Opinion| Get Off Twitter Already

Or call it X, but it’s time to exit Elon Musk’s feedback loop of barbarity.
By | Nov 20, 2023
2023 November/December, Opinion

In the days following the Hamas massacres in southern Israel, the group’s propaganda videos—including graphic, unedited streams of terrorists firing automatic weapons and the mutilated bodies of victims—proliferated unhindered on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. According to the Tech Transparency Project, these Hamas-generated videos were posted by accounts with blue checkmarks, meaning those that had paid X $8 per month, under the system put in place by its owner, Elon Musk, as means of both creating a revenue stream and sowing confusion about who is a reliable source of information.

It’s Musk’s business model: The most grotesque, incendiary material is shared by accounts that pay him for the privilege of the blue checkmark, and he in turn pays them for “content creation” that draws more eyeballs and outrage. His framework for profit is nothing more than a feedback loop of barbarity.

Even before the atrocities of early October—and even before November 15, when Musk endorsed and amplified a tweet promoting the antisemitic Great Replacement theory, causing many major companies to pause their advertising—it was time to leave X. The time is now to end the enabling of this historically malevolent digital robber baron who has reveled in the proliferation of antisemitism on the platform.

At home, Musk coddles U.S. extremists in the name of “free speech” or battling the “woke mind virus.” In service of this supposed goal, he eliminated X’s Trust and Safety team, which monitored and attempted to clamp down on disinformation, harassment and abuse. He incited homophobic and antisemitic threats to the former head of Trust and Safety, Yoel Roth, to the point that Roth and his husband were forced to flee their own home. The evisceration of these standards directly led to Hamas broadcasting its atrocities even though they violate X’s supposed policies against “violent and hateful entities.” According to the Tech Transparency Project, X even ran ads in the replies to some of the Hamas videos, meaning that it was “generating revenue from these policy-violating posts while potentially endangering the brand safety of advertisers.” Musk himself recommended two hate- and misinformation-filled accounts as good sources for “following the war in real time” before deleting the tweet in response to backlash.

X even ran ads in the replies to videos of Hamas atrocities.

Even before this horror show, X had devolved into a playground for right-wing propaganda and sadism. Musk used it to signal his support for Alternative for Germany, the far-right political party that German antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein has called “a threat to Jewish life.” The party then made its best showing in its history in October elections.

In making the moral case for leaving X, Bloomberg technology columnist David Lee recently reported how one of Musk’s “verified” users, who has nearly a million followers, promoted a video of a murder at a Brooklyn bus stop. Although Lee did not follow the account, Musk’s algorithm ensured it kept appearing in his timeline. Even worse, Musk’s ghouls posthumously mocked the murder victim, Ryan Carson, because he was a progressive activist who, in their twisted minds, got what he deserved for supposedly enabling urban crime.

It is well past time to stop giving Musk the benefit of the doubt—as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did in a September meeting in San Francisco, or the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) did in resuming advertising after a public confrontation with him. Musk had threatened to sue the watchdog group, claiming that its monitoring of antisemitism on the platform had caused X’s drop in advertising revenue. It’s true that X has seen a decline in ad dollars since Musk took it over in 2022. But it’s likely because a company advertising diapers doesn’t want its ads next to the racist rantings of a Nazi “influencer,” and makers of pharmaceuticals might not want their copy running adjacent to braindead anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

Journalists are notoriously addicted to X, but the rationale for remaining is increasingly difficult to maintain. Even users with vast follower counts have been reporting less engagement with their posts; more angry, bad-faith responses to them; and an overall debased experience of seeing their own thoughts and work intermingled with the depraved environment Musk has cultivated. NPR recently documented that since it left the platform in April, it has seen only a negligible change in traffic to its site.

The supposed benefit of Twitter—that it drove traffic to your site or business, or engagement with your ideas—was questionable even before Musk took over. Now it’s a cruel farce. People may feel sad or nostalgic about what Twitter used to be (although they should be honest that it was often terrible even in its prior iteration), but it will never again be an online gathering place where you can catch up on the news, find an expert on virology or geopolitics, or share colleagues’ work. Billionaires who throw their money at creating safe spaces for fascists and terrorists should not be rewarded by advertisers, or by you.

Sarah Posner is the author of Unholy: How White Christian Nationalists Powered the Trump Presidency, and the Devastating Legacy They Left Behind.

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2 thoughts on “Opinion| Get Off Twitter Already

  1. Allen Eli Segal says:

    A failed acquisition of Twitter, now TwitteX, is in desperate need of revenue to offset significant decline amidst dwindling ads. So this South African oligarch resorts to Hate Speech as a means to generate controversies & thus prop up sorely needed revenue. Hate Speech Absolutist. I stopped using TwitteX & won’t buy his tesla.

  2. Greg Carson says:

    I did. It turns out that BlueSky and Threads give me about 10 times more engagement than X anyway, so even if Musk leaves I’m probably not going back. What’s the point of posting for 10 likes there when I can get 100 on threads?

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