Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Elon Musk apparently is trying his hand at creating a major media story by the release of what he called the “Twitter Files,” which included internal Twitter documents from October 2020 showing the social media company’s executives debating whether to allow postings on the platform of a New York Post article about a laptop Hunter Biden reportedly owned.
As CNN reported, Musk’s release on Friday pointed to tweets by journalist Matt Taibbi, who was provided “with emails that largely corroborated what was already known about the incident.”
But the Twitter story that demands coverage is not about something that happened more than two years ago but what we are seeing now on Twitter since Musk took control in October. There has been an “unprecedented” spike in hate speech as well as a resurgence of ISIS-linked accounts, The New York Times detailed in an article published Friday, citing findings from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups studying online platforms.
In addition, Twitter just reinstated the account of self-professed White supremacist Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. Anglin, who was banned from Twitter in 2013, has called for tearing down Berlin’s memorial to the Holocaust (which he despicably calls a “hoax”) and replacing “it with a statue of Hitler 1,000 feet tall.”
I have firsthand experience with the neo-Nazi just reinstated on Twitter. Anglin targeted me in 2017 in response to an article I wrote at that time slamming then-President Donald Trump for refusing to denounce White supremacist violence. (This was months before the August 2017 White nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.)
Anglin first posted fabricated tweets on his White supremacist website that appeared to have been written by me claiming responsibility for an ISIS terrorist attack. (I’m Muslim.) He then instructed his followers to “confront me.” Given that readers of The Daily Stormer had in the past committed acts of violence — including apparently Dylann Roof, who murdered nine Black people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 — they did what Anglin asked.
I was soon inundated with death threats. However, if Anglin thought I was going to cower in fear, he was wrong. I sued him in federal court for defamation and emotional distress, where I won a default judgment of $4.1 million. While I still have not recovered a penny, I have long pledged to donate all the proceeds to organizations that fight the type of hate Anglin spews.
I’m not alone. Anglin has orchestrated targeted harassment of other minorities, including African American student Taylor Dumpson who successfully sued Anglin, and Tanya Gersh, a Jewish real estate agent who also sued Anglin, resulting in a $14 million judgment.
In fact, the person who was reinstated on Twitter had an arrest warrant issued against him by a federal judge just last month over refusing to comply with court orders in the collection of those damages in Gersh’s lawsuit.
Alarmingly, Anglin’s dangerous influence continues. The White gunman who killed Black people in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store in a racist attack in May, reportedly cited Anglin’s Daily Stormer by name in a manifesto, crediting it as shaping his view that White people were being “replaced” by people of color.
Reinstating Anglin on Twitter not only helps normalize a neo-Nazi, but it also helps him recruit followers. One of Anglin’s first tweets on Friday said: “Trying to find my friends. I lost them in 2013.”
But Anglin is not the only problem. As laid out in the bone-chilling New York Times article, recent data from groups that study online platforms has documented that hate speech has exploded on Twitter in the first two weeks since Musk took over. Overall, the Times reported that researchers noted “they had never seen such a sharp increase in hate speech, problematic content and formerly banned accounts in such a short period on a mainstream social media platform.”
Some of the most jarring statistics include that slurs against Black Americans have tripled to 3,876 times per day, antisemitic posts are up more than 60% and slurs against gay men jumped from 2,506 a day to now nearly 4,000 comments per day, according to the article.
As Imran Ahmed, founder and CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told the Times: “Elon Musk sent up the Bat Signal to every kind of racist, misogynist and homophobe that Twitter was open for business,” adding, “They have reacted accordingly.” (Musk has denied hate speech has risen on Twitter since he took over. Without providing any details, Musk tweeted on November 23, “Hate speech impressions down by 1/3 from pre-spike levels.” Responding to the Times report on Friday, Musk said simply, “Utterly false.” Twitter did not respond immediately to CNN’s request for a comment on Friday morning.)
In what seems to be an inconsistent approach though, Musk suspended Kanye West’s Twitter account last week after he said West “violated our rule against incitement to violence.” CNN couldn’t confirm what prompted the suspension specifically. But West, who has made a series of antisemitic comments, had tweeted an altered image of the Star of David with a swastika inside.
Beyond hate speech, The New York Times also reported a 69% increase in accounts linked to the terrorist group ISIS in the first 12 days after Musk took control, citing the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
Being on Twitter is a privilege, not a right. Musk has extended that privilege to the worst of the worst. Now it’s time for advertisers to decide if they want to be associated with this type of social media platform. The hope is Americans will refuse to spend their dollars on companies that support Musk’s Twitter.