Fringe reaction to Musk acquiring Twitter
Spoiler: they love it
This article originally posted by Tohatoha in collaboration with Open Measures as part of the Internet Weather Report series.
Over the last month, Elon Musk has finally fully acquired and seized control of Twitter... and immediately fired its top executives, including the majority of its trust and safety team.
Fringe platforms with little 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, it leads one to wonder about its impacts on fringe platforms and how bad actors are planning to seize the moment.
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 Open Measures' largest and most infamous collections. Open Measures total collected data in this period for each were:
4chan: 22,186,769 posts
Gab: 2,690,940 posts
Telegram: 2,013,221 posts
Truth Social: 1,046,294 posts
Gettr: 1,027,228 posts
We then further isolated the posts mentioning both “Musk” and “Twitter” in this period and took the data down to this subset:
4chan: 2,152 posts
Gab: 4,577 posts
Telegram: 2,769 posts
Truth Social: 2,869 posts
Gettr: 2,290 posts
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 user is an account promoting the false narrative that Trump won the 2020 US presidential election as well as the spread conspiracies about COVID-19.
The others in the top five are similar: promoting the false anti-democratic, coup-attempt 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 most “favorited” posts was one exalting Musk for claiming the US election was stolen shortly after the Twitter acquisition went through.
Among NZ-specific Gab groups, the user most discussing it is a supposed New Zealander whose account is 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.
The users most contributing to this topic are Qanon and “patriot” channels utilizing militia symbologies.
The posts mentioning Musk and Twitter that garnered the most views were mostly pro-Trump, pro-coup, militia adjacent “patriot parties”. They have been seen sharing 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 spreading propagandistic disinformation related to abortions and Qanon accounts.
Among NZ-specific users, a general excitement was brewing in addition to specific content related to fired Twitter figures who had previously attempted 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. They also hoped for Trump's return to Twitter to engage in further geopolitical warmongering, disinformation, harassment, and instigation of offline violence and anti-democratic organizing.
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 inevitable.
The fact that Gab, an extremist-friendly platform, 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. That said, platforms have a responsibility to balance these rights with the demands of minimizing violent online harassment and terror activities organized and instigated via their platforms.
Thanks for reading Open Measures’ Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.