Just five days ago Elon Musk promised, “More and more over time, as we hew closer to the truth, Twitter will earn the trust of the people.” Then, the new owner of Twitter fired off a series of questionable posts overnight that drew rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League, CNN and many of the platform’s users.
Beginning about 2 a.m., the world’s wealthiest man tweeted a report attributing to CNN the idea that “Elon Musk could threaten free speech on Twitter by literally allowing people to speak freely.” Problem is, according to CNN Communications in a reply to Musk’s tweet, the “headline never appeared on CNN.”
What’s more, the headline and image attached to it are old, so old that a simple Google search would have shown that they were debunked by AP in April and traced back to a satirical website. Not only is the headline made up, it doesn’t even seem to be based on a the content of any CNN story, according to Emily Kuhn, senior director of communications at CNN Digital Worldwide. She told AP at the time, “It’s a fabricated image and not an actual report from CNN.”
According to Snopes, a Community Note was then attached to Musk’s post over night which read, “The screencap in this image is not real and originated from a satirical website. CNN aired no such report about Musk ‘threatening free speech’ and the chyron has been digitally altered to add the text.”
Of course, Musk himself railed against unmarked parody accounts earlier this month including the warning that “going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended.”
So what was Musk’s reply to his CNN mistake this morning?
Also overnight, Musk posted an image of what he said was “my bedside table,” which included two guns, one of which looked to be a .357 Magnum and the other a Revolutionary War-era pistol set in a case that included an image or Washington crossing the Delaware. He later made light of the post apologizing for the lack of coasters on his nightstand and introducing himself as “Musket, Elon Musket.”
The billionaire followed the guns photo with an image of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character that has, in some cases, been appropriated by white supremacists to convey racist, anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi sentiments.
While Musk may have meant nothing by the post, its ambiguity is an issue, ADL
Vice President, Center on Extremism Oren Segal told Deadline.
“There are so many different variations of the Pepe the Frog meme…and while this one is not overtly hateful on its own — and context is always key — the fact that he posted it at this time of increasing hate on his platform is an indication that he’s not really serious about addressing this issue,” said Segal.
Whatever his intention, Segal pointed out, one only has to look at some of the responses to Musk’s post to see that the Pepe image was a dog whistle to those with extreme views. And it strains credibility for Musk to feign ignorance.
“Musk strikes me as someone who is very much familiar with meme culture online,” the ADL’s Segal said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to assume he would know” of Pepe’s use by extremists. “The timing of it all makes one wonder if it is intentional.”
Segal pointed out the overall trouble the platform itself has seen with such issues of late.
“In the context of a platform on which we have seen rising hatred, racism, antisemitism…These tweets again raise serious questions about whether he cares at all about these issues.
“I can’t think of a worse time to promote these images and tropes,” he concluded.
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