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Last Wednesday, an account on X named @breakingbaht posted a message that read, “Jewish communties [sic] have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” The post went on to espouse a line of conspiratorial thinking that is sometimes called the “great replacement” theory, suggesting that Jews were driving “hordes of minorities” to supplant white people. @breakingbaht has less than six thousand followers, and the account’s casual, blatant antisemitism might easily have passed with little notice. Since Elon Musk’s acquisition of X last October, the company has slashed its content-moderation staff, and countless virulent posts proliferate daily. This time, though, Musk himself replied, telling @breakingbaht, “You have said the actual truth.”
Musk often posts on X upward of a dozen times a day, to more than a hundred and sixty-three million followers, and he had expressed shades of antisemitism and racism repeatedly on the platform before. But this time, amid a brutal Israel-Hamas war, with antisemitism and Islamophobia inflamed around the world, he seemed to have finally crossed a line. On Thursday, the watchdog group Media Matters published a report showing that the ads of major corporations were appearing on X alongside antisemitic material. On Friday, a statement from the White House called Musk’s remark “unacceptable,” and major advertisers, including I.B.M., Disney, and the European Union, began suspending their purchases on the platform. Since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th and the ensuing war, antisemitism has been surging on X; according to Memetica, a digital investigations firm, the hashtag #hitlerwasright has appeared forty-six thousand times since October 7th, compared with fewer than five thousand times per month previously. Far from combatting the ballooning hatred on his platform, Musk was openly amplifying it.
When Musk bought Twitter last year, he said that he wanted to protect the platform as a bastion of free speech. It has become increasingly apparent that the speech he means to protect is primarily his own and that of people who agree with him. No other digital platform reflects the personality and beliefs of its owner so closely. Meta’s products are faceless and bureaucratic, trending toward democratic mediocrity. TikTok is at pains to obscure the influence of its Chinese parent company and strives to present itself as politically neutral. Snapchat users needn’t worry about the personal habits of the company’s C.E.O. and co-founder, Evan Spiegel, who doesn’t maintain much of a social-media presence at all. Musk, by contrast, has remade X in his image. He has allowed banned users back onto the platform and made blue-check verification—now a pay-to-play privilege—symbolic of fealty to his regime. Like Donald Trump’s erstwhile tweets, Musk’s own posts tend to instantly dominate discussion on the platform. His beliefs have become an unavoidable part of the X experience.
What are those beliefs, exactly? Musk seems to endorse the idea that white people are an oppressed class; that the “woke mind virus” is destroying society; and that the media is set on his destruction. (Never mind that the media is what built the Musk mythology in the first place.) In February, he wrote on X, “For a very long time, US media was racist against non-white people, now they’re racist against whites & Asians.” In May, in response to a post reading “Blacks kill each other. Whites kill themselves,” he wrote, “Interesting.” In a July post, he referred to fears of “genocide of white people in South Africa,” his birthplace. (Musk’s grandfather was a pro-apartheid conspiracy theorist who wrote antisemitic and racist tracts.) On Sunday, after Argentina elected a new far-right President who has doubted the results of the 2020 U.S. election, Musk posted, “Prosperity is ahead for Argentina.” This constellation of tossed-off observations and comments amounts to a toxic stream-of-consciousness broadcast from one of the world’s richest and most powerful men to hundreds of millions of people. Unlike Trump, though, Musk would have to deplatform himself.
X is caught awkwardly between its stated policies and the actions of its recalcitrant boss. On Thursday, the company’s C.E.O., Linda Yaccarino, posted, “X’s point of view has always been very clear that discrimination by everyone should STOP across the board.” Musk responded to the uproar defiantly, saying, “Many of the largest advertisers are the greatest oppressors of your right to free speech.” The contradiction feels increasingly untenable. Each user has been left to decide when the product has become too compromised to continue using. Since Musk took over, both organizations and individuals have fled in waves, creating the feeling that the platform is dying a slow death. Already, between April and May of this year, U.S. advertising revenue on X had cratered more than fifty per cent as compared with the same time last year. On Thursday, in a bellwether moment for journalists, Casey Newton, the founder of the popular tech newsletter Platformer, announced that he was leaving X, calling it “frighteningly antisemitic.” When the exodus is complete, and all that’s left is a cesspool of right-wing bigotry and tech-industry idolatry, will Musk finally feel satisfied with what he’s created?
Musk has the rare distinction of making even Mark Zuckerberg look appealing by comparison. Where Musk’s tenure at X has been messy, embarrassing, and reckless, Zuckerberg’s stewardship of Meta has lately seemed relatively steady and composed. In July, Meta launched its Twitter clone, Threads, in an evident attempt to absorb disaffected users from X. In October, Zuckerberg announced that the new platform had reached almost a hundred million monthly active users, nearly a fifth of X’s reported usership. To what must be Musk’s chagrin, one of his biggest rivals has succeeded in making an appealing X alternative.
The old Twitter crowd of journalists and commentators is slowly migrating to Threads and learning to navigate the new terrain. It is not a perfect substitute. Threads’ “For You” feed prioritizes algorithmically recommended accounts that you don’t necessarily follow and doesn’t make it easy to follow the same users you follow on X. Still, in contrast to the grim, unstable, and apocalyptic atmosphere of its competitor, the over-all mood on Threads is blissful. It’s a clean, well-lit, relatively neutral space that users can flood once more with daily chatter. As X’s atmosphere has become increasingly toxic, I’ve been spending more time on Threads, but the recent drama around the ouster of the OpenAI C.E.O. Sam Altman might mark a turning point: it’s the first news story that I’ve had a better experience following on Threads than on X. There is still plenty of discussion on Threads about X and Musk—mostly complaints. But the man himself is blissfully absent, which might be the new platform’s best feature. ♦