Twitter CEO Elon Musk has decided to refocus his priorities on…knocking protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
On Tuesday night (Nov. 22), Musk posted a video from Twitter’s headquarters after he found a batch of “#StayWoke” t-shirts in a closet.
“Found in closet at Twitter HQ fr,” he tweeted, including the crying face emoji and a video of someone, allegedly Musk himself as he narrates the clip, rummaging through shelves filled with various Twitter t-shirts.
“The conquest of Wokerosi is complete,” tweeted venture capitalist David Sacks, who co-authored a book called The Diversity Myth, which attacked diversity efforts on college campuses and questioned whether date rape existed. Musk has brought Sacks onboard to help run Twitter. “Melt them down and turn them into an Iron Throne.”
Musk appears to have posted the clip to defend himself from criticism that he has exclusively been kowtowing to the demands of right-wing users on the platform. Over the past week, Twitter has reinstated a number of previously banned accounts, nearly all of them belonging to conservative media figures and influencers.
Twitter’s new owner has pushed the narrative that the company was run by left-leaning individuals who were biased against conservatives on the platform. And conservatives have rebranded the term “woke” to mean anything progressive or on the left.
A number of Twitter users, such as Ryan Mac of The New York Times, explained that these shirts weren’t a reference to being “leftist.” The slang term “woke” originated as African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) and simply meant an alertness to racial and social justice issues.
The #StayWoke shirts were created in the mid-2010s by Twitter’s Black employees group, known as “Blackbirds,” in the wake of the mass Black Lives Matter protests at the time against racial injustice and police brutality.
Mac pointed out that Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, who originally had texted with Musk about him acquiring the platform, even wore a #StayWoke shirt after Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri.
But Musk doubled down, deciding to tweet out in opposition to the Black Lives Matter protests.
“#StayWoke shirts stem from the Ferguson protests,” Musk tweeted. “Obama’s own DOJ proved this and exonerated the cop. ‘Hands up don’t shoot’ was made up. The whole thing was fiction.”
Musk later deleted the tweet, replacing it with a link to the DOJ report on Ferguson. He then replied affirmatively to right-wing influencers who were calling Black Lives Matter protests a “scam” and a “hoax.” Musk has also double-downed in Twitter replies, sharing the same sentiment as his deleted tweet.
Musk has chosen to solely focus on the “hands up don’t shoot” slogan that originated from original witness statements that Brown had surrendered before Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him. The DOJ found that Brown could not have had his hands up at the time of the shooting.
But the DOJ also found that in a two-year span, 93 percent of the people arrested by the Ferguson police department were Black. Furthermore, 88 percent of the times use of force was reported was against Black individuals. The report also uncovered that police had shared racial slurs and racist jokes in official email correspondence. These things verifiably happened. And it’s what the #StayWoke hashtag refers to.
Even by Musk’s own logic, the shirts don’t say “hands up don’t shoot!” They say “#StayWoke,” as in continue to call out racial injustice and prejudice, which former President Obama’s DOJ did, in fact, find within the Ferguson police department.
Musk also seems unaware of Twitter’s own role in the Ferguson protests. The events that unfolded following the police shooting of Michael Brown were being documented on Twitter by on-the-ground activists like DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie. When Mckesson was arrested in Ferguson, a photo spread showing that he was wearing Twitter’s #StayWoke shirt. As someone who claims to care for citizen journalism so much, Musk seems to be unaware of the history surrounding one of the best examples of it.
This isn’t the first time Musk has been under fire for mistreatment of Black employees at his companies. Earlier this year, Black employees at Tesla shared that they were subjugated to racism while working at the company. Over the summer, Black Tesla employees sued the company over the racial abuse.
There was a short period of time where Musk attempted to act neutral in running Twitter. He briefly met with civil rights groups like the Anti-Defamation League and NAACP and assured them he would do things such as institute a content moderation council that would decide on major decisions regarding policy and the unbanning of accounts.
However, Musk was asked about this content moderation policy after choosing, on his own, to unsuspend accounts belonging to users such as former President Donald Trump. His answer: He only said he’d do that to appease those groups.
“A large coalition of political/social activist groups agreed not to try to kill Twitter by starving us of advertising revenue if I agreed to this condition,” Musk tweeted. “They broke the deal.”
In reality, Musk is actually experiencing why Twitter’s moderation rules were created as they were: Companies don’t want their brand appearing next to toxic content, so they are choosing to stop advertising.
Since Musk took over the platform, he has rolled out a paid subscription feature where any user can pay $8 per month for a verification badge. This led to a mass number of users impersonating companies, brands, and influential figures. That, combined with Musk’s moderation policy changes and subsequent unbanning of far-right figures, has led advertisers to flee.
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