Twitter’s new owner, billionaire Elon Musk, amplified a false conspiracy theory on Twitter on Sunday about the violent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-California) husband. Later on, he deleted the tweet containing the disinformation and tried to downplay his actions by joking about reports on what had transpired.
Musk was replying to a tweet from former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who condemned the attack and disparaged Republicans for using violent rhetoric online and in person.
Paul Pelosi’s assailant, who fractured his skull with a hammer in the encounter in the Pelosis’ home, has shared far right conspiracy theories on social media, and reportedly asked “Where’s Nancy?” several times during the incident.
In his response to Clinton’s tweet, Musk published a blatantly false conspiracy theory that claimed the assailant — identified as 42-year-old David DePape — was having an affair with Paul Pelosi, and that the attack was related to their supposed relationship, not far right conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric from the GOP.
The site is a known publisher of fake news articles — content that is completely made up with the sole purpose of misleading and enraging those who believe it to be true. The website Media Bias/Fact Check, which catalogues such sites, describes The Santa Monica Observer as being a “questionable” source because of its “routine publication of false and misleading information and the use of poor sources.”
The site has, for example, published articles falsely asserting that Hillary Clinton actually died on 9/11, and pushed the false claim that a mass shooter in Texas in 2017 had converted to Islam prior to his attack.
Hours after facing widespread backlash for sharing the fake news article, Musk’s tweet was deleted, although who deleted the tweet is unknown. Several legitimate news sites noted that Musk’s actions could indicate that disinformation will be allowed to run rampant on the platform under the billionaire’s direction.
Musk previously promised that any changes to Twitter would be minute. Last week, upon acquiring the company, Musk vowed that the platform wouldn’t “become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences.”
“Doesn’t Musk know that the world is watching to see how responsible he is, as the new owner of Twitter?” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian. “The fact that he personally posts such unhinged, dangerous drivel within three days of taking over the platform suggests he doesn’t give a damn.”
In response to the backlash, Musk shared an image of a New York Times headline that read, “Elon Musk, in a Tweet, Shares Link From Site Known to Publish False News.”
“This is fake – I did *not* tweet out a link to The New York Times!” Musk joked.
This is fake – I did *not* tweet out a link to The New York Times! pic.twitter.com/d6V6m5ATW2
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 31, 2022
Many previously active Twitter users have left the site due to Musk’s purchase of Twitter, and his latest actions may lead more people to delete their accounts.
False claims involving politicians have the potential to result in violence; DePape, for instance, apparently bought into several anti-Democratic Party conspiracy theories prior to his attack at the Pelosis’ residence. Another recent example is former President Donald Trump’s errant claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential contest, which led to hundreds of his loyalists attacking the U.S. Capitol building in January 2021.