Following the news on Monday that enthusiastic shitposter Elon Musk has reached an agreement to buy Twitter, several pressing questions have emerged around Musk’s particular notions of free speech, and how those ideas will influence the moderation of a platform used by billions of people. In a bracing example of the excruciatingly dumb shit that’s about to happen here, fans of ivermectin—an ineffective faux COVID treatment—have been flooding the platform with testimonials about how great it is, with influential users declaring they were “testing” the platform’s new commitment to free speech. (Elon Musk does not yet own Twitter or currently have anything to do with its content moderation.) Between that, the general conversation about the drug, and the general conversation about how the platform bans the general conversation about the drug (it does not), the latter two of which have become a near-permanent feature on Twitter, the word “ivermectin” quickly began trending among U.S. users of the platform.
Musk has long made it clear that he thinks Twitter is no longer a bastion of free speech; In his statement announcing his plan to buy the company, Musk wrote, “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” In an interview at a TED conference in early April, he offered a vague sense of how he thinks Twitter should approach content moderation, which is to say, it shouldn’t: “”If in doubt, let the speech exist,” he said, according to CNN. “If it’s a gray area, I would say, let the tweet exist. But obviously in the case where there’s perhaps a lot of controversy, you would not necessarily want to promote that tweet.”
Twitter has made fitful attempts since 2018 to police bad actors and demonstrably harmful fake information offered by white supremacists, COVID truthers, Alex Jones, and the former president, among many others. Some people are hoping that content moderation will come to an end under Musk. The account WuTang Kids noted that some of the shoutiest minds of conservative Twitter had already begun testing what the presume to be their newfound freedoms. Newsmax anchor Greg Kelly changed his Twitter bio to “Thank you @elonmusk” and tweeted, exuberantly, “IVERMECTIN IS A GOOD ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION! ASK YOUR DOCTOE! [sic]”
Florida congressional candidate Erick Aguilar also weighed in, with an even broader array of bad and demonstrably untrue ideas:
Hundreds of other people tweeted that they were “testing” Twitter’s new moderation policies by tweeting about ivermectin. “Can I tweet the word ivermectin now?” a self-proclaimed Canadian patriot named Dutch Hockey Mom tweeted. “Is it finally acceptable?” (You have always been able to tweet the word ivermectin.)
Musk, once again, has nothing to do with Twitter’s current content moderation policies, and the trending topic for ivermectin currently leads with links to stories about a large study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, which showed that ivermectin is not effective as a treatment for COVID.
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