Dec 18, 2022 - Economy

Musk's magical media-shifting machine

Photo illustration of Elon Musk next to the twitter logo

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Elon Musk and allies are building a new anti-left media ecosystem almost overnight.

  • Why it matters: It's as if the New York Times editorial page suddenly flipped to the right.

With the reins in Musk's hands, the right is gaining power in online spaces the left once dominated.

  • "The furious and enthusiastic reactions to Musk’s takeover resemble the furious and enthusiastic reactions to presidential races," writes Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times.
  • In both cases, Douthat says, "the leadership change really affects how people experience their daily lives."

Look who's driving the news on Twitter:

  • High-profile Republicans gained tens of thousands of followers in the weeks after Musk acquired Twitter, while their Democratic counterparts lost followers, according to a Washington Post analysis.
  • Anti-mainstream-media journalists — like Bari Weiss and Matt Taibbi — are driving the narrative, getting the clicks and earning new followers on Musk's Twitter. They're thriving in an environment in which alternative, anti-left and anti-establishment media have taken center stage.

Case in point: Bari Weiss' new media company, The Free Press — which launched 10 days ago — has amassed nearly 125,000 followers.

  • That's about three times as many as Puck, the buzzy news outlet with big names that launched in 2021, has picked up.

Look who's gotten the boot:

  • Twitter suspended a slew of journalists who cover tech and Musk at mainstream media outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN on Thursday, alarming free-speech advocates. Many of the suspended accounts were reinstated over the weekend.
  • Taylor Lorenz, a tech columnist for the Washington Post, had her account suspended late Saturday night after she tweeted requesting Musk's comment on a story, she writes.
  • Susan Li of Fox Business also got a ban after reporting on the suspensions, she told CNN's Oliver Darcy.

👀 What we're watching: Musk's moves at Twitter are part of a larger — growing — anti-left, alternative media landscape.

  • For example, Joe Rogan's podcast, with a fan base that leans heavily conservative, per Morning Consult, was the most listened-to show of the second half of 2022, according to Edison Research. Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro's podcast is at No. 7 — and climbing.

🥊 Reality check: Musk and his allies say they're pursuing a platform in which free speech reigns. But some of his changes to Twitter might reinforce echo chambers.

🔎 The intrigue: Musk announced a new potential Twitter feature Saturday that would allow Twitter Blue users — those who subscribe for verified, blue-check-mark accounts — to "downvote" other accounts by muting or blocking them.

  • Billionaire investor Mark Cuban replied: "My guess is the blue checks lean pro-Elon and will use the impact of blocks, mutes and likes to create intentional echo chambers that reflect Elon's positions."

🔮 What's next: Musk's Twitter — like Musk himself — can be unpredictable. The CEO has already turned on Weiss after she tweeted her opposition to the journalist suspensions, just days after offering the Twitter Files trove to her as a trusted journalist.

The bottom line, via Axios' Dan Primack: Twitter's policies, and its politics, are now the sole province of someone who harbors deep grievances against the mainstream media, as do many of his tech brethren.

  • The more that journalists strike at Musk, the more likely it is that he'll lash out.
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