Elon Blocks Blocking

And other free speech offenses

Image: The Verge

Elon Musk has said that he will delete account blocking on X:

Image of X posts from CNBC, August 18, 2023

The X Help Center says

Block helps people in restricting specific accounts from contacting them, seeing their Tweets, and following them. . . Blocked accounts do not receive a notification alerting them that their account has been blocked. However, if a blocked account visits the profile of an account that has blocked them, they will see they have been blocked. (emphasis added)

Mute is a feature that allows you to remove an account’s Tweets from your timeline without unfollowing or blocking that account. Muted accounts will not know that you’ve muted them and you can unmute them at any time.. . Muted accounts can follow you and you can follow muted accounts. (emphasis added)

Muting seems to do only half the job, keeping you from seeing unwanted posts, but not keeping unwanted users from seeing yours.

“Muted users can still stalk your posts or make unwanted replies that are seen by other people,” according to Adi Robertson on The Verge. She makes the point that muting is preferable for the platform; it reduces backlash because muted users cannot see they are muted.

The reaction to Musk’s post has been strong:

Ken White @Popehat@Mastodon.social

Musk is raising this controversy after the throttling of links to Instagram, The New York Times, and other sites. (“Elon Musk’s X is throttling traffic to websites he dislikes,” Jeremy B. Merrill and Drew Harwell, The Washington Post, August 16, 2023.)

Molly Jong-Fast discussed that with Drew Harwell of the Washington Post (starting at 39:02):

(edited, filtered and condensed)

MJF: The champion of free speech, [Elon Musk] has an interesting way of dealing with things he doesn’t like.

DH: If you’re using Twitter, sorry X, and you click on a link, you expect to go immediately through . . . We started running some tests yesterday and found websites that actually get a five second delay. . . The New York Times, Reuter’s, Facebook, Instagram, Threads, Bluesky, and Substack . . . All of those websites have upset Elon Musk to some degree. . . And we don’t have any evidence that this was a technical glitch because it only isolated these websites.

MJF: I want you to get to the punchline here, which is as soon as you reported about it. . .

DH: A couple of hours after we reported on it, the delay magically started to disappear. We could actually see it in the test. . . X and Elon never never addressed it in any meaningful way. . . Elon actually blocked my emails when I started asking about it. . . From anybody else that would be almost too petty to believe. But this is Elon Musk we’re dealing with. This is just his playbook.

Anytime someone, typically on the right, felt like didn’t get enough likes or retweets they would say, “The shadow banning is happening again.” . . . There was never any systemic proof of that, and actually the research ended up finding that conservative viewpoints on the platform got more attention and they were actually less suppressed. But that was the reason Elon took it over to begin with. He felt there was this massive injustice.

Now once he’s taken it over, instead of no shadow banning there’s legitimate, behind the scenes algorithmic tinkering in the other direction. So, this just belies the whole free speech absolutist claim that Elon Musk has always said about himself.

It’s hard to even remember all of the examples in the last twelve months of just taking down things he disagrees with. He took down the Elon jet account that tracked his private jet. He banned journalists who covered that, including me. These are not things that you would expect from a First Amendment free speech champion. But this is Elon Musk’s playground. He has decided that it’s his rule and he can just do whatever he wants. And hey, he paid forty four billion for it, and he’s getting his money out of it.

Censoring for Autocrats

MJF: I read reporting that some autocratic governments like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and India had actually asked Elon to throttle some of the content and that he had gone along with it.

DH: That has happened. India, that was specifically one of the bigger examples. Governments were asking X/ Twitter to remove specific tweets that they didn’t like from political advocates, dissidents, just people they didn’t want on the platform. Elon has kind of bent over backwards to placate these governments by removing this content. And he has said, “Well, what are you going to do? You know, we want clients in India, the government’s asking us very nicely, who are we to say?” It’s not just free speech when it’s speech you like or it’s easy for you. Elon has used the free speech idea as a cudgel against the ideas he doesn’t like.

Child Pornography

A couple of weeks ago there was a far right account that posted an image of child sexual abuse. The company has always said we have zero tolerance, If you post that we’re reporting it to the authorities. It was surprising when Elon allowed this far right influencer to come back on Twitter.They deleted the post with the image. And that far right influencer has remained on Twitter and is now getting paid through the ad revenue share, just for outrage and engagement that they get. So Twitter cannot be any more different than it was even a year ago. It’s really just become Elon Musk’s sandbox of whatever he wants, and he’s constantly pushing the boundaries on what’s acceptable. And you see that and the user base and how people are going away.

Far Right Platforms

And the big problem with [other far right platforms] is there’s no libs to own. It’s just all preaching to the choir and it gets a little boring. Even the people on there say, “Why do I just want to look at the same memes all day?” Elon thought he could do it differently by taking this social network that had popular influencers that were liberals, celebrities and politicians and comedians and journalists. He felt, “I’m just going to come in and make it more central around these kinds of ideas.” You saw him elevating people like the Libs of TikTok and other anti-trans accounts, and the makeup of Twitter started to change quickly. There’s a reason why Tucker Carlson has his show on X now instead of anywhere else. I think [Elon] has been able to shift the vibe of the website culturally, but financially it’s still a huge loser. Even he has admitted ad revenue has plunged. Clorox wipes and shoes next to a bunch of kooks.

X Blue Ponzi Scheme

The [financial] elevator pitch by Twitter Blue/ X Blue was for eight dollars a month you will be rewarded with this big ad revenue split. The fine print is why it’s been so unbalanced: To get money, you have to have five million views a month, and only from other X Blue subscribers. These other people who have paid eight dollars a month are leaning more conservative. It’s a vanishingly small crust of people who are getting the payouts from this. When they get the payouts and go on X and say, “I’m rich!” it creates this flywheel that Elon wants. We have not seen this reaching down to the normal people. The creator economy making money off YouTube and TikTok and Twitch is a one percent economy. Some people get fabulously rich and a lot of people get nothing.

[X] is burning money. Some people have described X Blue as desperate, because this is Twitter saying we’re going to give payouts to people to keep using our product. It’s like a quasi-bribe. Twitter never had to pay people to create content before, and it was still this cultural juggernaut. The fact that Elon had to be handing out checks to accomplish the same shows how struggling they are. . .

You can buy an Elon Musk car, you can get in an Elon Musk rocket, you can go in an Elon Musk tunnel, Elon Musk brain chips, flame throwers. A lot of people love Elon Musk.I covered Tesla before Twitter. There has always been an army of Elon Musk stans who see the iron Man, the guy who takes no guff, who says what he wants. I think that audience has changed a lot. It’s not just nerdy type anymore. You see this big MAGA love fest.

But it’s hurting his other businesses. They’re all getting distracted by this. Tesla purchases are down. Twitter usage is down. Twitter is still very popular; it’s still beating Threads and Bluesky and Mask and all these others, but those companies are rising. [Elon Musk] is a guy who has to pay a billion dollars a year just for debt. So I don’t think time is on Elon Musk’s side.

Molly Jong-Fast with Drew Harwell of the Washington Post on Fast Politics
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3 responses

  1. Kevin E. Walsh Avatar
    Kevin E. Walsh

    Vice censored news for Saudi Arabia. This is why our government can’t delegate foreign policy to private businesses. Corporate interests come first.

  2. Kevin E. Walsh Avatar
    Kevin E. Walsh

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  3. Kevin E. Walsh Avatar
    Kevin E. Walsh