(Washington) Elon Musk had promised to make Twitter “the most trusted source of information,” but the billionaire instead appears to have amplified the voices of notorious disinformation spreaders on the platform, according to an analysis by AFP.
Since his arrival at the head of the social network last October, Mr. Musk has echoed many conspiracy theories through his personal account, in particular about the war in Ukraine or the aggression of the husband of Nancy Pelosi, the former leader of the Democrats in the United States Congress.
Last week, he responded to a user who questioned the “mysterious” lack of flu cases during the coronavirus pandemic. “Good question,” commented the Twitter boss, who has already interacted several times with users anti-vaccination or casting doubts on the severity of the health crisis.
This response is thus part of a set of at least 40 exchanges with “KanekoaTheGreat”, a profile that regularly shares QAnon conspiracy theories with its more than 370,000 followers, and whose author calls himself “raised by Elon” in his biography.
Thanks to data from the PolitiTweet site, which referenced content posted by public figures on Twitter before the latter limited access, AFP was able to analyze thousands of messages published by Elon Musk between October 2022 and March.
“We’ll soon be running out of ‘conspiracy theories’ that end up being true!” he exclaimed in March. Mr. Musk was responding to a tweet denouncing as “lies” reports that the vaccine was a safe and effective way to protect against COVID-19.
A few days later, the boss of SpaceX nevertheless tweeted that the best way to combat misinformation was by “responding to it with proven facts”.
Mr. Musk’s activity on Twitter is worrying, experts say, and not just because of his influence.
“Musk has almost 135 million followers, he also forced his engineers to increase the visibility of his tweets, so we should be concerned when he spreads misinformation,” says Brendan Nyhan, professor and political scientist at Dartmouth University .
“But I’m primarily concerned about what these tweets reveal about the reasoning of the person responsible for the decisions of a major social network,” he adds.
Media analysis site NewsGuard has found that accounts that pay for their certification are flooding the platform with false information.
Elon Musk adds to this by drawing even more attention to these accounts.
A report published in January by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an independent London-based counter-extremism lab, details skyrocketing exchanges between Musk and accounts sharing far-right content since his takeover of Twitter – including accounts that had spread misinformation about the US election.
Among the most popular accounts of the Twitter boss: that of Ian Miles Cheong, a far-right blogger, who received no less than 60 responses from Musk – according to an analysis by AFP.
“Musk gives visibility to the worst voices on Twitter,” according to Brendan Nyhan, at the risk of “increasing the reach and importance of these accounts.”
Asked by AFP, Twitter’s press service emailed only the intended automatic response: an emoji in the shape of excrement.