Elon Musk wants to party like it’s 2017
Thoughts on the Twitter (X) owner’s disastrous week
This week, Ctrl Alt-Right Delete turns 7. So it’s fitting that the Right, led by Elon Musk, seems determined to recreate 2017 again, online. Seth Rich is trending on and off on Twitter (X), Musk keeps amplifying pizzagate conspiracy memes, and the US and British Far-Right are obsessing over and amplifying racist propaganda to co-opt current events in another country (more in this in a minute) for their own agenda. And since Musk has allowed every account once banned for hate speech, disinformation, or incitement back onto Twitter, a lot of the old crowd is back, too. The only thing missing is Donald Trump, though Musk is trying to fill that void as well.
Funny thing about 2017, it was also a year when Twitter had a flood of terrible press about online harassment, hate speech, brand safety, and how advertisers didn’t love its reputation. I thought about this as I watched the video of Musk telling former advertisers at an event where at least some of them were in the audience to “Go fuck yourself” and attempting to blame them for Twitter’s(X) likely collapse. Since taking ownership of the company, Musk has worked diligently to undo all of the changes that Twitter had spent years making to better appeal to advertisers in the first place.
It’s unclear to me if Elon Musk understood who the actual customer was when he purchased Twitter, but it’s obvious that he now resents them. As Twitter goes down in flames, Musk blames everyone but himself for what has to be the most expensive self-own in history. First, it was ADL’s fault, then the Center for Countering Digital Hate, and next, it was Media Matters. Now Musk is just going to blame the advertisers outright.
As much as I’d like to sit back and enjoy Musk’s downfall, he’s still dangerous. I’ve written about Musk as an American national security risk, but Twitter, as it currently exists, is a security risk for multiple nations and humanity. For example, last week, as most Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving and enjoying the long weekend, Elon Musk was barreling into a sensitive political landmine in Ireland, amplifying threats against the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar, claiming he “hates the Irish people.”
There was a riot in Dublin, acts of violence fueled by the far-right, in response to the stabbing of a woman and three children outside of a school. After rumors about the attacker’s nationality and immigration status spread online in local far-right online communities, there were calls to gather in City Centre, where most of the violence and property destruction took place. Rioters set fire to hostels and buses and looted shops. The Guardaí (police) made 34 arrests.
(It’s worth noting that a Brazilian Immigrant stopped the attacker, something the Far-Right has chosen to ignore.)
I don’t want to go too deep into Irish politics here, but if you want a more in-depth explainer, I found a helpful interview that podcaster Owen Jones did with Dublin-based journalist Una Mullally. Mullally has covered Irish politics for years and offers easy-to-understand context for a non-Irish audience.
Far-right activity, both online and off, has been increasing in Ireland, growing exponentially in the last year. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue had actually released a series of reports, Uisce Faoi Thalamh, offering a landscape analysis of the first mis- and disinformation ecosystem in Ireland a few days before the riots. ISD found that Twitter was the most popular platform and that “virtually all the most prominent actors in the Irish mis and disinformation ecosystem were highly active on Twitter. For eight of the nine topics analyzed as part of this research, Twitter was the platform where most of the conversation took place and was crucial to the spread of numerous false, misleading, or potentially harmful claims.”
Word about the riots in Dublin spread quickly on Twitter and quickly moved beyond just Ireland to all of English-speaking MAGA and far-right internet. I stumbled onto it while randomly checking Twitter before leaving for Thanksgiving dinner with my Irish in-laws. I saw that “The Irish” was trending and clicked, assuming it was something related to sports or culture, and I should probably be ready to talk about it over Thanksgiving dinner. The dominant tweets about “The Irish” were all from the leadership of Britain First, an anti-immigration party in the UK, and not a group of folks I’d associate with being pro-Ireland or pro-Irish. The tweets were all about how The Irish were supposedly taking their country back.
The American Right soon followed. I don’t do much tracking anymore, but the few channels I still monitor mostly talk about Ireland for the rest of the holiday weekend. Libs of TikTok, Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, Catturd, Nick Fuentes, and Jenna Ellis have all added fuel to the fire, amplifying conspiracies, racist propaganda and creating their own narrative with little regard for truth, context, or the actual culture and politics of Ireland.
Since Elon Musk’s deepest desire is to be an edgelord from 2017, I’m not surprised he felt entitled to weigh in and attack Ireland’s PM despite not knowing the situation or having a stake in the outcome. By claiming that Varadkar, whose father was an immigrant from India, hated the Irish, Musk was attempting to otherize him, a racist and shameful act denounced by almost every other political party in Ireland, including a spokesperson for Sinn Fein. Musk’s rhetoric is incitement that will likely increase threats against Varadkar, and that’s in addition to the role Twitter played in making the situation in Ireland worse in the first place.
I can understand why Elon Musk and the Far-Right are nostalgic for 2017. With Trump in office and fresh off a Brexit victory, that movement has never had more power. If you’re jonesing for that MAGA magic, Musk’s Twitter is the place to get your fix. You can watch the old crowd post the same old memes, and though Elon Musk is no Donald Trump, he’s doing a decent imitation, especially when he attempts to play world leader.
The rest of us, however, have moved on. And as much as I hate that I’m still writing about some of these folks and this movement seven years later, I know that we’ve beaten them before. We’ll beat them again. This is the fight of a generation, and it’s a fight we will win.
A wild scoop from my colleague Kyle Tharp: “Over the past month, two right-wing conspiracy pages on Facebook have spent $75,000 on video ads promoting false claims of an imminent attack on the U.S. power grid.” Facebook isn’t taking the ads down either. A preview of what we’re in for in 2024.
A good reminder that we’re dealing with an unprecedented amount of propaganda and disinformation online right now, fueled by new technology. and propagated by multiple governments, organizations, and rogue actors. It’s always a good idea to second guess what you see and be skeptical.
I think this is Del Harvey's first interview on her time at Twitter. It was a fascinating read, and I appreciated her candor even in places where I disagreed with her philosophy or decisions.
It’s not at all surprising that the FBI and law enforcement agencies continue to equivocate far-right extremism with certain more fringe left-wing ideologies and groups. But it’s still frustrating.
I spoke to Al Jazeera for an article about review-bombing as political activism and what sites like Yelp should be doing in terms of moderation during times of conflict.
As I mentioned at the top, Ctrl Alt-Right Delete is seven years old this week. Thanks so much for reading and supporting the newsletter. While I hate that CARD is still necessary, I’m grateful you trust me to keep you informed and motivated to fight back.
Goodbye until next Sunday!