Elon Musk
Musk, who has styled himself as a champion of free speech, has rattled advertisers with his comments on Twitter and moves to change the social media platform’s content moderation policies. Image Credit: Gulf News

Elon Musk is the source of endless fascination in a society that reveres wealth above all things. As former US president Donald Trump becomes less powerful and his comments less interesting, it should surprise no one that the mainstream media are quickly becoming obsessed with yet another billionaire.

But let’s not lose sight of three real headaches that Musk is facing. At the very least, they should blunt whatever perception remains of his singular genius.

1. Tesla is facing serious head winds

Tesla’s stock recently has dropped so precipitously that Musk briefly lost the title of richest person on the planet. Kiplinger reports that the root of the problem is decreasing demand, including more competition from other electric vehicle manufacturers, a slowing global economy and, as one analyst puts it, “Tesla’s narrow (and expensive) product family, which is reaching saturation.”

It also probably doesn’t help that Tesla’s product is designed to appeal to rich progressive, climate-sensitive consumers - not exactly the type to enjoy Musk’s right-wing extremist and trolling.

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Tesla’s shareholders understandably want him to pay less attention to Twitter and more to their failing investment. The Street reports: “The social network has captured the attention of their great champion since he launched a $44 billion acquisition offer for the platform on April 25. Not only did the billionaire have to sell Tesla shares and take margin loans to finance the transaction, but he completely focused on the social network, abandoning Tesla somewhat, during a challenging macroeconomic environment.”

2. Resistance at Twitter is becoming difficult to manage

CNN reports: “A group of former Twitter employees who are suing the company spoke out, alleging that new owner Elon Musk’s mass layoffs at the company have triggered multiple labor rights violations.” This includes claims that “Twitter reneged on promises to allow remote work and consistent severance benefits after the Musk acquisition, as well as complaints related to alleged disability and gender-based discrimination, and another suit on behalf of Twitter contractors who were laid off.”

Ironically for the self-described free-speech purist, Musk is now threatening those who are criticizing him. He says he will sue them under the nondisclosure provisions they signed as employees.

Musk was recently booed for several minutes when he joined comedian Dave Chappelle on stage at a comedy show in San Francisco Image Credit: Reuters

And there is more: Critics are raising questions as to whether he has violated the consent decree that Twitter entered into with the Federal Trade Commission over the platform’s security practices. If he is found to have violated the decree’s strictures on data privacy, he could face mammoth fines.

And let’s not forget about regulators in Europe. Thierry Breton, the European Union’s commissioner for the internal market, reportedly threatened to ban Twitter in a recent call with Musk if the company doesn’t comply with a host of E.U. regulations.

3. Twitter is struggling to handle antisemitism

Experienced groups fighting antisemitism and hate speech, such as the Anti-Defamation League, have a definitive mantra: You cannot ignore antisemitism and hate speech or it will get worse.

Indeed, the United States is swimming in a tide of increased, blatant antisemitism and hate speech from the far right.

On Dec. 2, the ADL reported: “In the past few weeks, the ADL noted both an increase in antisemitic content on the platform and a decrease in the moderation of antisemitic posts, a troubling situation that will likely get worse, given the reported cuts to Twitter’s content moderation staff.”

Musk has quibbled with the methodology of that report, but he holds all the cards. If he wants to give critics the full picture, he should provide access to data and processes.

In fact, California in September enacted a law that would, among other things, “require social media companies to publicly post their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, harassment and extremism on their platforms, and report data on their enforcement of the policies.”

So long as Musk lacks a moderation system that consistently takes down hate speech and continues to allow those who tweet such material on the platform, he’ll face the ire of anti-hate groups.

And if they consistently report on his site’s propagation of hate speech, how long will it be before celebrities with millions of followers and major advertisers permanently leave?

Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin is a prominent American political columnist and author