Elon Musk Dispatches Howler Monkeys To Drive Former Employee From His Home
File:Elon Musk Colorado 2022 (cropped).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

If you think the very existence of billionaires is a sign that our society has gone terribly wrong, then watching Elon Musk's $44 billion Twitter bonfire is at least somewhat gratifying. We're witnessing the myth of the techbro genius as white knight savior melt down, as Mark Zuckerberg tilts at windmills in the metaverse, Sam Bankman-Fried heads for the slammer, and PayPal Mafia OG Peter Thiel's particular brand of nihilist capitalism appears to have had limited appeal to voters.

Maybe this is the end of the techno fairy tale we told ourselves for the internet's first quarter century, and when we get to the other side we'll understand that organizing our social and professional lives around a "free" website is a really lousy idea. Because nothing's free; NFTs were always Beanie Babies; and as they say, if you're not paying for it, you're not the customer, you're the product. (Exceptions as always for the website you're reading right now, because it is actually free except for the monthly harangues and whining at you to give us money. That is because we are weirdos.)

Which is a long way of saying that yesterday Twitter crossed some invisible line, and it's clearly going to become untenable to remain on the platform. Because it was fun to LOL at so-called "independent journalists" Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss breathlessly tweeting out nonsense and calling it the scoop of the century, but this shit has gotten out of control, and it's not funny any more.

After being let loose on the company's internal email and Slack systems, Weiss and Taibbi's first few posts proved nothing other than their independence from actual journalistic standards. Twitter kicked Trump off the platform after he incited a violent coup? Stop the presses! Twitter's Trust and Safety team met with representatives of the government in the lead up to the election? ¡Qué escándalo! Twitter limited the reach of conservative accounts when they violated the terms of service? Fetch the smelling salts! Twitter took down pictures of Hunter Biden's penis upon request in accordance with its policy on non-consensual nudes? INPEACH!

But this weekend, Bari Weiss highlighted the Libs of TikTok account as an example of dastardly liberals silencing conservative voices, and she pointed the finger directly at the former head of Trust and Safety, Yoel Roth. If you are not a Very Online Person, those words probably don't mean much to you. But Libs of TikTok is a virulently anti-LGBTQ account that portrays gay teachers as "groomers" and directs troll storms at doctors and hospitals which provide gender affirming care to trans youth in accordance with widely accepted medical standards. Thanks to Chaya Raichik, the LOTT creator, children's hospitals in Omaha, Boston, Pittsburgh, and DC have faced bomb and death threats — a fact Weiss glosses over, putting scare quotes around the term "hospitals and medical providers." Very journalism, much independent!

This is exactly the kind of account which should have its reach limited. And it's positively perverse that Weiss, who is herself a lesbian, would twist the facts to paint someone who directs hatred and violence toward members of the LGBTQ community as the real victim. Although we are talking about someone who owes her entire career to a campaign she waged as an undergraduate at Columbia University to silence pro-Palestinian professors in the name of "academic freedom," so perhaps her free speech bona fides were a little suspect from the jump.

But even worse, is the avalanche of hatred Weiss gleefully unleashed on Yoel Roth, who spent his entire adult life dedicated to the very serious project of creating space for free and open discourse on the internet. Roth is the guy that tech people like Kara Swisher pointed to as evidence that there were still adults in the room with the giant man baby who bought Twitter with the apparent intent of turning it into a rightwing sewer. A month ago, Roth resigned and wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times which was mildly critical of Musk. And even as Musk has spent weeks playing footsie with the same antisemitic trolls who flogged the Pizzagate conspiracy lies about a cabal of child sex abusers, Weiss has happily pinned a target on the back of Roth, who is gay and Jewish, blaming him for "censoring" an account which is supposedly dedicated to preventing sexual abuse of children.

Roth was immediately hit with a torrent of abuse, egged on by Musk himself, who was only delighted to invoke QAnon tropes about child sex abuse to target a gay, Jewish man.

“Looks like Yoel is arguing in favor of children being able to access adult Internet services in his PhD thesis,” Musk tweeted, mischaracterizing Roth's PhD thesis about Grindr to imply that the former head of Trust and Safety supported monetizing sexual contact between adults and children. He later went on a Twitter live space with an alt-right podcaster and agreed that the Trust and Safety Board had failed to remove child sex abuse materials (CSAM) because they were too busy enforcing woke ideology — something which is objectively false, although it might become true now that Musk has reportedly fired the team responsible for policing the site for CSAM.

In the wake of this, everyone remotely associated with Roth has faced harassment, including his family and his undergraduate university. Roth and his husband were forced to flee their home, which was inevitable, and there is no universe in which Bari Weiss didn't expect this to happen. FFS, Musk already targeted Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's former top lawyer, resulting in waves of online harassment and death threats, much of it racist and sexually violent — because that's the price of participating online when you're brown and female. The fact that Weiss, who is both Jewish and gay, set the mob on Roth is unbelievably filthy.

And so here we are, those of us who spent hours every day on this website, faced with a choice.

A month ago when Musk reinstated Donald Trump's account, Matt Tait, AKA @pwnallthethings, wrote a blogpost titled "Twitter was special. But it's time to leave."

"Everywhere you looked there was tiny groups of experts deeply immersed in their Thing™, and you were free to watch and learn, as well as ask questions and participate as you choose," he wrote, lamenting that the site we all enjoyed would inevitably "devolve into the spectacle of not one but two permanent main characters, relentlessly broadcast into your eyes, no matter how little you care about the vacuous awfulness of either."

As of this writing, Trump hasn't returned to Twitter. But with the 2024 election cycle fast approaching, it's clearly a matter of time. In the meanwhile, Tait was exactly right about Musk making himself the focus of Twitter, directing hate toward his enemies and endorsing rightwing shit flingers like Mike Cernovich and Ian Miles Cheong.

But deliberately endangering Yoel Roth's life seems like something new and terrible, something that is singularly immoral to associate with.

Here's how Ken White, AKA @Popehat, described his decision yesterday to leave the platform:

Just as Twitter’s former leaders exercised their free speech and free association rights to brand Twitter one way, Twitter’s new boss is exercising his rights to brand it another way. That new branding is ugly and despicable and I don’t want to contribute content to it. The last straw was Elon Musk sending lunatics and bigots against former employees and leaning into conspiracy theories. So I’m exercising my free speech and free association and leaving, and shuttering the account. I’ll probably delete the past tweets because I can’t stomach them being available to promote this enterprise.

Well, yes, it's hard to argue with that. And, in case you were thinking someone with judgment might still right this ship, last night Musk dissolved the Trust and Safety Board. This is going to get so much worse, and soon.

[WaPo / PwnAllTheThings / Popehat]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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