In a stinging rebuke last week, Twitter CEO Elon Musk took direct aim at allegations made by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) suggesting that since the mercurial billionaire took control over the social media platform, hate speech from users has skyrocketed, as Fox News reports.
Schiff then took his critique a step further by “demanding action” from company leadership to, presumably, rein in speech the congressman finds distasteful.
Democrat sparks firestorm
The controversy erupted when Schiff posted a tweet contending that in the weeks following Musk's takeover of the site, “Slurs against Black people have tripled – Slurs against women are up 33% – Slurs against Jewish people are up 61% – And slurs against gay men are up 58%.”
“These numbers are abysmal – and unacceptable,” Schiff opined. “Today, @RepMarkTakano and I are demanding action.”
The latter assertion was apparently a reference to a formal letter the two lawmakers dispatched to Musk lamenting, as The Hill reported, what they referred to as an “extreme spike” in slur-filled tweets as well as in user engagement with such posts.
Data taken from the Center for Countering Digital Hate was used by the congressmen to support their claim that “[b]efore [Musk] assumed the role of CEO, engagement with these tweets averaged 13.3 replies, retweets, or likes. How, engagement with slurs has increased 273 percent, with the average number of replies, retweets, or likes averaging 49.5 on tweets containing hate speech.”
Schiff and Takano then asked numerous questions about how Musk plans to address supposed content moderation needs and whether Twitter is currently capable of implementing the sorts of internal policies they desire.
Musk, others fire back
Unsurprisingly, Musk took immediate issue with Schiff's tweet on the topic, replying, “False, hate speech impressions are actually down by 1/3 for Twitter now vs prior to acquisition.”
Joining Musk's disagreement with and disdain for Schiff's comments were a number of high-profile commentators and pundits, some of whom made clear reference to the California congressman's often-complicated relationship with the truth.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, summed up the situation by saying, “Corrupt congressman abuses office to call for mass censorship using fake stats,” as Fox News noted.
Referencing Schiff's thoroughly discredited claims of personally having a “smoking gun” that demonstrated unsavory links between former President Donald Trump and Russian officials was Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report, who asked the congressman, “Got any evidence of this? Or is it like Russia collusion?”
Investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald offered an even more searing indictment of Schiff's broader point, astutely tweeting, “Aside from these made-up numbers: do you see how – to Democratic Party politicians – dictating to social media companies what they can and can't platform, how they must censor, the role Democratic politicians play in all this, is just assumed as normal?”
Even more grating to many observers than Schiff's questionable statistics was the fact that he also implied the need for some sort of governmental crackdown on social media users' speech.
Damon Linker, who writes on Substack, offered his own reply to Schiff's claims, saying, “Musk denies this is accurate. But even if it's true, what exactly does 'demanding action' mean?”
That sentiment was echoed by The Federalist's Chad Felix Greene, who wrote, as Fox News further noted, “Lol. You think the government is supposed to 'take action' against slurs on social media?”
In addition to the deluge of scorn he received after targeting Musk, Schiff may also be facing another impending embarrassment when the new Congress is seated, come January.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), a top contender to take the speaker's gavel when the GOP assumes control of the lower chamber, has vowed, according to The Hill, to boot Schiff from the Intelligence Committee, should he indeed ascend to that powerful perch.
In an apparent reference to Schiff's debunked claims about Trump—Russia collusion, McCarthy recently said, “[Democrats]...used the intel community as well to lie to the American public. Should those people keep their clearances? Should those people still be allowed to have information? If they're going to be political individuals, then, no, they should not.”