Elon Musk has has managed to anger almost everyone on Twitter, and after announcing he will implement what appears to be a shadow ban policy on the platform, even the right-wing, who have hailed him as a “free speech” savior, are in an uproar.
Twitter is currently being held together by digital tape and a skeletal crew of employees after Musk sparked a mass layoff among the platform’s already severely reduced workforce. Despite internal emails revealing that Musk asked the remaining employees to fly to San Francisco and help him “understand the Twitter tech stack,” the billionaire still makes political statements on his favorite topic : the moderation of content.
“The new Twitter policy is free speech, not free reach,” Musk tweeted. “Negative/hate tweets are maximally devalued and demonstrated, so no advertising or other revenue for Twitter. You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically search for it, which is no different from the rest of the internet.”
Broadly speaking, “shadowbanning” is the artificial suppression of a user’s profile or content by a platform outside of established content regulation mechanisms and without the user’s knowledge. Twitter previously stated that they don’t engage in the shadow ban, but conservatives will do Internet trolls to federal legislature have repeatedly accused the platform of suppressing their views. Studies have disproved this notion, suggesting that the opposite is true and that conservative content performs better on the major social media platforms.
Musk’s new policy appears to effectively integrate the practice into Twitter’s functionality.
Conservative commentators have flocked to Musk’s mentions ever since he announced his intention to buy Twitter in the spring, hoping to influence the platform’s new direction. Musk has tried to placate them, but there have been many indications that he is not as committed to “free speech” as he would like them to believe. He quickly instituted a plan to algorithmically prioritize paying subscribers, said it would take a while before banned users would be brought back, and began firing employees who criticized him.
Some of this has angered the right, but his announcement on Friday sparked fresh outcry that he is not delivering on his promises.
“How is this different from the previous policy?” answered conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey. “People’s tweets suppressed because a biased rando on Twitter thinks a tweet is mean or crazy?”
Other experts, including right-wing YouTubers Lauren Chen and Fox News anchor Will Cain, wanted to know what exactly Musk would define as “negative/hate tweets”. Daily Wire host Matt Wash, always fixated on his anti-transgender crusade, asked is it “still considered ‘negative/hate’ to refer to a biological male as a male?”
“It’s your business,” replied Justin Amash, the former Republican-turned-Libertarian congressman, “but freedom of expression includes statements that challenge and sometimes offend others. … Making it harder to find “negative” tweets hurts that process, and there’s no way to apply that policy evenly.”
Alongside the new content model, Musk announced that he has restored the accounts of Jordan Peterson, Kathy Griffin, and The Babylon Bee, but is yet to make a decision on Donald Trump’s ban being lifted. One user asked if Musk would restore InfoWars founder and Sandy Hook truther Alex Jones’ account, to which he replied “no.” Multiple reports used this as evidence that Musk’s commitment to true “freedom of speech” was a scam.
“Elon’s claims to free speech quickly turned out to be bullshit lol.” tweeted conservative streamer Tim Pool. Chen wrote that Musk had “already stepped on the hornet’s nest,” and his desire to pick and choose who to rehire was to “delay the severance of former activist employees and regime entities that are targeting him.” YouTuber Viva Frei added that if Musk confessed his refusal to rehire Jones, it would make him do it not better than previous Twitter CEOs Jack Dorsey and Parag Agrawal.
The disbelieving response from an online community that led Musk to buy Twitter and celebrate him as a liberator from imaginary shackles is ridiculous when contrasted with the apparent reality that Musk has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. His acquisition of Twitter was a disaster that now threatens to spill over into his other companies Tesla and SpaceX. What is clear is that Twitter is changing profoundly and rapidly, and conservatives are watching as their dreams of a libertarian, rule-free utopia are shattered, one musky tweet at a time.