Elon Musk’s Machine for Fascism: A Tale of Three Elections

Since the spring (when I first started writing this post), I’ve been trying to express what I think Elon Musk intended to do with his $44 billion purchase of Twitter, to turn it into a Machine for Fascism.

Ben Collins wrote a piece — which he has been working on even longer than I have on this post — that led me to return to it.

Collins returns to some texts sent to Elmo in April 2022, just before he bought Twitter, which referenced an unsigned post published at Revolver News laying out a plan for Twitter.

On the day that public records revealed that Elon Musk had become Twitter’s biggest shareholder, an unknown sender texted the billionaire and recommended an article imploring him to acquire the social network outright.

Musk’s purchase of Twitter, the 3,000-word anonymous article said, would amount to a “declaration of war against the Globalist American Empire.” The sender of the texts was offering Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO, a playbook for the takeover and transformation of Twitter. As the anniversary of Musk’s purchase approaches, the identity of the sender remains unknown.

The text messages described a series of actions Musk should take after he gained full control of the social media platform: “Step 1: Blame the platform for its users; Step 2: Coordinated pressure campaign; Step 3: Exodus of the Bluechecks; Step 4: Deplatforming.”

The messages from the unknown sender were revealed in a court filing last year as evidence in a lawsuit Twitter brought against Musk after he tried to back out of buying it. The redacted documents were unearthed by The Chancery Daily, an independent legal publication covering proceedings before the Delaware Court of Chancery.

The wording of the texts matches the subtitles of the article, “The Battle of the Century: Here’s What Happens if Elon Musk Buys Twitter,” which had been published three days earlier on the right-wing website revolver.news.

Collins lays out that the post significantly predicted what has happened since, including an attack on the Anti-Defamation League.

The article on Beattie’s site begins with a baseless claim that censorship on Twitter cost President Donald Trump the 2020 election. “Free speech online is what enabled the Trump revolution in 2016,” the anonymous author wrote. “If the Internet had been as free in 2020 as it was four years before, Trump would have cruised to reelection.”

The author said that “Step 1” after a Musk takeover would be: “Blame the platform for its users.” He or she predicted that “Twitter would be blamed for every so-called act of ‘racism’ ‘sexism’ and ‘transphobia’ occurring on its platform.”

After Musk’s purchase of Twitter was finalized in October 2022, he allowed previously suspended accounts to return. Among them, he restored the account of Trump, whom Twitter had banned after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, as well as the personal accounts of far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and the founder of a neo-Nazi website, Andrew Anglin.

The article predicted that “Step 2” would involve a “Coordinated pressure campaign” by the ADL and other nonprofit groups to get Musk to reinstate the banned accounts. “A vast constellation of activists and non-profits” will lurch into action to “put more and more pressure on the company to change its ways,” the article reads.

The next step, the revolver.news article predicted, would be the “Exodus of the bluechecks.” The term “bluechecks” refers to a former identity verification system on Twitter that confirmed the authenticity of the accounts of celebrities, public figures and journalists.

Musk experimented with and ultimately eliminated Twitter’s verification system of “bluechecks.” As the article predicted, the removal resulted in a public backlash and an exponential drop in advertisers and revenue. Other developments, including Musk’s drastically reducing the number of staffers who monitor tweets and a rise in hate speech, also contributed to the dynamic.

The article predicted that a final step, “Step 4,” would be the “deplatforming” of Twitter itself. He said a Musk-owned Twitter would face the same fate as Parler, a platform that presented itself as a “free speech” home for the right. After numerous calls for violence on Jan. 6 were posted on Parler, Google and Apple removed it from their app stores on the grounds that it had allowed too many posts that promoted violence, crime and misinformation.

Collins notes that the identity of the person who wrote the post on Revolver and sent the texts to Elmo has never been revealed. He seems to think it is Darren Beattie, the publisher of Revolver, whose white supremacist sympathies got him fired from Trump’s White House.

I’m not convinced the post was from Beattie. Others made a case that the person who texted Elmo was Stephen Miller (not least because there’s a redaction where his name might appear elsewhere in the court filing).

But I think Collins’ argument — that Elmo adopted a plan to use Twitter as a Machine for Fascism from the start, guided in part by that post, a post that has some tie to Russophile propagandist Beattie — persuasive.

Then again, I’ve already been thinking about the way that Elmo was trying to perfect a Machine for Fascism.

2016: Professionalizing Trolling

One thing that got me thinking about Elmo’s goals for Twitter came from reading the chatlogs from several Twitter listservs that far right trolls used to coordinate during the 2016 election, introduced as exhibits in Douglass Mackey’s trial for attempting to convince Hillary voters to text their votes rather than casting them at polling places.

The trolls believed, in real time, that their efforts were historic.

On the day Trump sealed his primary win in 2016, for example, Daily Stormer webmaster Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer boasted on a Fed Free Hate Chat that, “it’s fucking astonishing how much reach our little group here has between us, and it’ll solidify and grow after the general.” “This is where it all started,” Douglass Mackey replied, according to exhibits introduced at his trial. “We did it.”

After Trump’s November win became clear, Microchip — a key part of professionalizing this effort — declared, “We are making history,” before he immediately started pitching the idea of flipping a European election (as far right trolls attempted with Emmanuel Macron’s race in 2017) and winning the 2020 election.

By that point, the trolls had been working on–and fine tuning–this effort for at least a year.

Most chilling in the back-story presented in exhibits submitted at trial is the description of how Weev almost groomed Mackey, starting in 2015. “Thanks to weev I am inproving my rhetoric. People love it,” Mackey said in the Fed Free Hate Chat in November 2015. He boasted that his “exploding” twitter account was averaging 300,000 impressions every day, before he mused, “I just hope all this shitlording goes real life.” Two days later Weev admired that, “ricky’s audience expands rapidly, he’s now a leading polemicist” [Mackey did all this under the pseudonym Ricky Vaughn].

Weev and Mackey explained their ideological goals. “The goal is to give people simple lines they can share with family or around the water cooler,” Mackey described to Bidenshairplugs in September 2015. When Weev proposed in January 2016 that he and Mackey write a guide to trolling, he described the project as “ideological disruption” and “psychological loldongs terrorism.” The Daily Stormer webmaster boasted, “i am absolutely sure we can get anyone to do or believe anything as long as we come up with the right rhetorical formula and have people actually try to apply it consistently.” And so they explained the objectives to others. “[R]eally good memes go viral,” Mackey explained to AmericanMex067 on May 10, 2016. “really really good memes become embedded in our consciousness.”

One method they used was “highjacking hashtags,” either infecting the pro-Hillary hashtags pushed by Hillary or filling anti-Trump hashtags with positive content.

Another was repetition. “repitition is key. \’Crooked Hillary created ISIS with Obama\’ repeat it again and again.” Trump hasn’t been repeating the same stupid attacks for 8 years because he’s uncreative or stupid. He’s doing it to intentionally troll America’s psyche.

A third was playing to the irrationality of people. HalleyBorderCol as she pitched the text to vote meme: people aren’t rational. a significant proportion of people who hear the rumour will NOT hear that the rumour has been debunked.”

One explicit goal was to use virality to get the mainstream press to pick up far right lines. Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet described that they needed some tabloid to pick up their false claims about celebrities supporting Trump. “We gotta orchestrate it so good that some shitty tabloid even picks it up.” As they were trying to get the Podesta emails to trend in October 2016, P0TUSTrump argued, “we need CNN wnd [sic] liberal news forced to cover it.”

Microchip testified to the methodology at trial.

Q What does it mean to hijack a hashtag?

A So I guess I can give you an example, is the easiest way. It’s like if you have a hashtag — back then like a Hillary Clinton hashtag called “I’m with her,” then what that would be is I would say, okay, let’s take “I’m with her” hashtag, because that’s what Hillary Clinton voters are going to be looking at, because that’s their hashtag, and then I would tweet out thousands of — of tweets of — well, for example, old videos of Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton talking about, you know, immigration policy for back in the ’90s where they said: You know, we should shut down borders, kick out people from the USA. Anything that was disparaging of Hillary Clinton would be injected into that — into those tweets with that hashtag, so that would overflow to her voters and they’d see it and be shocked by it.

Q Is it safe to say that most of your followers were Trump supporters?

A Oh, yeah.

Q And so by hijacking, in the example you just gave a Hillary Clinton hashtag, “I am with her,” you’re getting your message out of your silo and in front of other people who might not ordinarily see it if you just posted the tweet?

A Yeah, I wanted to infect everything.

Q Was there a certain time of day that you believed tweeting would have a maximum impact?

A Yeah, so I had figured out that early morning eastern time that — well, it first started out with New York Times. I would see that they would — they would publish stories in the morning, so the people could catch that when they woke up. And some of the stories were absolutely ridiculous — sorry. Some of the stories were absolutely ridiculous that they would post that, you know, had really no relevance to what was going on in the world, but they would still end up on trending hashtags, right? And so, I thought about that and thought, you know, is there a way that I could do the same thing.

And so what I would do is before the New York Times would publish their — their information, I would spend the very early morning or evening seeding information into random hashtags, or a hashtag we created, so that by the time the morning came around, we had already had thousands of tweets in that tag that people would see because there wasn’t much activity on Twitter, so you could easily create a hashtag that would end up on the trending list by the time morning came around.

In the 2016 election, this methodology served to take memes directly from the Daily Stormer, launder them through 4Chan, then use Twitter to inject them into mainstream discourse. That’s the methodology the far right still uses, including Trump when he baits people to make his Truth Social tweets go viral on Twitter. Use Twitter to break out of far right silos and into those of Hillary supporters to recodify meaning, and ensure it all goes viral so lazy reporters at traditional outlets republish it for free, using such tweets to supplant rational discussion of other news.

And as Microchip testified, in trolling meaning and rational arguments don’t matter. Controversy does.

Q What was it about Podesta’s emails that you were sharing?

A That’s a good question.

So Podesta ‘s emails didn’t, in my opinion, have anything in particularly weird or strange about them, but my talent is to make things weird and strange so that there is a controversy. So I would take those emails and spin off other stories about the emails for the sole purpose of disparaging Hillary Clinton.

T[y]ing John Podesta to those emails, coming up with stories that had nothing to do with the emails but, you know, maybe had something to do with conspiracies of the day, and then his reputation would bleed over to Hillary Clinton, and then, because he was working for a campaign, Hillary Clinton would be disparaged.

Q So you’re essentially creating the appearance of some controversy or conspiracy associated with his emails and sharing that far and wide.

A That’s right.

Q Did you believe that what you were tweeting was true?

A No, and I didn’t care.

Q Did you fact-check any of it?

A No.

Q And so what was the ultimate purpose of that? What was your goal?

A To cause as much chaos as possible so that that would bleed over to Hillary Clinton and diminish her chance of winning.

The far right is still using this methodology to make the corrupt but not exceptional behavior of Hunter Biden into a topic that convinces half the electorate that Joe Biden is as corrupt as Donald Trump. They’ve used this methodology to get the vast majority of media outlets to chase Hunter Biden’s dick pics like six year old chasing soccer balls.

Back in 2016, the trolls had a good sense of how their efforts helped to support Trump’s electoral goals. In April 2016, for example, Baked Alaska pitched peeling off about a quarter of Bernie Sanders’ votes. “Imagine if we got even 25% of bernie supporters to ragevote for trump.” On November 2, 2016, the same day he posted the meme that got him prosecuted, Mackey explained that the key to winning PA was “to drive up turnout with non-college whites, and limit black turnout.” One user, 1080p, seemed to have special skills — if not sources — to adopt the look and feel of both campaigns.

And this effort worked in close parallel to Trump’s efforts. As early as April, Baked Alaska invited Mackey to join a campaign slack “for more coordinated efforts.”

And there are several participants in the troll chatrooms whose actions or efforts to shield their true identities suggest they may be closely coordinating efforts as well.

Even in the unfettered world of 2016, Twitter’s anemic efforts to limit the trolls’ manipulation of Twitter was a common point of discussion.

For example, as the trolls were trying to get Podesta’s emails trending, HalleyBorderCol complained, “we haven’t been able to get anything to trend for aaaages … unless they changed their algorithms, they must be watching what we’re doing.” Later in October as they were launching two of their last meme campaigns, ImmigrationX complained,”I see Jack in full force today suppressing hashtags.”

Both Mackey and Microchip were banned multiple times. “Microchip get banned again??” was a common refrain. “glad to be back,” Microchip claimed on September 24. “they just banned me two times in 3 mins.” He warned others to follow-back slowly to evade an auto-detect for newly created accounts. “some folks are being banned right now, apparently, so if I’m banned for some reason, I’ll be right back,” Microchip warned on October 30. “Be good till nov 9th brother! We need your ass!” another troll said on the day Mackey was banned; at the time Microchip was trending better than Trump himself. Mackey’s third ban in this period, in response to the tweets a jury has now deemed to be criminal, came with involvement from Jack Dorsey personally.

Both testified at trial about the techniques they used to thwart the bans (including using a gifted account to return quickly, in Mackey’s case). Microchip built banning, and bot-based restoration and magnification, into his automation process.

2020: Insurrection

The far right trolls succeeded in helping Donald Trump hijack American consciousness in 2016 to get elected.

By the time the trolls — some of whom moved into far more powerful positions with Trump’s election — tried again in 2020, the social media companies had put far more controls on the kinds of viral disinformation that trolls had used with such success in 2016.

As Yoel Roth explained during this year’s Twitter hearing, the social media companies expanded their moderation efforts with the support of a bipartisan consensus formulated in response to Russia’s (far less successful than the far right troll efforts) 2016 interference efforts.

Rep. Shontel Brown

So Mr. Roth, in a recent interview you stated, and I quote, beginning in 2017, every platform Twitter included, started to invest really heavily in building out an election integrity function. So I ask, were those investments driven in part by bipartisan concerns raised by Congress and the US government after the Russian influence operation in the 2016 presidential election?

Yoel Roth:

Thank you for the question. Yes. Those concerns were fundamentally bipartisan. The Senate’s investigation of Russian active measures was a bipartisan effort. The report was bipartisan, and I think we all share concerns with what Russia is doing to meddle in our elections.

But in advance of the election, Trump ratcheted up his attacks on moderation, personalizing that with a bullying attack on Roth himself.

In the spring of 2020, after years of internal debate, my team decided that Twitter should apply a label to a tweet of then-President Trump’s that asserted that voting by mail is fraud-prone, and that the coming election would be “rigged.” “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” the label read.

On May 27, the morning after the label went up, the White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway publicly identified me as the head of Twitter’s site integrity team. The next day, The New York Post put several of my tweets making fun of Mr. Trump and other Republicans on its cover. I had posted them years earlier, when I was a student and had a tiny social media following of mostly my friends and family. Now, they were front-page news. Later that day, Mr. Trump tweeted that I was a “hater.”

Legions of Twitter users, most of whom days prior had no idea who I was or what my job entailed, began a campaign of online harassment that lasted months, calling for me to be fired, jailed or killed. The volume of Twitter notifications crashed my phone. Friends I hadn’t heard from in years expressed their concern. On Instagram, old vacation photos and pictures of my dog were flooded with threatening comments and insults.

In reality, though, efforts to moderate disinformation did little to diminish the import of social media to right wing political efforts. During the election, the most effective trolls were mostly overt top associates of Donald Trump, or Trump himself, as this table I keep posting shows.

The table, which appears in a Stanford University’s Election Integrity Project report on the election, does not reflect use of disinformation (as the far right complains when they see it). Rather, it measures efficacy. Of a set of false narratives — some good faith mistakes, some intentional propaganda — that circulated on Twitter in advance of the election, this table shows who disseminated the false narratives that achieved the most reach. The false narratives disseminated most broadly were disseminated by Donald Trump, his two adult sons, Tom Fitton, Jack Posobiec, Gateway Pundit, Charlie Kirk, and Catturd. The least recognized name on this list, Mike Roman, was among the 19 people indicted by Fani Willis for efforts to steal the election in Georgia. Trump’s Acting Director of National Intelligence, Ric Grenell, even got into the game (which is unsurprising, given that before he was made Ambassador to Germany, he was mostly just a far right troll).

This is a measure of how central social media was to Trump’s efforts to discredit, both before and after the election, the well-run election that he lost.

The far right also likes to claim (nonsensically, on its face, because these numbers reflect measurements taken after the election) that these narratives were censored. At most, and in significant part because Twitter refused to apply its own rules about disinformation to high profile accounts including but not limited to Trump, this disinformation was labeled.

As the Draft January 6 Social Media Report described, they had some success at labeling disinformation, albeit with millions of impressions before Twitter could slap on a label.

Twitter’s response to violent rhetoric is the most relevant affect it had on January 6th, but the company’s larger civic integrity efforts relied heavily on labeling and downranking. In June of 2019, Twitter announced that it would label tweets from world leaders that violate its policies “but are in the public interest” with an “interstitial,” or a click-through warning users must bypass before viewing the content.71 In October of 2020, the company introduced an emergency form of this interstitial for high-profile tweets in violation of its civic integrity policy.” According to information provided by Twitter, the company applied this interstitial to 456 tweets between October 27″ and November 7″, when the election was called for then-President-Elect Joe Biden. After the election was called, Twitter stopped applying this interstitial.”* From the information provided by Twitter, it appears these interstitials had a measurable effect on exposure to harmful content—but that effect ceased in the crucial weeks before January 6th.

The speed with which Twitter labels a tweet obviously impacts how many users see the unlabeled (mis)information and how many see the label. For PIIs applied to high-profile violations of the civic integrity policy, about 45% of the 456 labeled tweets were treated within an hour of publication, and half the impressions on those tweets occurred after Twitter applied the interstitial. This number rose to more than eighty percent during election week, when staffing resources for civic issues were at their highest; after the election, staff were reassigned to broader enforcement work.” In answers to Select Committee questions during a briefing on the company’s civic integrity policy, Twitter staff estimates that PIIs prevented more than 304 million impressions on violative content. But at an 80% success rate, this still leaves millions of impressions.

But this labeling effort stopped after the election.

According to unreliable testimony from Brandon Straka the Stop the Steal effort started on Twitter. According to equally unreliable testimony from Ali Alexander, he primarily used Twitter to publicize and fundraise for the effort.

It was, per the Election Integrity Project, the second most successful disinformation after the Dominion propaganda.

And the January 6 Social Media Report describes that STS grew organically on Facebook after being launched on Twitter, with Facebook playing a losing game of whack-a-mole against new STS groups.

But as Alexander described, after Trump started promoting the effort on December 19, the role he would place became much easier.

Twitter wasn’t the only thing that brought a mob of people to DC and inspired many to attack the Capitol. There were right wing social media sites that may have been more important for organizing. But Twitter was an irreplaceable part of what happened.

The lesson of the 2020 election and January 6, if you care about democracy, is that Twitter and other social media companies never did enough moderation of violent speech and disinformation, and halted much of what they were doing after the election, laying the ground work for January 6.

The lesson of the 2020 election for trolls is that inadequate efforts to moderate disinformation during the election — including the Hunter Biden “laptop” operation — prevented Trump from pulling off a repeat of 2016. The lesson of January 6, for far right trolls, is that unfettered exploitation of social media might allow them to pull off a violent coup.

That’s the critical background leading up to Elmo’s purchase of Twitter.

2024: Boosting Nazis

The first thing Elmo did after purchasing Twitter was to let the far right back on.

More recently, he has started paying them money that ads don’t cover to subsidize their propaganda.

The second thing he did, with the Twitter Files, was to sow false claims about the effect and value of the moderation put into place in the wake of 2016 — an effort Republicans in Congress subsequently joined. The third thing Elmo did was to ratchet up the cost for the API, thereby making visibility into how Twitter works asymmetric, available to rich corporations and (reportedly) his Saudi investors, but newly unavailable to academic researchers working transparently. He has also reversed throttling for state-owned media, resulting in an immediate increase in propaganda.

He has done that while making it easier for authoritarian countries to take down content.

Elmo attempted, unsuccessfully, to monetize the site in ways that would insulate it from concerns about far right views or violence.

For months, Elmo, his favored trolls, and Republicans in Congress have demonized the work of NGOs that make the exploitation of Twitter by the far right visible. More recently, Elmo has started suing them, raising the cost of tracking fascism on Twitter yet more.

Roth recently wrote a NYT column that, in addition to describing the serial, dangerous bullying — first from Trump, then from Elmo — that this pressure campaign includes, laid out the stakes.

Bit by bit, hearing by hearing, these campaigns are systematically eroding hard-won improvements in the safety and integrity of online platforms — with the individuals doing this work bearing the most direct costs.

Tech platforms are retreating from their efforts to protect election security and slow the spread of online disinformation. Amid a broader climate of belt-tightening, companies have pulled back especially hard on their trust and safety efforts. As they face mounting pressure from a hostile Congress, these choices are as rational as they are dangerous.

In 2016, far right trolls helped to give Donald Trump the presidency. In 2020, their efforts to do again were thwarted — barely — by attempts to limit the impact of disinformation and violence.

But in advance of 2024, Elmo has reversed all that. Xitter has preferentially valued far right speech, starting with Elmo’s increasingly radicalized rants. More importantly, Xitter has preferentially valued speech that totally undercuts rational thought.

Elmo has made Xitter a Machine for irrational far right hate speech.

The one thing that may save us is that this Machine for Fascism has destroyed Xitter’s core value to aspiring fascists: it has destroyed Xitter’s role as a public square, from which normal people might find valuable news. In the process, Elmo has destroyed Twitter’s key role in bridging from the far right to mainstream readers.

But it’s not for lack of trying to make Xitter a Machine for Fascism.

109 replies
  1. klynn says:

    “The one thing that may save us is that this Machine for Fascism has destroyed Xitter’s core value to aspiring fascists: it has destroyed Xitter’s role as a public square, from which normal people might find valuable news. In the process, Elmo has destroyed Twitter’s key role in bridging from the far right to mainstream readers.”

    I awake daily wishing for no more Xitter. Any thoughts on grassroots efforts to flip the funnel of destructive propaganda to throttle hate and authoritarianism?

    • WCSBill says:

      Agree. However, the longevity of X behind FB makes it still the SM of choice to push truth and reconciliation of the big lie.

    • bmaz says:

      And, yet, Twitter, used appropriately, still works light years better than purported alternatives. And it is not even close. So, let me know when there is such an alternative, but please do not whine, or try to shame people, when there is not. Mastodon is complete shit. Not much occurs at Blue Sky. How and where is the equivalent?

      Where should people who ought see each other go while you blithely wish for the execution of Twitter? I tried to warn people about Musk since almost, maybe before, the first day of this blog. Long, very long, before his involvement in Twitter. But now it is suddenly “fascism”? Please.

      • Tech Support says:

        “Not much occurs at Blue Sky.”

        This is true. The thing about social media platforms (and for that matter, massive mullti-player online games) is that their vitality is contingent on reaching a critical mass of use from the general public, aka, “network effect.”


        Twitter didn’t start out being so useful. It took time to build up to a level where participation made it’s value self-sustaining. Bluesky is very young and it’s current level of participation has been jump-started by people actively seeking alternatives, but it’s not anywhere close to reaching that threshold.

        While I think that Mastodon has value, I think it’s a great example of one of those technological solutions that is just a bit too technical to really catch on widely. I sort of think of it like manual transmissions on automobiles. Some people love driving stick (myself included), but it persists largely because it is a legacy technology. If someone had invented manual transmissions after automatics, it would have never caught on.

        So to that end, I’ve got 5 Bluesky invite codes that I would be happy to share here if the mods don’t object.

          • Tech Support says:

            It will get better as more people use it. Not only in terms of available content, but also third-party support tools (like Tweetdeck) get created and invested in because there’s an expectation of an audience of more prominent users.

            So it’s not just about random folks getting on and doing random stuff. We need to encourage the people who are “broadcasting” content to move over as well. There’s an NBA journalist I follow on Twitter who I saw had a Bluesky account and wasn’t using it. I reached out and asked him specifically to crosspost to Bluesky and he does now. I always like his posts there to make sure he knows people are paying attention even though the volumes are low right now.

            Early on it’s going to take more effort to get over the entrenched utilization advantage that exists with Twitter today.


            I’d ask anyone who uses one of these codes to please reply below to tell readers which one they’ve taken (mind your username requirements!) so that people don’t waste their time trying to grab ones that are already claimed.

            • CoolXenu says:

              Some people seem to prefer having a temper tantrum about things they are incapable of understanding.

            • Joseph Andrews says:


              [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username, email address, and URL each time you comment so that community members get to know you. You used your email address on this comment instead of your previous username “Joseph Andrews”; I have have changed it this once. Future comments may not clear if you do not use same username, email address, and URL each time you comment. Thanks. /~Rayne]

        • Rayne says:

          I don’t personally mind your sharing invites but folks should understand Bluesky Social’s business model and go in with their eyes open.

          As with any social media, sharing personal data to create and establish an account is like Pandora’s box — one should know if the box leaks, or if the box can be cracked open, or if the box has never been closed to begin with.

          I won’t use Bluesky nor will I use Threads.

          • Tech Support says:

            100% agreed. Bluesky is “better” than Threads or Twitter in that respect but folks still need to mind their footprint.

            If you’re not paying for a service, and it’s not some sort of shoestring volunteer effort, then the user is being monetized in some fashion.

            • Rayne says:

              My personal theory is that a divide between X and Bluesky was always intended, and that Dorsey intended to herd the more liberal audience into a different platform for monetization while leaving the far right/fashy element in Musk’s care. Between them they’ll continue to harvest the bulk of ad dollars though ultimately the profits may end up in the same pockets.

              Musk wants X to be a financial portal, and Dorsey is now CEO of Block (formerly Square). How convenient if Dorsey set up a banking and financial transfer platform both X and Bluesky used. Both will ultimately require personal data — X already has it for legit users.

        • strawberybanke says:

          I can see how Bluesky would be frustrating if you need video, etc. (I guess it’s “on the roadmap” but isn’t top priority). For me, a nice community of historians is forming there. And I get a kick out of a Japanese food feed. And I can find emptywheel posts and little by little more journalists. I never joined twitter because it was too much for me. By the time Bluesky grows, I think I’ll have a pretty good sense of what I want and don’t want. But I agree that for most it’ll be hard to let go of twitter even if it run by a fascist who caters to the worst of the hard right.

        • Tech Support says:

          FWIW, I’ve opted with Bluesky over Threads because it’s got a better privacy/security model than Threads or Twitter. Also the filtering controls are continuing to get better over time.

          Example: being able to get Popehat’s posts without seeing any replies to his posts or his replies to other people’s posts does wonders for keeping my TL uncluttered.

              • emptywheel says:

                I blasted him for parroting Fox News narratives about the Hunter Biden “laptop” and the lawsuits for CFAA violations.

                But he said he doesn’t like when I call people out for such bullshit and seemed to think I’d care when he said he unfollowed me. So basically thin skin.

            • bmaz says:

              It does not work for jack shit. And the preachy jackasses there are annoying. If you want to find me, do it here. Because I won’t be commonly found at the lame Mastodon site.

              • Molly Pitcher says:

                bmaz, I respect the hell out of you for many things, but I cannot respect your continued use of Twitter. You are giving a facist money, but more than that, you are giving him the imprimatur of your presence on the site.

                In my life I have chosen to make adjustments in my behavior based on moral decisions to not support certain people or companies that I vehemently disagree with. It is not convenient, but it allows me to not feel ashamed for acting against my personal standards.

                • bmaz says:

                  This is the exact kind of preachy shit that bothers me. Me using Twitter does absolutely nothing to contribute to “fascism”. I warned people almost twenty years ago, at least in 2007-2008 or so, what a complete dick Musk was. Twitter is more than that dick. I need information, and it is still there more than choked off alternatives.

        • emptywheel says:

          I will in no circumstance go to Threads. The privacy model is just as bad with Twitter and less upside.

          • Spocko says:

            I agree about Threads. Sadly I see that the #SistersInLaws have decided that is their alternative to Twitter. I figure that big media will go that route because the already had Instagram accounts and the move to Threads made that easy.
            What I’m concerned about, beyond privacy, is their ability to moderate.

      • CoolXenu says:

        It is entertaining how people who are not competent with a reasonable tool describe said tool as “complete shit”.

        • Tech Support says:

          It’s funny though, that a roughly worded complaint is better at stimulating a meaningful dialog than somebody passive aggressively meta-complaining about a complaint.

          • CoolXenu says:

            Wow, it’s amazing how the long time commenters here know so much about what is in my mind.

            I guess bm az would know absolute shit when he sees it, after all, he does work in the American legal system.

            [Moderator’s note: This is your first warning not to be an asshole in comments here. You have (18) known comments accrued here so far and at least half of them are spent poking at moderators or community members; your history of sockpuppeting hasn’t helped your cred. #commentpolicy /~Rayne]

      • Rayne says:

        please do not whine, or try to shame people, when there is not.

        You might try this yourself, boo. -__-

    • Daniel Keppler says:

      Excellent article, thank you.
      If X/Twitter is turning into a machine for Fascism, why can’t we just sack it by stopping to use it?… If little or no tweets, there will be little to no retweets, replies, or likes, and market value will sack!

      • bmaz says:

        The constant bleating of the word “fascism” is quickly making it the most overused word in the English language. Why do people still use Twitter? Because it still works far better. What about that do you not understand? I’ll tell you what, do whatever you need to do, but do not preach at me with this garbage.

  2. WCSBill says:

    This was happening on WAPO comments to articles – a lot during 2016.

    They’ve commoditized trolling on all the main discussion boards and often with violent insults and suggestions. They know the impact they had on blocking normal conversation and debate.

    It’s the main reason I react on Twitter or other discussion forums to indirectly feedback with engaging the trolling redirect or misinformation 24/7 streams.


      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        And because they refused to put in the effort to moderate them, another thing which makes this site an absolute standout on the Internet.

  3. GeeSizzle says:

    I think I may be having a brain fart kind of day, but this sentence confuses me: “The lesson of the 2020 election for trolls is that inadequate efforts to moderate disinformation during the election — including the Hunter Biden “laptop” operation — prevented Trump from pulling off a repeat of 2016. ” Moderate?

    • Fraud Guy says:

      The efforts were inadequate, as they didn’t stop disinformation, but they did provide enough of a hurdle to prevent them from being as impactful as their 2016 efforts.

      • GeeSizzle says:

        OK, still confusing. If you just cut the “inadequate” it makes more sense. Or, “…efforts to moderate disinformation during the election, although inadequate….. still prevented Trump…”

          • John Colvin says:

            I assumed what was intended was something to the effect of “efforts to moderate disinformation, though inadequate, prevented Trump from pulling off a repeat of 2016.”

  4. Marika D Gerrard says:

    Best alternative for me so far has been Threads, but you are right, bmaz, it is not as good as Twitter yet. I find that if you stay on following and not for you, and you don’t follow crazies, it is tolerable and still the best way to get breaking news.

  5. Another dude from G-ville says:

    Yesterday the guy who does Vatnik Soup reposted his thread about Elmo and people started noticing that likes were being removed over and over again. NAFO took notice of this and by the end of the day that thread had 18M views. Elmo is using the tools for any kind of fuckery he sees fit but NAFO is on to him.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. SECOND REQUEST: Please use the same username and email address each time you comment so that community members get to know you. You omitted the hyphen in your username AGAIN which created a new identity causing your comment to go into moderation. I’ve edited it AGAIN – your next comment may not clear if it does not match your first username/email/URL. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  6. Daniel Remer says:

    The use of the nickname “Elmo” seriously undercuts an otherwise good article. It serves no purpose. Same with the nicknames for Trump. Distracting from a serious article and immature.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Arm floaties are not allowed in the adult pool. You’ll notice the odd four-letter word here, too.

    • emptywheel says:

      Here’s the explanation, since you seem befuddled by it.

      When you use real names of people like Elon Musk, Glenn Greenwald, and Matt Taibbi on social media, you reward them in terms of virality — contributing to precisely the kind of forces I lay out in this post, and you encourage a system of retaliation from their trolls, real and fake. That is, you play on their turf, and you feed fascists.

      The alternative is to use consistent pseudonyms, like Elmo, Area Substacker, and MattyDickPics. They get no boost in virality, you speak ABOUT them without rewarding their trolls, and you don’t risk having your Twitter account intentionally disabled for hours as a result.

      PARTICULARLY given my run-ins with ASS and MDP, I’m pretty fucking amazed at how well such techniques have saved me from the annoying at best and physically dangerous at worst trolling that these boys engender.

      With Elmo, the imperative is even greater, since he has the company deliberately working for his own virality.

      Plus, the name Elmo comes from people who are or were actually somewhat close to him. It’s a real name that real people called him.

      • RipNoLonger says:

        Thanks, emptywheel (to use a pseudonym). But many of us have been chastised by one or two moderators for using common terms for some other self-promoters – e.g. “tfg”, “trumpf”, “defendent-1”. I know it would be impossible to develop a permissible list, but perhaps we can be forgiven a bit when we lapse…. LOL.

        • emptywheel says:

          FWIW, I don’t do it with Trump, though as much as possible I prefer to use “former President,” which again won’t trigger virality. There are a lot of reasons for that, which are more complex.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I find dailykos’s work product to be uneven. But this critique of the new House Speaker pro tempore seems spot on. After sharing the House with him for twenty years, Nancy Pelosi would probably agree:

    If the man who slammed down the gavel on Kevin McCarthy’s time as speaker seems unfamiliar, that’s not surprising. Despite two decades in the House, Rep. Patrick McHenry has a record remarkably unblemished by anything resembling accomplishment. His entire career seems to consist of keeping a safely Republican seat occupied and generally being a rude little snot.


    • Scott_in_MI says:

      What a thoroughly unpleasant little weasel.

      (Also, how did we get to the point where I’m the same age as a ten-term veteran of the House? Oy.)

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        He was made acting Speaker because he hadn’t achieved anything and because his pettiness would not make him stand out in a Republican crowd.

        • Konny_2022 says:

          I agree with you on dailykos, both in general and on this one. It may be even worthwhile reading further down. One paragraph let me gasp “oh, this is that guy.” Here it is:

          In his long tenure in the House, McHenry is mostly known for an incident in 2008 where he paid a visit to the “green zone” in Baghdad, then posted a video that showed him pointing out U.S. facilities. That video included filming the path of an incoming rocket that missed its target. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, after McHenry’s video was posted, a second rocket attack was more successful, killing two American soldiers. The Pentagon asked McHenry to take the video down and not air it again.

  8. Yankee in TX says:

    Lovely! They have a medium, a message and recognize the need for repetition of simple propaganda and disinformation. All they need now is a messiah with oratory skills and a hakenkreuz.

  9. tje.esq@23 says:

    not to get too Oliver Wendell Holmesy on y’all, but the solution to there being poison in the marketplace of ideas is to flood the marketplace with more ideas. (Thus, THIS site and the arm twisting above to get more sane people on other non-elmo platforms).When there are more booths at the marketplace, you won’t be able to visit them all, even with a full day set aside for shopping. This limits, therefore, the reach of the poisonous speech. (Marcy derived a term for this that I can’t recall at the moment…. ‘attention scarcity’???).

    One of my top 3 favorite dissents https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrams_v._United_States
    halfway down the page. But the dissent has an intriguing origin story, and follow-up (it became law 50 years later when the Abrams majority opinion was overturned). So the whole page might be worth the read.

    I’m excitedly awaiting, Marcy, your critique of Devlin Barrett’s (with Jackie A.) WaPo article yesterday. Do we think his editors told him he had to READ the Shapley/Zeigler 700 pages of documents this time? Or did he just read your postings here?

    • emptywheel says:

      Oh, I did a thread on Twitter. Jacqui is a good journalist and undoubtedly was the one who read all the transcripts.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Jacqui’s a good enough journalist that she may indeed read EW’s posts too. Good to know that someone at that paper is.

    • Jim Luther says:

      In the long running dispute of whether Orwell or Huxley best depicted our current dystopia, my vote goes to Huxley. Rather than having Orwell’s overwhelming tsunami of Newspeak mind cleansing the masses (which does seem to have occurred with Fox on some 20% of the population), I think we live in Huxley’s world of people being buffeted by some many different “truths” that they are simply angry and confused. Most Americans seem incapable of “think”, let alone doublethink.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Muzzled regarding a very narrow range of issues, which makes the prior restraint enforceable.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Because I know everyone here is dying to know, too, why is the execrable Jim Cramer’s face appearing in so much advertising right now? His track record on stocks and the economy makes the average economist’s forecasts look infallible. He’s a formless performance artist.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      Yeah, right? Also too, those ads closely emulate MSNBC shows’ visual production, inducing me to click play prematurely when fast-forwarding on DVR. Drives me nuts.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The penny drops. Cramer has tweaked his ads, which now display that he’s selling his commentary for a mere $399 and change. LOL. Next, there will be ads offering advice from Kudlow and Navarro for $999.

      • bmaz says:

        Lol I have a better track record on investments than all three of them combined (and no it is not one of brilliance). I can haz $399 a pop too?

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Finally, the penny drops. Donald J. Trump has dropped off the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans. At about $2.6 billion, he’s $400 million shy of the cut-off. (The number of Americans worth more than $3.0 billion is an epic societal failure.)

    If a receiver is appointed, though, I suspect that estimates of Trump’s net worth will drop: a receiver is unlikely to find that the market has the same appreciation for Trump’s current brand value as he does.


  12. Molly Pitcher says:

    According to CNN: McCarthy behind move to kick Pelosi out of her office, sources say – so he can move into it

    “Kevin McCarthy was behind interim Speaker Patrick McHenry’s move to kick former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Majority Leader Steny Hoyer out of their office spaces, two Republican sources told CNN.

    GOP Rep. Garret Graves told reporters on Wednesday that McCarthy is getting the office that McHenry has ordered her to vacate.

    “Look the deal is that the office that Pelosi is in right now is the office of the preceding speaker. Speaker Pelosi and other Democrats determined that they wanted a new … speaker, and it’s Kevin McCarthy. So, he’s getting the office,” he said.”


    • P J Evans says:

      He could have done that at any time in the last nine months. Having a minion do it while she’s out for the funeral *of a senior Senator* is rude and unnecessary. She’s being gracious about it, as well.

      • David F. Snyder says:

        But McCarthy wasn’t the preceding Speaker until yesterday. Am I missing something?

        But, why not give her a chance to get back from the wake? I guess one can say it’d be rude to McCarthy to kick him out of the Speaker’s office but hole him up in a temporary office while waiting for Pelosi to return. Maybe McHenry is really jonesing to have some time in the Speaker’s office before his 15 minutes of fame runs out.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      McHenry and Graves are engaged in special pleading. McCarthy might already be a has been, but there’s no need for Pelosi to vacate her office within hours – or to have the locks on her office changed while she’s in California burying Dianne Feinstein.

      McHenry should stay in his own office and McCarthy in his, until the new Speaker is voted in. McHenry’s not Speaker, he’s a temporary placeholder with no power other than to organize McCarthy’s replacement. What McHenry and his backers are doing is NOT routine, it’s penny ante payback from the pettiest of politicians.

      • bmaz says:

        No, it is not right. McHenry Is an idiot but yet another ladder climbing jackass. At least he is not a local county attorney in Georgia.

      • theartistvvv says:

        But I’m kinda wondering, when a new speaker replaces McHenry, does McHenry get McCarthy’s office?

        Or does McHenry hafta wait for McCarthy to attend a funeral?

  13. David F. Snyder says:

    So, lessons learned so far:

    The hashtag is mightier than (and as double-edged as) the sword.
    He who lives by the hashtag dies by the hashtag.

    Don’t count your votes before they’ve been trolled.
    The early hashtag gets the worm.
    A hashtag in time makes slime.

  14. Green Eagle says:

    Marcy, I know this question is 100% off topic, but I don’t know who else might be able to answer it. We’ve now seen a pack of degenerate Republicans bringing up the idea of making Trump the Speaker of the House, and he seems to be fine with that. If it were to happen, would the protection of members of Congress from prosecution for any comments they make, extend to him, and would he then be able to carry out a real scorched earth campaign of incitement against judges, prosecutors, etc. without consequences? Again, sorry for the off-topic question, but I wonder if that might happen.

  15. dadidoc1 says:

    I wonder if the owner of Twitter might be on the hook for knowingly promoting disinformation about Dominion voting systems. Karma would be Dominion becoming the new owner of Twitter.

  16. zscoreUSA says:

    This is amazing research and the Machine for Fascism gives a good description for the emerging bigger picture. The Ben Collins article was very fascinating as well. There seem to be many threads tying together.

    Whoever wrote that Revolver article was really upset that Qanon accounts were deplatformed and the NY Post Hunter Biden story was throttled and had that front and center on their mind, in April 2022. And has a “laces out, Dan” obsession with the ADL, mentioning it 7 times, and somehow making them the bad guy after the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.

  17. zscoreUSA says:

    Regarding the 2016 crew of election disinformation, Baked Alaska put out a weird narrative in August of 2017 that portrayed Microchip as working for some sort of national security state entity during the 2016 election.

    He claimed that Microchip somehow was trying bring Trump as close to victory as possible, but ultimately design memetic warfare analytics so that Hillary would win, for reasons. In a sort of dog catches car way, not to let the dog catch the car, so that the dog can be controlled to keep chasing the car. Then at the last minute, Baked Alaska went around Microchip and created the memes that put Trump over the edge and into victory, causing the death of their relationship.

    Weird narrative that I have not seen any mention of either way, either debunked as disinformation or supporters claiming is true.

  18. tinaotinao says:

    Sorry to have missed the tribute. I would just like to say, thank you Diane. Godspeed.

    [Moderator’s note: your username fixed this once from “tinao” to your more recent username. /~Rayne]

  19. punaise says:

    Another OT, @ CNN. She’s not wrong, but this is going to go over about as well as “a basket of deplorables”:

    Clinton calls for ‘formal deprogramming’ of MAGA ‘cult members’

  20. Spocko says:

    This is an EXCELLENT piece. On Friday I wrote about how Trump and his lawyers continue to push their lies and disinformation to the MSM where they are dutifully repeated, then debunked.

    I gave some suggestions and thoughts about how they could speed up the process, based on my experience working with both print & TV media. (Link to post at Digby’s place https://digbysblog.net/2023/10/06/destroy-trumps-old-excuses-instantly-then-preemptively-destroy-his-new-ones-spockomastodon-online/

    but I acknowledged that I do NOT know what steps to take to thwart the trolling behavior on social media.
    We see in your piece that there is a coordinated & funded effort to drive RW messages, disinformation & influence the narrative.
    I wrote that I didn’t think anyone on the left was running a huge SM campaign using influencers and amplifying them with both real people & bots. BUT I DON’T KNOW.

    I have a feeling if there IS one that uses bots, and it is revealed, the RW will LOSE THEIR MINDS.
    I think it is rational to HAVE a program like this, I also think that an automated program should work with real people to report on the people violating the Xitter TOS (that still exist)
    We KNOW the right has one. And they lie or exaggerate about the “violations” of people on the left they don’t like, just to get them kicked off–esp since the people vetting them are mostly fired.
    Also, I’m betting that bots amplifying messages on the left DOES exist and is being used by some groups.
    Additionally I’m betting that AI IS being used by some groups on the left to find and report violations of Xitter’s TOS on Disinformation
    And if they were revealed (even if they are tiny) the right will seize on this as an attack on their “free speech” and the MSM will dutifully do the “both sides ” game when 80 percent of the amplifying bots & AI reporting of violations of TOS is done by the right.

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