Elon Musk, the new owner of social media site Twitter, seems to have deleted a tweet that he posted on October 30 about the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of senior Democratic Party leader and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
Now, why would Musk do that?
It’s not clear. The tweet has certainly disappeared from Musk’s timeline. And Musk has provided no explanation for the disappearance. Media reports said neither he nor Twitter had responded to requests for a comment.
And what was the tweet about?
Musk had tweeted “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story”. By “story” he meant the attack on Paul Pelosi — or perhaps a dubious report about the attack on Paul Pelosi. (More on this below)
According to American media reports quoting police, early on Saturday, a man called David DePape allegedly broke into the Pelosis’ home in San Francisco and hit Paul over the head with a hammer, while shouting “Where is Nancy?” DePape is in custody, and he was due to be charged by police for multiple felonies on October 31.
Musk’s tweet can no longer be seen, but there are screenshots of it with reports published by multiple media outlets.
Well, Musk’s tweet was in response to a tweet posted by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on October 29, who said the attack on Paul Pelosi was the result of incendiary rhetoric by the Republican Party.
“The Republican Party and its mouthpieces now regularly spread hate and deranged conspiracy theories. It is shocking, but not surprising, that violence is the result. As citizens, we must hold them accountable for their words and the actions that follow,” Clinton said, linking to a report by The Los Angeles Times headlined “Accused Pelosi attacker David DePape spread QAnon, other far-right, bigoted conspiracies”.
In his response to Clinton, Musk linked to a report headlined “The Awful Truth: Paul Pelosi Was Drunk Again, And In a Dispute With a Male Prostitute Early Friday Morning”, which was published on a website called the Santa Monica Observer.
And what kind of a publication is this Observer?
According to a report by Reuters, fact-checkers have described the Santa Monica Observer “as a purveyor of hoaxes, including that Clinton herself had died and been replaced by a body double”.
The said report is bizarre, and seems to be completely without basis. As of October 31 evening (IST), the publication had posted an “update” to the report saying “In response to this story, San Francisco Police said today that victim Pelosi and suspect Depape, did not know each other prior to the attack. SFPD reaffirmed that the assault followed a break-in.”
The report remains on the publication’s website. The Reuters report said The Observer had not responded to its request for a comment.
So Musk amplified fake news through a tweet and then retracted?
That’s what legacy media in the US are saying.
The Washington Post began its report by saying: “Elon Musk, who has more than 100 million followers, had owned Twitter for less than three full days when he shared a post containing misinformation — then hours later deleted it.”
Other users too criticised Musk strongly.
That’s a major problem, isn’t it?
As The Washington Post report flagged: “Musk has one of the largest audiences of any public figure on Twitter, and is among its most prolific tweeters. He has a track record of using his account to promote or allude to misinformation, and to interact with and amplify a circle of prominent right-wing influencers online.”
The report quoted Joan Donovan, research director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, as saying: “Musk owning Twitter is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse when it comes to political misinformation.”
Donovan also said, “When he was just a user, that did not matter as much as it does now because people may come to distrust the platform if they don’t trust the owner’s core values.”
The Reuters report said that with rising fears about political violence ahead of the November 8 midterm elections, his tweet had “prompted fresh concerns about how he will handle hate speech and misinformation” on the social media platform.