Musk took over Twitter. Then some users began testing chaos
Confusion, concern, conspiracies, celebration.
In the hours after Elon Musk took control of Twitter, reaction on the platform ranged from triumph to despair.
While no immediate policy changes had been announced by Friday afternoon, that didn’t stop users from cheering — or criticizing — what they expected to be a quick embrace of Musk’s pledges to cut back on moderation in what he has said is an effort to promote free speech.
Conservative personalities on the platform began recirculating long-debunked conspiracy theories about COVID-19, the 2020 election and other issues, in a tongue-in-cheek attempt to test whether Twitter’s policies on misinformation were still being enforced.
Right-wing pundits tweeted buzzwords such as “ivermectin” and “Trump won” to see whether they’d be penalized for content that, they suggested, would previously have been flagged. (Ivermectin, a cheap drug that kills parasites in humans and animals, has been promoted by some Republican lawmakers and conservative talk show hosts as an effective way to treat COVID-19. But health experts have pushed back, warning that there’s scant evidence.)
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“Ok, @elonmusk, is this thing on?” Steve Cortes, a former commentator for the conservative TV network Newsmax and advisor to former President Trump tweeted alongside a microphone emoji. “THERE ARE TWO SEXES TRUMP WON IVERMECTIN ROCKS.”
In a letter aimed at soothing the fears of advertisers, Musk vowed Thursday that Twitter won’t be a “free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences.”
But the jury is still out on what will become of the platform — and what it will tolerate. Observers are keeping tabs on who stays, who goes and who might potentially come back from the list of people the platform has banned over the years, including Trump, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke — none of whom have returned so far.
The Associated Press checked at least a dozen other Twitter accounts that were suspended by the platform — including those used by right-wing activist James O’Keefe and MyPillow Chief Executive Mike Lindell — and each turned up an “account suspended” message as of Friday afternoon.
At least one who’d been suspended found a way to get his message out.
“I am very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands, and will no longer be run by Radical Left Lunatics and Maniacs that truly hate our country,” Trump said Friday morning in a post on his platform Truth Social, leaving no indication of whether he’d return to Twitter, even though Musk has said he would allow it.
“I LOVE TRUTH!” Trump said, adding that Twitter will be “better” if it works to get rid of bots and fake accounts “that have hurt it so badly.”
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In a tweet Friday afternoon, Musk said Twitter will be forming a “content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints,” and “no major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”
Earlier in the day, news outlets reported that Kanye West, the rapper legally known as Ye, appeared to be back on Twitter after being locked out of his account this month over antisemitic posts.
But there was no evidence to suggest that the status of his account had changed or that Musk played a role, and there was no sign of recent activity. Twitter did not immediately reply to a request for comment on whether Ye was back on the platform. The rapper and fashion designer had also been suspended from Instagram, where his account was recently reinstated.
Meanwhile, dozens of extremist profiles — some newly created — circulated racial slurs and Nazi imagery while expressing gratitude to Musk for his new leadership. One shared a breaking news update about Musk taking over the company, tweeting a racial slur and the message, “thank you Elon.” Another anonymous account tweeted, “Elon now controls Twitter, unleash the racial slurs,” along with several derogatory comments.
“His acquisition of Twitter has opened Pandora’s box,” the advocacy group Ultraviolet said in a statement Friday, urging Musk, Twitter executives and the company’s board of directors to continue to enforce the ban on Trump “as well as violent right-wing extremists and white supremacists.”
In their own words, former Tesla employees describe what they call a racist work environment that led California to file a civil rights lawsuit against the company.
Some users reacted to the news of Musk’s takeover by threatening to quit the platform; others made fun of them for doing so. The terms “Elon” and “deleting” appeared in Twitter’s top trends Friday as users discussed the fallout. Speculation permeated the platform: Some worried that they were losing Twitter followers, theorizing that the platform may be cleaning up bots; others posted unverified reports that their “like” counts were dwindling.
“Elon Musk bought a platform; he didn’t buy people,” said Jennifer Grygiel, a social media expert and professor at Syracuse University. “And we still have a choice in how we get our news, our information and how we communicate.”
Grygiel said there will be a flight to quality if Twitter descends into chaos under Musk, and maybe that isn’t a bad thing, as the platform has increasingly come to serve corporate and state media interests.
And as always, users were quick to crack jokes — aiming to cut through the disorder in comical ways.
“In honor of Elon now owning this site, I’d like to start utter chaos,” CNN commentator Bakari Sellers tweeted Friday morning. “Which is better Popeyes or Bojangles and why?”