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Elon Musk, Axel Springer Award
The media has played into the image of Elon Musk as a loveable, wacky, brilliant guy. Photo credit: © Britta Pedersen/DDP via ZUMA Press

Musk may pay a big fine for willfully spreading lies — but the human cost in lives cannot be calculated.

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This past week, it seems that the media, which has waffled for years, suddenly settled on just how bad and dangerous golden boy Elon Reeve Musk actually is. 

As with Donald John Trump, the media screwed up big time, helping hype the brand, which in turn enabled Musk’s amassing of a far greater fortune and power. The merits of the companies he bought or started, while significant, have been far exceeded by the amount of hagiography heaped upon him. 

Now, like Dr. Frankenstein, they regret their creation. And no wonder. Not only is Musk basically a destructive narcissist — he’s also a disinformation kingpin, a danger to domestic tranquility, to national security, and much, much more.

The evidence is voluminous, and may be familiar to you. Yet the details are well worth reviewing because, cumulatively, they show the evil purpose at hand. 

“I Still Don’t Know What They’re Talking About!”

On October 10, in rapid response to disinformation Musk was putting out about the Hamas-Israel conflict that had just exploded, Thierry Breton, a commissioner with the European Union and author of the Digital Services Act (passed in 2022 to regulate social media content for the protection of the public), fired off a letter to Musk. He warned him that failing to moderate fake news on X could result in a fine of 6 percent of X’s revenues — or even an EU blackout of the social media platform altogether.

The fake news includes disinformation about the Hamas attack, including the posting of misrepresented and repurposed old images, and “military” footage that actually came from a video game.  

As he routinely does, a la Trump, when confronted about the bogus information pervading every inch of his site, Musk asks, in effect, “Huh?”

In response to the EU, Musk feigned ignorance: “Please list the violations you allude to on X, so that the public can see them.”

At 9:31 a.m. on October 11, Musk tweeted: “I still don’t know what they’re talking about!” 

Yet, at 9:09 a.m., as noted by CNN Reliable Sources, he tweeted a laughing emoji in response to a video widely circulated on X featuring doctored audio aiming to portray CNN’s Clarissa Ward as an actor.  A CNN spokesperson said:

The audio in the video posted and shared on X is fabricated, inaccurate and irresponsibly distorts the reality of the moment that was covered live on CNN, which people should watch in full for themselves on a trusted platform.

It’s hard not to see the grave danger Musk’s outfit presents to public understanding of what is actually going on. During a moment of great volatility, its power to harm is significantly magnified. 

Yet, Musk, fully aware of what he is doing and how much of a chaos agent he is, nonetheless presents himself (in an endless stream of adoring media appearances) as an eccentric genius, playful, a little daffy, and a gleeful and unrepentant bad boy, but basically harmless — and benefits from the forbearance accorded his public admission that he has “a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome” (now considered indistinguishable from autism).

He also benefits from a two-prong approach: be as reckless as he wishes, while his own COO, Linda Yaccarino, claims X, formerly known as Twitter, is in fact a good corporate citizen, playing by the rules

Does Musk Find These Funny Too?

The examples of misleading the public are legion, and involve X’s role in allowing deliberate, organized disinformation efforts by hidden actors, including rogue states like Russia. One is an especially provocative and dangerous example of spread, by 67 coordinated X accounts, in which the captions do not remotely reflect what Putin is actually saying: 

Putin: America can do nothing

Photo credit: @indicfaith / Twitter

Hamas, of course, could have taken encouragement from the fake translation above: “Russia will help Palestine. And America can do nothing.”

And here is a very sophisticated video designed to look just like a news report from the BBC:

 Fake BBC Tweet

Photo credit: @Xentherida / Twitter

The video falsely claimed that the citizen journalism outfit Bellingcat found evidence that Ukraine had smuggled weapons to Hamas — exactly the kind of nonsense that is immediately weaponized by Putin partisans to further advance an effort to defund the defense of Ukraine. 

But Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, said the report was “100% fake.” Egregiously, X did not remove the fake BBC News video, but, as CNN reported, “it did append a small label under the video noting it is ‘manipulated media.’”

***

I could recite many more examples, but when you consider all the damage Musk has done just in one single week with the world in maximum turmoil, it’s hard to see how Musk and his doings have not yet risen to a more pressing priority for the government. It’s true that Musk and his compatriots will yell “First Amendment” — but we all know that yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is not tolerated. 

Musk’s adolescent schemes have established the fact that the arcane regulations developed for broadcast media in the 1920’s are not sufficient to insure the public safety in this dynamic new media age

Let’s consider what he has done:

  • Musk has taken the most powerful public affairs and news-commenting and -distribution platform in the world and removed safeguards against disinformation. 
  • Musk has actively helped to perpetuate and amplify disinformation.
  • Musk has celebrated and promoted or given a platform to blatantly false theories and bad actors, including racists and antisemites. 
  • Musk, whose professed rationale for acquiring Twitter was to address “wokeness” and foster a full and vigorous free speech, ironically has given a platform to some of the most objectionable and hateful voices while shutting down those with whom he disagrees, including critics (I am active on X; let’s see if I start experiencing problems over there).
  • Musk has advanced a quasi-fascist ideology. 
  • He clearly finds any objections to his wrongdoing… amusing.

Ultimately, it’s about concentration of wealth and unbridled power, and our society’s failure to address the threat that represents to the public interest, something revered presidents like FDR and JFK understood only too well. 

As journalist Luke Zaleski tweeted

The world’s richest man has taken possession of a global social media platform used by the world’s journalists, scientists, governments, private citizens, businesses, religions, militaries and health/emergency services to share all vital information — It’s going as you might expect.

Musk’s reckless war on reality has grown into too big a problem to be simply left alone at “mutter and shake head.” 

To be sure, no single, viable solution has emerged, but the time to start figuring one out — is now. 


Author

  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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