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Musk drags Twitter down a dangerous rabbit hole

When Elton John announced last week that he was leaving Twitter because of its handling of misinformation, he got a reply from Elon Musk himself.

“I love your music,” Musk tweeted. “Is there any misinformation in particular that you’re concerned about?”

The singer didn’t reply. Instead, Musk provided an answer himself two days later:

In one short tweet, Musk signaled his support for a widespread anti-vaccine conspiracy theory sometimes referred to as Nuremberg 2.0 — after s the notion that world leaders, scientists and journalists will be put on trial for their role in engineering a false pandemic

Far from being a responsible custodian for a “public town square,” Musk is leveraging the platform to stoke outrage and clicks, something that all manner of repugnant extremists have been doing for years.

Musk’s team has been mining Twitter’s internal emails to claim that the site misused its power before he took the reins this fall. Known as the Twitter Files, they purport to show, among other things, that the company swayed the US election by restricting the spread of a New York Post article about material found on Hunter Biden’s laptop, due to questions about the origin of the material. Twitter also froze the Post’s account for 16 days after the story was published.

The internal “files” point to ineptitude more than conspiracy, showing a lot of internal handwringing over what to do about the story, with Twitter executives at the time believing that the Post had acquired hacked data and deciding that this would breach Twitter’s no-hacked materials rule.

Roth, the former safety head, has said that Twitter shouldn’t have blocked the story — and he is right. Twitter and Facebook both overstepped their mark by trying to correct actions happening off their sites.

Twitter should have instead stayed focused on making sure its own platform wasn’t being weaponized to make election meddling — or hate speech or misinformation — worse. But that is precisely what Musk is doing now, and his decision this week to dissolve Twitter’s trust and safety council won’t help matters.

Musk is well within his rights to use Twitter to promote a political party or broadly controversial ideas. But he is lurching toward darker fringes, pushing narratives rooted in bigotry and lies — just as social networks were getting misinformation under control.

It’s a shame to see Musk give advertisers more reason to stay away from Twitter, but even bigger problems could arise for the health of online discourse if he continues to spread damaging falsehoods. The billionaire may find all this very entertaining or “spicy,” but it won’t be so much fun when someone gets hurt.

More From Bloomberg Opinion:

  • Elon Musk Is Ruining Trump’s Presidential Campaign: Joshua Green
  • Musk Versus Apple Is a Fight Worth Having: Tim Culpan
  • Musk’s Twitter Won’t Die. Look at Telegram: Parmy Olson

With assistance from.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. A former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, she is author of “We Are Anonymous.” Bloomberg

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