By Gillian Ramirez, Alliance Intern from UC San Diego
Thanks to the Huffington Post for exposing Elon Musk and his dangerous support of COVID conspiracy theories. He has again proven himself to be lacking any moral compass, giving access to Twitter’s private company documents to a handful of COVID-challenging journalists, such as Alex Berenson, a former NY Times reporter who The Atlantic called “The Pandemic’s Wrongest Man” in 2021. Like Musk, Berenson has an extensive history of spreading harmful misinformation that receives widespread coverage.
Berenson was banned from Twitter in 2021 for repeated violations of its COVID-19 misinformation rules, but he sued the company and was allowed back on as part of a settlement. Recently, he has taken to Twitter to imply without evidence that the death of soccer journalist Grant Wahl and the on-field collapse of NFL player Damar Hamlin were tied to the COVID-19 vaccine. Musk, who has interacted with Berenson on Twitter since the pandemic’s early months, has his own terrible track record on COVID commentary.
As Huffington Post points out, Musk infamously predicted in March 2020 that there would be “close to zero new cases in US” by the end of the following month. What actually happened was more than a million Americans died. That hasn’t stopped Musk’s embrace of COVID skeptics and conspiracy theorists on Twitter. Musk idiotically, like so much of what he says and does, removed Twitter’s policy on COVID misinformation. In November, Twitter quietly updated a webpage to state that it was “no longer enforcing the COVID-19 misleading information policy” as of Nov. 23.
This has led to previously banned accounts, spreading false COVID information, to be restored. Last month, two prominent physicians who’d been suspended for breaching the COVID-19 misinformation policy had their accounts restored, according to the Huffington Post. The Guardian reported Musk’s introduction of paid “verification” badges — even if there appears to be no verification occurring — has also resulted in the distinct blue badges being affixed to several anti-vaccine accounts with tens of thousands of followers each.
This confusing new system only adds to the mess. While Musk has certainly contributed a great deal to the world of electric vehicles and space travel, it’s really clear that his mismanagement of Twitter and misinformation peddling is a clear threat to public health and democracy. Hopefully Musk will stay more in his lane with the future turnover of Twitter to another head. This case underscores the danger of wealthy people having too much power.