The Threat to the Election Posed by Elon Musk’s X

March 6, 2024

New York Times columnist David French wrote recently that Elon Musk has become the second-most-important person in the Make America Great Again movement led by former President Donald Trump. “If Trump is MAGA’s champion, Musk is its gatekeeper,” French argued.

The pundit focused on how the influence of Musk’s social media platform, X (formerly Twitter), has soared in right-wing circles lately, as web traffic at top conservative websites like Breitbart and The Daily Wire has slumped. French, a thoughtful conservative with libertarian leanings, stressed that X has become “the central way in which many right-wing figures reach the public.” That’s an alarming development, in the columnist’s view, because Musk has increasingly made the platform hospitable to antisemites, misogynists, and other hateful characters. “This transformation has the effect of further radicalizing the right,” French contended.

The shift in where red America goes to rant is indeed an important stage in the evolution of the Republican Party. But the centrality of X is also a threat to the fall elections in which everyone—left, right, and center—has a stake. As we observed in our recently published report, Digital Risks to the 2024 Elections: Safeguarding Democracy in the Era of Disinformation, X has led the way in an unfortunate tendency in the social media industry to retreat from key past commitments to protect “election integrity.”

Since acquiring X in 2022, Musk has slashed its workforce, decimating the ranks of content moderators and others charged with policing what stays and goes on the platform. He has invited back many of the white nationalists and other unsavory types whom prior management had muted or banned altogether.

Musk says he is acting on principle: “Free speech is the bedrock of democracy,” he has posted on X. In our report, we relied on Yoel Roth, among others, to provide a more complete picture of Musk’s impact. Roth, we noted, resigned as X’s head of trust and safety in the fall of 2022, “undergoing the bizarre and frightening experience of having the new owner, Musk, publicly accuse him of having tried to silence conservative voices.” What Roth actually had done, we recounted “was oversee a cautious response to then-President Trump’s baseless allegations of a ‘rigged’ election, mainly by labeling some of Trump’s incendiary tweets and preventing them from being liked or retweeted. When Trump incited the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and then used social media to praise the mob while it was still marauding through the halls of Congress, Roth participated in the decision to block the then-president’s Twitter account.”

Today, Roth advises other social media companies as a consultant. He told us

that he has observed first-hand the degradation of election integrity efforts spread from X to rival platforms. “We’re seeing in many ways teams that were built up following

public outrage in 2017 [over Russian interference] now get pruned back,” he said. “We clawed these roles into existence because they needed to be there, because it was impossible to deliver on election-security work without each and every one of these roles.” He added: “The elimination of these roles topples load-bearing infrastructure within these companies.”

In other words, the rise of X’s influence on the right ought to be cause for great concern regardless of one’s political leanings.


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