Twitter boss appears to brush off Black Lives Matter

Hundred billion dollar-losing Twitter boss says what?
23 November 2022

Sometimes, it might be better to close your beak.

When does a business become so toxically linked with unpleasant sentiment that it becomes unclean to be around? Arguably, we have a very recent answer to that question in the case of right wing “commentator” and prepper-product shill, Alex Jones. Jones’ monstrous, regularly reiterated lies about the Sandy Hook shooting being faked, staged with actors, and used to make firearms activists look bad, recently cost him nearly $1bn dollars. It is devoutly to be hoped that it also cost him any remaining credibility he had. Alex Jones’ is a Twitter account which even Elon Musk refuses to reinstate in his wave of “free speech” reforms to the apparently troubled social media platform.

That said, insurrection advocate and former President, Donald Trump, has been involved in many a conspiracy theory himself. Starting with the plainly false claim that former President Obama was born in Kenya and so his whole Presidency was null and void, he was involved in pushing both the Hydroxychloroquine and “bleach inside the body” cures for Covid-19.

And most recently, he scaled the peak of toxic absurdity that is the “stolen election” myth of 2020, which more or less directly led an armed mob of aggrieved “patriots” to storm the Capitol building on January 6th, 2020, with plans to hang Trump’s own Vice-President, Mike Pence, for refusing to somehow set aside the entirely legitimate election results.

And yet, though he seems to want nothing to do with his previous pulpit of factlessness anymore, Donald Trump’s Twitter account has been reinstated.

Opinion versus fact

The point of this comparison is not to especially spear either conspiracy theorist. It’s to ask what happens when the owner of a platform blatantly spouts deeply problematic opinion as fact. Again, Jones did precisely that on his InfoWars channel, and nobody thought to stop him until the parents of the children slaughtered at Sandy Hook took him to Court. Trump does the same in different ways on Truth Social – and no-one appears ready to close that platform down.

But now Elon Musk, seemingly on course for a spectacular corporate meltdown, has taken on the Black Lives Matter movement, seeming to mock antiracism initiatives spearheaded by Twitter’s own staff.

Because that’s always a good plan for a white, middle-aged multibillionaire in charge of a social media platform.

The T-shirt of controversy?

A T-shirt made by Twitter’s internal business group for its black employees and their allies was the spark to Musk’s latest contretemps.

The internal Twitter group, named “Blackbirds,” has been creating T-shirts for Twitter staff since 2016, with the intention to “support and promote diversity at Twitter, create a more inclusive work environment, and enrich communities outside of Twitter.”

The shirts which prompted Musk’s latest tilt towards plowing Twitter into the ground simply had a “#StayWoke” message on them. The Blackbirds say the message was intended as an imperative “to stay informed about the events happening in the world around you.”

In and of itself, that’s not a bad message for a platform that styles itself as “the world’s town square.” In fact, former Twitter boss Jack Dorsey wore one himself in 2016 – though that was characterized as co-opting a movement to advertise Twitter.

Twitter – the new anti-woke haven?

But this is 2022, and now Twitter – and society – is full of alternative definitions of “Woke,” many of which are pejorative, with lots of people who claim they’re “Pro-free speech,” in the sense of Musk’s reactivating Trump’s account irrespective of the fact-free hate speech that was frequently posted there, also subscribing to the four-word dogma of “Get woke, go broke.”

The idea is that “wokeness” is a weaponized form of progressiveness, which hurts “traditional” people with its very non-traditional nature, such as being pro-transgender people, using chosen pronouns, and the like.

So, whatever the Blackbirds’ intended message was, it’s fair to say it could be perceived as identifying with liberal and progressive points of view.

Initially, Musk simply laughed at the T-shirt. Only a handful of ripples were caused, and the world went about its day.

The leap to BLM

Then, in a moderately Herculean leap between subjects, Musk tweeted criticising Black Lives Matter protests, claiming that the “#StayWoke” T-shirts were inspired by the protests in Ferguson, Missouri in August, 2014, where black man Michael Brown was shot dead by police officer Darren Wilson.

Musk wrote: “’Hands up don’t shoot’ was made up. The whole thing was a fiction.”

Perhaps realizing the tonal deafness of his tweets, he deleted the “whole thing is a fiction” post – but unable to quite reconcile himself to his wrongness, he replaced it with a link to the Department of Justice report into Brown’s death.

It is factually correct to say that the DOJ ruled that Officer Wilson shot Brown in self-defense. But it’s a million miles and several degrees of deafness away from the truth to suggest either that the police were judged to act entirely correctly in Missouri, or that “’Hands up don’t shoot’ was made up. The whole thing was a fiction.”

The power of controversy

Unable or unwilling to leave it at that, he later went into further detail, saying the shirts stemmed from the Ferguson protests, and that “Obama’s own DOJ proved this [and] exonerated the cop.”

Again, the self-defense ruling falls far short of an exoneration, and in this case the DOJ strongly criticised the police department while delivering the self-defense verdict.

A cynical observer could mention that Musk’s T-shirt Twitter-spittle gained him 55,000 retweets and 40,000 responses within a handful of hours, either in support of his “anti-woke” stance or battling against it. This is arguably a way to show the continued power of Twitter as a marketing tool for those who know how to work it – as Musk usually does.

A peace offering to Trump?

On the other hand, given that Twitter is currently losing $4m per day as advertisers flee from it (with most blaming Musk’s presence and influence personally for their decision), and with Musk himself claiming to have lost $100 billion so far this year (including the Twitter purchase) and losing a cool $8 billion just this week as Tesla share prices tumbled, many will be asking whether the brief flare of Twitter engagement will ultimately be worth the long-term consequences of appearing callous about both Black Lives Matter and progressive people in general.

Advertises, users, and the remainder of the Twitter board may be among them.

Ironically, what it might do is serve as a taster course to woo Donald Trump back to mainstream Twitter, advertising little more than the fact that “there’s a new sheriff in town,” and that the mood of the man in charge is now far more in sympathy with the people Trump may need to win over again in the long run-up from 2022 to the general election in 2024.

The Twitter show continues…