” Multiple accounts seized on this as evidence that Musk’s commitment to true “free speech” had been a fraud.
“Elon’s free speech claim quickly shown to be bullshit lol,” tweeted conservative streamer Tim Pool. Chen wrote that Musk had “already kicked the hornet’s nest” and his desire to pick and choose who was reinstated was “dragging out the break-up with former activist employees and regime entities that have it out for him.” YouTuber Viva Frei added that if Musk was committed to his refusal to reinstate Jones, it would make him no better than previous Twitter CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal.
The incredulous reaction from an online community that egged Musk into purchasing Twitter, and hailed him as a liberator from imaginary shackles, is laughable when juxtaposed with the apparent reality that Musk has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. His takeover of Twitter has been a disaster that is now threatening to bleed over into his other companies, Tesla and SpaceX. What’s clear is that Twitter is transforming in fundamental and rapid ways, and conservatives are watching their dreams of a libertarian, rule-free utopia crushed, one Musk tweet at a time.