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What Would It Take?

How far would Elon Musk have to go before people of good conscience decide to exit his platform?

Robert Rackley
Robert Rackley
3 min read
What Would It Take?
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash
Years ago, then presidential candidate Donald Trump famously said he could shoot someone on 5th Ave. in New York and his supporters would still follow him. With each new indictment and poll number, his hyperbolic hypothetical proves itself to be more and more plausible. He's broken the boundaries of what any other politician could conceivably get away with many times over with little observable diminishment in the fervor of his fan base. He's flirted with autocracy and turned politics into a battleground while reveling in it, with provably negative consequences, and still people cling to his political hopes. This isn't even to mention how often he's caused the Republicans to lose elections that by all accounts should have been fairly easy wins.

All of this has me wondering about Elon Musk and his X platform. I ask the same question I used to ask of Trump supporters: What would it take for him to lose your support? The latest test is his reinstatement of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to the platform. Not only his reinstatement, but his boosting of Jones by interviewing him and ignoring the misery that Jones has caused to families of children killed by gun violence. For those who are still on Twitter, including members of my family, this seems to be the latest outrage that no longer phases them. Like the Trump supporters, they just brush it aside.

Some — particularly on the political left — are prone to call out, perhaps even exaggerate, instances of potential stochastic terrorism.

Wikipedia defines stochastic terrorism this way:

Stochastic terrorism refers to political or media figures publicly demonizing a person or group in such a way that it inspires supporters of the figures to commit a violent act against the target of the speech.

"Real-world harm" is a phrase that gets thrown around fairly loosely these days. For instance, it was included as part of the Duke University libraries decision not to renew their contract for the team collaboration software Basecamp, after CTO David Heinemeier Hansson wrote a post about the death of DEI in corporate spaces. The post was a bit of wishful thinking on the part of DHH, as he has had a grudge against the principles of DEI. His end zone dance after he thought he had scored a touchdown against his longtime nemesis was embarrassing. I don't think DEI has died in corporate spaces, nor do I think that would be a cause for such ebullience. I fully support the position of Duke to drop Basecamp because their interests are strikingly divergent from the founders of the company that makes the software. The post makes a compelling and well-reasoned case for why they are making the move.

However, one area where I am not so sure if I agree with Duke is on the accusation that the statements from DHH represent "the harms that we see perpetuated by the leadership of Basecamp’s parent company, 37signals." I think it would be very difficult to quantify the actual harms that have been caused by the opinions of those at the top of 37signals. Not that their statements aren't problematic and wrong-headed, but that they have actually caused harm. On the other side, statements from Alex Jones have verifiably caused real-world harm. That harm has been enumerated in a court of law, with copious evidence to back up the claims of it. Evidence that has led to punitive damage awards in the millions of dollars.

So why would someone wish to platform a man that, verifiably, has used his platform to cause egregious harm to others? If you are still using the service formerly known as Twitter, how can you feel comfortable with this? What would it take before you decided enough was enough and that the X platform was no longer something you could support? Where is the threshold?

I'm genuinely interested in the answers to these questions. If you want to engage in a conversation about it, feel free to get in touch.

Tech

Robert Rackley

Orthodox Christian, aspiring minimalist, inveterate notetaker, software dev manager and paper airplane mechanic.


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