Elon Musk sinks into the culture war while the social network lives on

Avec les Twitter files, Elon Musk révèle ses véritables idéaux politiques.

Twitter is both a social media company and a crime scene “. This description does not come from an opponent of Twitter, but from its owner and leader, Elon Musk. The second richest man in the world says he will dig up the “ Twitter’s Darkest Secrets » and revels in each new episode of «Twitter files “. Five bursts of “revelations”, based mainly on internal exchanges given by Elon Musk himself to conservative journalists and which were published on the platform. In a context where the leak of advertisers threatens the financial health of the social network, which he bought for 44 billion dollars at the end of October, the businessman is once again acting as an arsonist firefighter, starting a fire and positioning himself then as the only one capable of extinguishing it.

While the features essential to his vision of the economic model of Twitter – such as the new Twitter Blue subscription or the extension of the number of characters in a tweet – are finally deployed after two months of waiting and several failures, the new leader hijacks the attention by multiplying the polemics. Following his conservative coming out – unsurprisingly – during the US midterm elections in November, the businessman denigrates the former leadership to appeal to the American conservative right, whose most extreme remarks were previously more moderate. The billionaire thus sinks into the ” culture war at the expense of any economic reasoning.

How Elon Musk is tipping Twitter and the economy into the post-truth era

The first episodes of the Twitter Files are a wet squib

The “Twitter files » aim to reveal the supposed « censorship of the social network against American conservative figures. Donald Trump’s banishment over Capitol insurrection alone occupies two of five threads of revelations released so far. Their objective: to show that it is the result of an arbitrary decision by the leaders of the social network, and not an application of its policy of moderation, which according to them would not have been violated by the ex-president. .

L'” investigation ” thus exposes a completely legal decision, but considered immoral by the conservative edge, which defends an absolutism of freedom of expression, that is to say the absence of moderation as long as the laws are not broken. She does not bother with the facts either: the parliamentary inquiry into the Capitol riots of January 6, 2021 concluded that the former American president played an active role in their outbreak, by publishing remarks which fall within the scope of the call for insurrection, which is prohibited by law. In addition, Donald Trump has -symbolically- been impeached “, including with the support of elected Republicans, for his role in this insurrection.

As detailed by CheckNews, the first episodes of “Twitter files are actually a wet firecracker. They only call “censorship” what was a matter of moderation. They explain that the social network had visibility restriction tools in its moderation arsenal, which the company also displayed publicly. Although the operation of these tools was not communicated, as were decisions on account suspensions, Twitter was simply applying its own rules and trying to comply with the law. The old Twitter was seen by regulators around the world as too ineffective at moderating hate speech.

These Twitter Files must also be used to rehabilitate those excluded from the network. These have taken refuge in recent years in a conservative community, on platforms similar to Twitter but with much more lax moderation policies, such as Parler, Gab or Gettr. On the other hand, none of them succeeded in imposing themselves. The most popular, Parler, would have only 725,000 monthly users, far from the more than 330 million of Twitter. All these alternative networks hoped to find success by attracting Donald Trump – who had made Twitter his first communication tool – but the latter preferred to launch his own platform, Truth Social and keep his exclusive presence there. As a result, even when Elon Musk rehabilitated his Twitter account after a quick public poll, Trump didn’t come back. This is not the case with many accounts banned by the former administration and which Elon Musk brought back, with many figures from the American right among them.

An “investigation” like no other

Although presented as such,Twitter files is not a survey like any other. The terminology ” queues ” Where “ papers , regularly used by journalists, refers to the leak of internal documents, generally provided by a whistleblower. For example, the Facebook Files had been provided to the press by a former Facebook executive, Frances Haugen.

However, in the case ofTwitter files “, the leak is not one, since the publication of the information is supported by Elon Musk. Another originality: the “investigations” are not published on a site or in a paper newspaper, but in the form of a succession of tweets – “threads” – from the Twitter accounts of journalists. To support the remarks, we see captures of moderation tools, email exchanges between leaders or extracts from the internal Slack messaging service. For his part, Elon Musk actively relays and comments on the threads with his personal account followed by 121 million subscribers. To date, neither the detail nor the volume of information made available to the various journalists working on the subject has been revealed. Some people like Jack Dorsey asked opening of documents to the public so that everyone can judge, but they have not been heard.

The authors share a common point: all are considered largely conservative, and anti-media mainstream (name given to mainstream media such as the New York Timesthat Elon Musk regularly takes pour target). The journalists behind the first two waves of “Twitter files “, Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss, are for example former sizes of Rolling Stones and New York Times, now referred to as “renegades”. After leaving their respective newsrooms because of their anti-vaccine and/or transphobic positions, they each launched an independent newsletter on Substack [une plateforme spécialisée dans ce format, ndlr]. They are now preparing the joint launch of a new medium, The Free Pressa company built on the ideals that were once the foundations of American journalism “.

Did Elon Musk shoot himself in the foot?

Since the “Twitter files “, the communication of Elon Musk becomes more and more conservative. So much so that on December 11, the billionaire tweetedMy pronouns are sue / Fauci “. This cryptic message is a double attack. On the one hand, he is targeting Anthony Fauci, doctor of immunology and adviser to the White House on the management of the Covid pandemic. The latter is a central figure in the conspiracy theories of American antivaccines, without any of the accusations made against him having been proven.

On the other hand, the tweet is a tease for the LGBT+ community: more and more people are specifying the pronouns with which they should be addressed (for example, he/him or she/her). This annotation is intended, among other things, to allow transgender people to be properly gendered. An idea that strongly displeases the conservative right, in the United States as in France.

Since that post, the Twitter executive has made further references to Covid and “wokists“. In short, he fully assumes being part of the hard right, while he defined himself as “neither left nor right”. The problem is that this political turn seems hardly compatible with the economic difficulties of Twitter A few weeks earlier, Elon Musk was in the midst of seducing advertisers, who feared a resurgence of hate speech thanks to the new moderation policy.Rather than giving guarantees against this scenario, the billionaire gives new reasons to s worry, and distracts from the real opportunities for Twitter. Elon Musk wanted to highlight his network as the main channel for discussion of the third halves of the football world cup, but this message is lost in the flood of discussions on the Twitter Files.

At the same time, Tesla’s share price has lost more than 25% of its value since taking over management at Twitter and this rate is more than 50% compared to the beginning of the year. Rather than being at the bedside of the electric automobile company essential to his fortune, Elon Musk is waging a political fight and questioning the own platform he has just bought. And if the revelations ofTwitter files » turn out to be as shocking as announced, so the billionaire will attract the attention of regulators and risk fines…

But in any case, by flirting with the hard right, the businessman will have to redouble his efforts to convince advertisers to stay. Especially since he has just personally challenged his last moderation chief Yoel Roth in addition to dissolving an advisory body on moderation…