Elon Musk, the owner of the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter, is a hard man to pin down. In terms of his scattershot views, he is all over the place. Which begs the question: where does he really stand?
On the one hand, Musk endorsed a foul antisemitic conspiracy theory dear to the hearts of the white supremacist/neo-Nazi crowd. On the other hand, he threatened to suspend X users for using certain expressions widely deemed to be offensive to Jews.
Musk’s contradictory remarks muddy the waters, to say the least.
Musk has been justifiably criticized for turning a blind eye to antisemitic conspiracy theories on his site. A few days ago, as the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip continued to churn the Middle East and generate waves of antisemitism, he raised eyebrows by agreeing with an inflammatory post that must have gladdened the hearts of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
The reprehensible post to which he reacted falsely accused Jews of advancing an ultra-liberal immigration policy that possibly could alter the demographic/racial character of the United States. In concurring with it, Musk wrote that Jews were promoting the “exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” In his jaundiced view, Jews were supporting the immigration of “hordes of minorities” to America. “You have said the actual truth,” Musk declared, insinuating that Jews support the replacement of white Americans by non-white immigrants.
By endorsing this far-fetched conspiracy theory, Musk was effectively subscribing to the same baseless belief that prompted Robert Bowers, a neo-Nazi thug, to murder eleven Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 in the single deadliest antisemitic incident in American history.
After Musk posted this vile comment, the Biden administration issued a condemnation of him. In an allusion to the massacre in Pittsburgh and Hamas’ mass murder of 1,200 Israelis and foreigners in southern Israel on October 7, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said it was “unacceptable to repeat the hideous lie behind the most fatal act of antisemitism in American history … let alone one month after the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”
It is really baffling and beyond comprehension why Musk would associate himself with such filthy, dangerous lies. Is it because he has been influenced by his grandfather’s antisemitic drivel?
His grandfather, Joshua Haldeman, was a Canadian who moved to apartheid South Africa, where Musk was born and raised. Haldeman was apparently of the opinion that his adopted homeland would be a beacon for “White Christian Civilization” in its existential battle against the “International Conspiracy” of Jewish bankers and the “hordes of Colored people” they controlled.
We simply do not know what kind of an influence Haldeman exerted on Musk. But on November 18, Musk put on his best face when he informed X users that they would be suspended if they resorted to euphemisms that “necessarily imply genocide. He cited two unacceptable terms, “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea,” both of which have been regularly deployed by Palestinians and their supporters to demonize Israel and reject its very existence.
“Clear calls for extreme violence are against our terms of service and will result in suspension,” he wrote. “Anyone calling for a genocide of any people will be suspended.”
Musk’s warning is a breath of fresh air. But this is counterbalanced by an undeniable and unpalatable fact. Since his acquisition of X in October 2022, antisemitic posts on X have risen by a significant margin.
Musk faced this issue when he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two months ago in California. “Obviously I’m against antisemitism — I’m against anti-anything,” Musk said. “And I’m in favor of that which helps uphold society and takes us to a better future for humanity.”
Despite Musk’s soothing words, Netanyahu reminded him that he has a responsibility to fight discrimination in all its forms. “I hope you can find, within the confines of the First Amendment, the ability to not only stop antisemitism as best you can, but any collective hatred of the people that antisemitism represents,” he said.
X’s chief executive, Linda Yaccarino, doubled down on this theme on November 15 when she claimed that X has been “extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination.”
Her statement notwithstanding, bigots in far greater numbers than in the past have been drawn to X since Musk’s questionable decision to reduce content moderation rules and sack some employees in charge of enforcing them.
His laissez-faire approach to free speech on X has clearly emboldened racists.
The Anti-Defamation League, having taken public note of this disturbing trend, has infuriated Musk, who has reportedly threatened to sue that Jewish civil rights organization. “The ADL has been trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me of being antisemitic,” Musk wrote recently.
Be that as it may, Musk’s tolerance for hate speech has scared away major advertisers. In the last few days, companies such as IBM, Disney, Lionsgate, Paramount Global and Apple have suspended advertising on X, citing Musk’s endorsement of the antisemitic replacement conspiracy theory and X’s practice of placing some of their ads next to obnoxious posts supporting white nationalism.
Their withdrawal from Musk’s site is an enormous financial blow to X, which relies on ads for 90 percent of its revenue. But if Musk — supposedly the world’s richest person — hopes they will return to X, he will have to rethink his position with respect to the definition of free speech. It cannot be a licence for spewing racial, religious and ethnic bigotry.
Yet this is not the only troubling problem on social media.
Last week, a group of Jewish TikTok creators and celebrities, including the actors Sacha Baron Cohen, Debra Messing and Amy Schumer, urged TikTok executives to do more to address the surge of antisemitism on the video service.
Under videos they and others have submitted, antisemites have posted scurrilous insults such as “Hitler was right” and “I hope you end up like Anne Frank.”
Cohen believes that TikTok can easily “flip a switch” to erase antisemitic content on its platform. He is right, of course. TikTok surely possesses the technology to fix this malignant problem. It should do so immediately without further excuses.