Elon Musk goes to war against X users who dare tell the truth

In the early hours of Sunday morning, Elon Musk posted a question on his X social media platform (formerly Twitter) asking President Joe Biden about the status of an American journalist supposedly being held as a political prisoner in Ukraine.

Except Gonzalo Lira is not a journalist. He’s a prolific YouTube poster who started his career as misogynistic pickup artist “Coach Red Pill.” Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lira remade himself as a fan of Vladimir Putin, cheerleader for the Russian invasion, and critic of the West. In May, Lira was arrested in Ukraine for producing pro-Russian propaganda.

Musk has been eager to help Russia, so it’s no surprise that he jumped in to elevate Lira’s story. What is surprising is that Musk now finds himself in a war not against Ukraine, but against his site’s own readers and moderation system.

Since his arrest, Coach Red Pill has become a hero of the pro-Russian right. On Saturday, fired Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson made Lira the focus of his “show” on X and claimed that Lira was being tortured for criticizing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.  

As The Daily Beast reported, Lira’s actions in Ukraine included following reporters to their hotels and publishing their locations. He justified his actions by saying, “Everybody who works at the mainstream media is by definition a piece of shit.” He made videos supporting false Russian claims that America had secret biological warfare labs in Ukraine, videos that claimed that Ukrainian cities had been destroyed because Ukraine was shelling itself, and many simply praising Putin and the supposed brilliance of the Russian invasion over what he falsely called the neo-Nazi regime in charge of Ukraine. Lira was eventually arrested following videos in which he denied Russian war crimes as well as reports that he had attempted to film the location of Ukrainian soldiers.

Lira’s arrest took place in the beleaguered city of Kharkiv, which has been subject to years of Russian shelling and missile attacks. He’s now being held in a pretrial facility, and his next court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

That a consistently pro-Russian ass like Carlson would defend Lira isn’t surprising. It’s even less surprising that Musk would jump in without understanding the slightest thing about the story. After all, elevating right-wing conspiracy theories is Musk’s signature move—that and blaming everything on Jews.

However, the most interesting thing about this particular post may be the immediate response it got in the form of “community notes.”

Musk long ago fired most of Twitter’s moderation team and dissolved the “Trust and Safety Council” meant to help reduce hate speech, child exploitation, and the encouragement of self-harm. Instead, X now largely depends on “community notes” contributors who apply for the ability to “collaboratively add context to potentially misleading posts.” Becoming a community notes contributor requires filling out a form and is open only to those who have been a member of X for at least six months, have no rules violations in the past year, and provide a verified phone number to show they are not bots.

It’s a rare thing for a post by Musk to be tagged with a community note. So how did free-speech champion Musk react to being called out for supporting a Russian propagandist jailed for actions that could have gotten people killed? He responded by accusing the community notes contributors—the result of the system he set up—of being “state actors” who were “gaming” the system to correct him.

At this point, the original community note on Musk’s post disappeared, suggesting that Musk had ordered it taken down. Hilariously, not only did a new note swiftly appear on the original post, but Musk’s accusation against his own community notes team was quickly tagged with its own note explaining how the moderation system works.

Don’t be surprised if Musk takes action again. And don’t be surprised if it’s against the volunteers he’s using to provide even the slightest moderation of lies and propaganda on his site.

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