Fringe reaction to Musk acquiring Twitter
Spoiler: they love it
This article originally posted by Tohatoha in collaboration with SMAT as part of the Internet Weather Report series.
Over the last month, Elon Musk has finally fully acquired control of Twitter and immediately fired its top executives.
Fringe platforms with nearly none or no moderation have long been a refuge for the worst of the worst offenders who manage to get banned from mainstream platforms like Twitter. With Musk’s promise to turn Twitter into a “free speech” platform itself, it leads one to wonder about its impacts on fringe platforms and how the worst actors are planning to play it.
While our past articles for this series have focused on Aotearoa’s fringe internet, this week we will broaden our scope to this internationally resonant incident.
We isolated posts from the last 30 days on some of SMAT’s largest and most infamous collections. SMAT’s total collected posts in this period for each were:
Truth Social (the Trump platform): 1,046,294
We then further isolated the posts mentioning both “Musk” and “Twitter” in this period and took the data down to this subset:
Truth Social: 2,869
Of these, our research collaboration has found that Telegram and Gab have been most employed by malicious domestic NZ actors, and as such we will focus on them most directly.
The user most discussing this topic on Gab is an anti-vaxx, pro-Trump, pro-Qanon, transphobe who shares Nazi rally videos from pre-war Germany.
The second most active is an account promoting the false narrative that Trump actually won the 2020 US presidential election as well as spreading conspiracies about COVID-19.
The others in the top five are all similar, promoting the false narrative anti-democratic, coup-attempt driving narrative that Trump actually won. A strong pro-Putin bent is also present.
Most of these accounts link to other fringe platforms in their bios such as BitChute, Telegram, and Gettr.
Among the posts most “favorited” was one excitedly cheering Musk for claiming the US election was stolen from Trump shortly after the purchase went through.
Among NZ-specific Gab groups, the user most discussing it is a supposed New Zealander whose account is extremely pro-Qanon and contains conspiratorial content claiming to be fighting “Unconventional, multi-dimensional, irregular Warfare – Human proxies, Spiritual War.”
Many users covered in past reports in this series were additionally highly active on this topic.
On Telegram the users most sharing on this topic are predominantly Qanon and “patriot” channels utilising militia symbologies.
The posts mentioning Musk and Twitter that garnered the most views were mostly pro-Trump, pro-coup, militia adjacent “patriot parties”. They can be seen to share articles from Russian state media heralding Musk’s overthrow of the Twitter senior team as well as his supposed support for Qanon.
Other posts are from right wing provocateur “Project Veritas” known for, among other things, spreading propagandistic disinformation related to abortions, and, of course, Qanon accounts as well.
Among NZ-specific bad actors, a general excitement was brewing, as well as specific content related to fired Twitter figures associated with past attempts at moderation in the region.
From this initial research we can see that racist, conspiracy-driven, anti-democratic groups are very actively discussing and excited about the news of Musk’s takeover.
Many of the users researched here discussed attempting to get their own banned accounts back as well as the likelihood of Trump again using Twitter to engage in reckless geopolitical warmongering, disinformation, harassment, and instigation of offline violence and anti-democratic organising.
Whether this drives them off of the fringe platforms and back into the mainstream remains to be seen, however the mainstreaming and platforming of their malicious campaigns seems to be an inevitable result.
That Gab, an extremist friendly platform run by a Christian theocratic ultranationalist infamously known for a wide variety of hate based views, is most fervently discussing the takeover is itself a kind of ‘canary in the coalmine’ for the issues to come.
Free speech is a critical pillar of any functioning democracy. At the same time, platforms have a responsibility to balance these rights with the demands of minimising things like violent offline harassment and terror activities organised and instigated via their platforms.
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