Earlier this week—and after months of trying to tantrum his way out of it—Elon Musk became the new owner of Twitter, promising the sort of bold new version of free speech that can only come from a very rich person who once got very mad that someone had an account where they made fun of him with a cartoonishly fake Italian accent. Amidst some high-profile firings among Twitter’s top staff, Musk issued a statement earlier this week saying that he had bought the service—after being legally forced to buy the service—because he wants to “help humanity.”
In other, completely unrelated news: Reports from Bloomberg show that racial slurs, references to the de-worming medication ivermectin, and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic all spiked on Twitter this weekend, immediately after Musk’s purchase went through. This is a strange coincidence, and we’ll be danged if we can make heads or tails of it!
The Bloomberg report notes, for instance, that an unspecified “racist slur”—which we’re just going to go ahead and assume is the n-word, on account of seeing a lot of tweets where people very proudly shouted the n-word on Twitter this weekend—increased in usage by 1,300 percent after Musk’s acquisition of the service went through. Meanwhile, ivermectin—which Musk’s old pal Joe Rogan openly promoted, despite medical claims to the contrary, as an effective treatment for COVID-19—shot up by 2,900 percent, peaking at 358 mentions every five minutes. Oh, and antisemitism, too, with the Anti-Defamation League saying on Friday that it had identified a coordinated plan to spread antisemitic memes on the service.
Some of this, of course, is just the same shithead internet contrarianism that has powered so much online discourse over the last decade-plus: “You said I can’t say this, Mother, so I’m going to say it; isn’t it funny, Mother, how owned you are?” etc. But the thing about that shit is that it tends to blend pretty easily into actual racism and hatespeech, to the point where it’s generally not useful to draw any kind of line, because “ironic” racism is really just racism with an extra level of self-righteous sneer attached.
The real questions, then, are a) is this going to quiet down once the naughty children realize Mother won’t give them the spankings they crave, and b) will Musk be forced to actually commit to more robust moderation, lest he have to deal with advertisers in open revolt against having their promoted tweets sandwiched between tweets promoting hatespeech and horse medicine? Truly, an exciting time to be alive online; on behalf of humanity, we just like to thank Musk for the help.