Tag Archive for: CEO Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s X is not as dangerous as its critics want you to believe

Late last month, Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese launched a veritable tirade against X/Twitter CEO Elon Musk.

He described Musk as an “arrogant billionaire who thinks he’s above the law, but also above common decency”.

“This is an egotist,” Albanese huffed. “He is someone who’s totally out of touch with the values that Australian families have, and this is causing great distress.”

The Prime Minister labelled X a “vanity project” for Musk and claimed the billionaire is “causing damage” to his own social media site that, under its previous ownership, was much more compliant with the world’s thought police, having infamously de-platformed a sitting United States President.

Persona non grata

Albanese’s spat with X related to his government’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, who recently took Musk to court in an effort to censor video footage of two Sydney knife attacks. Ironically, Musk had already hidden the footage from Australian IP addresses, but the egotistical lawsuit wanted it memory-holed from all X users on the planet.

Albanese’s screed is just the latest in a barrage of criticism against the eccentric businessman.

Since Musk’s Twitter takeover in October 2022, the media narrative about him has taken a sharp left turn. Once a heroic entrepreneur blazing the trail for electric cars, helping poor countries access the internet, revolutionising space travel, and changing the game for those suffering neurological conditions, Musk is now public enemy number two — second only to Donald Trump, the other “threat to democracy”.

“Elon Musk Spreads Election Misinformation on X Without Fact Checkers,” according to The New York PostPolitiFact opines “How Elon Musk ditched Twitter’s safeguards and primed X to spread misinformation”. “Elon Musk’s Twitter Is Becoming a Sewer of Disinformation,” whines Foreign Policy. The pile-on of hyperventilating headlines mounts each week.

But how dangerous is X, really?

According to research just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, not very.

Though the study sits behind a paywall, Bloomberg has written a pleasantly balanced piece summarising its findings.

Openness

The researchers, from the University of California, San Diego, looked specifically into X’s new Community Notes function, implemented by Musk as an alternative to the behind-the-scenes moderation method employed by other Big Tech platforms.

Thanks to Community Notes, rather than flagging a post for review by anonymous “experts”, X users can contribute directly to crowdsourced fact-checking, either by writing the correction themselves or upvoting and downvoting the fact-checking of other users. The entire enterprise takes place in full view of the public, rather than in the dimly-lit cubicles of Silicon Valley.

Bloomberg reports that the study “showed the notes were almost always accurate and usually cited high-quality sources”.

“The old system relied on fact-checkers whose identity and scientific credentials were unknown,” Bloomberg notes. “They could take down posts they deemed to be misinformation, ban users, or use the more underhanded technique of ‘shadow bans’ by which users’ posts were hidden without their knowledge.”

By contrast, Musk’s Community Notes feature “has the benefit of transparency,” allows for “corrective commentary complete with links to scientific papers or media sources,” and makes use of “the power of collective intelligence, which has proven surprisingly good for forecasting and assessing information”. The article continues:

The new system isn’t perfect, but it does appear to be pretty accurate. In the JAMA study, the researchers looked at a sample of 205 Community Notes about Covid-19 vaccines. They agreed the user-generated information was accurate 96 percent of the time, and that the sources cited were of high quality 87 percent of the time. While only a small fraction of misleading posts were flagged, those that did get notes attached were among the most viral, said lead author Ayers.

This is far superior to Twitter 1.0, Bloomberg contends:

During the pandemic, fact checkers and moderators labeled lots of subjective statements as misinformation, especially those judging various activities to be “safe.” But there’s no scientific definition of safe — which is why people could talk past each other for months about whether it was safe to let kids back into school or gather without masks. Much of what was labeled as misinformation was just minority opinion.

Twitter’s old censorship system was based on the assumption that people skip vaccines or otherwise make bad choices because they are exposed to misinformation. But another possibility is that lack of trust is the real problem — people lose trust in health authorities or can’t find the information they want, and that causes them to seek out fringe sources. If that’s the case, censorship could create more distrust by stifling open discussion about important topics.

The best disinfectant is sunlight, in other words. The solution to bad speech is better speech, not censored speech. Once assumed true, these nuggets of wisdom have somehow been lost in the mad rush to demonise Musk.

Granted, the JAMA study only looked at information surrounding Covid-19 vaccines as their test case. More research will help further assess the efficacy of Community Notes, which remains a relatively new approach to social media moderation.

However, there are plenty of anecdotes to suggest it is working.

Balanced

Just last week, lefty rag Jacobin wrote a naked hit piece on American retail giant Walmart, with the following spicy caption:

Users quickly got to work, setting the record straight via Community Notes in a correction that read:

“Walmart non-corporate Associates’ average hourly wage is $17.50/hour with full-time benefits. Jacobin pays writers $0.07/word, so a Jacobin writer would have to write 250 words an hour continuously to make the same wage as a Walmart Associate, but without benefits.”

The feisty fact check provided a list of sources — and great amusement to all who read it. (Have a glance through the comments if you want a good chuckle).

Community Notes is also proving helpful (or unhelpful, depending on who you’re rooting for) in the lead-up to the November presidential election.

Accounts linked to the White House have been fact-checked on many occasions for misleading claims about job creation under Bidenhow easing inflation impacts consumer priceswage increases for American workers, and the Biden administration’s progress on “clean energy”.

In fact, even Elon Musk himself has been fact-checked via the Community Notes feature for questions he raised about abuses under Vladimir Zelensky in Ukraine.

Clearly, the feature is working if it’s allowed to critique the platform’s billionaire owner.

It’s the other powerful people being held to account on X that appear to be fuelling the ongoing outrage against Elon Musk.

It’s easy enough to see how a social media website prizing the wisdom of crowds over the brute force of powerful governments and the propaganda of the legacy press might be seen as a threat.

It’s also refreshing. And I’m quite enjoying the spectacle.


Is X a superior iteration to Twitter? Leave your comment below.


AUTHOR

Kurt Mahlburg is a husband, father, freelance writer, and a familiar Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He is the Senior Editor at Australia’s largest Christian news site The Daily Declaration and a Contributing Editor at Mercator. His writings can also be found at Intellectual Takeout, The American Spectator and the Spectator Australia. He has authored or co-authored five books, including his breakout title Cross and Culture: Can Jesus Save the West?

EDITORS NOTE: This Mercator column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.