N-word use jumped over 500% as soon as Musk took over Twitter. The Elon Effect?

"Elon Musk" by dmoberhaus is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Elon Musk” by dmoberhaus is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Spooky season is upon, and I’m not just talking about Halloween.

Since Spring, the internet has been abuzz about the fate of the beloved — and loathed — Twitter after Elon Musk announced his intention to acquire the platform.

While it isn’t exactly clear what a Musk-controlled Twitter would look like, the Tesla-SpaceX tycoon has rightfully earned his place in history as a controversial figure. Musk has also been tightly embraced by the far right, and some in the center, for his views on the First Amendment — a man who could lift the floodgates of hell hate in the name of “free speech.”

The past few months of chatter over Twitter’s future — the “will he or won’t he” — reminded me that Musk has a voracious appetite for toying with the press. After several months of playing with everyone (probably to keep the media and the public dangling by the strings of his fingertips) about whether he will actually move forward with the $44 billion takeover, Musk is now controlling the bird. If you can’t distinguish whether the megalomaniac swooped into Twitter on a Pegasus or an apocalyptic horse, I forgive you.

I have to admit, I’m no fan of Twitter — or most social media companies these days with their disturbing encroachments on privacy. With the launch of the first phase of a new venture — possibly the most important of my lifetime — and decades of experience in media, I knew the advantages of using social media to build a much-needed audience for BLK. But my distaste for Twitter is almost equally matched by my disdain for Musk — for good reason. I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years, and I don’t have a short memory; Musk has gone on the record about his qualms with the press — the backbone of free speech, so pardon me if I didn’t trust his desire to attain a social media platform that the press relies (too much?) on in the digital age. It’s beyond my comprehension how anyone, especially journalists, could trust a man who once discussed the need for a “media credibility rating site” that could punish the press. In 2018, he shared his intent to create “Pravda,” a Russian word for “truth.” Perhaps not shocking for a man who holds favorability in Russia and knowingly has engaged in conversations with Putin. Why that alone hasn’t stirred more concern mystifies me. It’s also worth noting “Pravda Corp.” was registered that year in Delaware, the same business-friendly state where the Twitter deal was closed. Let that be a clue where a Musk-owned Twitter could be headed.

But alas here we are, and on the most frightening day of the year, Musk is beginning his first week as owner of Twitter. Perhaps it’s apropos; I see nothing good for the future of America or society at large with Twitter in the hands of Musk, assuming the platform doesn’t go down the sink Musk brought with him to Twitter headquarters in San Francisco.

Weeks ago, when the deal seemed like a given, I put our fledgling Twitter account on life support and stopped updating it. The account wasn’t gaining as much traction as I wanted yet, but I wasn’t going to give an ounce of energy to the platform with Musk on his way. By Thursday, when it was as official as it gets who owns Twitter, I officially pulled the plug. It proved to be great timing. In the background, the hate mongers were already at work. It didn’t take more than 12 hours for the n-word to spike more than 500%, according to the Network Contagion Internet Group — something LeBron James called “scary AF.” (I only half-heartedly agree with James on that front because I couldn’t say it caught me by surprise.)

Regarding the all-out n-word assault last week, on Sunday Musk did sort-of respond to LeBron’s tweet by reposting a tweet from Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, which said: “Nearly all of these accounts are inauthentic. We’ve taken action to ban the users involved in this trolling campaign — and are going to continue working to address this in the days to come to make Twitter safe and welcoming for everyone.”

Not exactly comforting from where I sit.

I have a feeling last week’s spate of racist sentiments didn’t emanate from Musk’s fans on the left, assuming he has any. Unfortunately, it’s only the beginning of more chaotic “discourse” in an already fractured country. Has any substantive debate ever been solved on Twitter?

Musk once said he would lift bans on Twitter accounts that were restricted for engaging in hate speech — including Trump. With all of the free press Musk has generated, it would seem the right-leaning Twitter users have already gotten the message they can commence the hateful rhetoric.

In “fairness,” Musk, who fired the CEO and several executives as one of his first official orders of business, tweeted on Friday: “Twitter will be forming a content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints. No major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before that council convenes.”

This may not satisfy advertisers who don’t want to be associated with a hateful platform. Time will tell.

Musk, in a way, now has modern free speech in the palm of his hands with the acquisition of Twitter. This includes the press.

Is this a problem? Yes. Does anyone need Twitter? No. Will users leave in droves and simultaneously exercise their free speech, and power as consumers? I have doubts. But anything is possible.

What I do know is no matter if BLK News (Now!… for now) could fly high or flounder on Twitter, my media company won’t contribute to Musk’s bank account or ambitions. The principles of Black civil rights leaders — the power or boycotting — is lost on many, but I know better.

The Musk-stenched Twitter era reminds me that Black America could use its own social media platform, safe from the tentacles of hate-speech enablers giving a voice to dangerous people who are a threat to our existence in this country. I’m hopeful someone answers the call sooner than later.

Musk can continue his masquerade as a savior of free speech, but it’s best if Black America continues to see him for what he is. And if you haven’t caught a glimpse of his true face, not to worry, Halloween can’t last forever.