Elon Musk recommends voting Republican, bans impersonators from Twitter




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New Twitter owner Elon Musk tweeted Monday encouraging “independent-minded voters” to vote Republican, marking a major departure for leaders of social media companies, who typically steer clear of partisan political advocacy.

“Shared power curbs the worst excesses of both parties, therefore I recommend voting for a Republican Congress, given that the Presidency is Democratic,” he tweeted.

The remark capped a chaotic weekend in which Musk abruptly changed course on several major issues for the company, which he acquired for $44 billion a little over a week ago. After laying off about half of the workforce on Friday, Twitter began scrambling to rehire some who were let go. It postponed the planned launch of its new paid verification product until after the midterm elections.

And it suspended popular accounts for impersonating Musk, under a new policy that the company’s new CEO announced Sunday.

Musk’s endorsement of GOP candidates to his 115 million Twitter followers, a day before midterm elections, is likely to intensify the partisan divide over his takeover of the platform. Lawmakers in the past have grilled executives of social media companies including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube as to whether their decisions could have influenced election outcomes, even as those executives have studiously avoided signaling their preferences for a given party or candidate.

Musk’s endorsement of Republicans may come as a surprise to some, but he has been expressing disdain for the direction of the Democratic Party in recent years. In April, he wrote that he strongly supported Obama for president, but that the party had been “hijacked by extremists.”

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“I support free speech, but not any one candidate. In fact, I gave money to & voted for Hillary & then voted for Biden,” he tweeted in May. “However, given unprovoked attacks by leading Democrats against me & a very cold shoulder to Tesla & SpaceX, I intend to vote Republican.”

Musk has expressed frustration with California’s government amid shelter-in-place orders during coronavirus restrictions in 2020, as Tesla’s factory there was closed. In May of that year, he defiantly reopened Tesla’s plant — accepting the support of President Trump in his push to break with county-level stay-at-home orders.

Musk’s sudden, dramatic moves energized some on the right, who view Musk as reversing Twitter’s leftward shift under previous leadership. And it kept many users glued to Twitter, where his follower count continued to grow rapidly over the weekend.

Musk said Friday that Twitter has seen a “massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers” to stop advertising on the platform, in a tweet he has since deleted.

Researchers saw early signs that the conversation was already changing in the first week of Musk’s ownership, as conspiracy theorists appeared emboldened by his promises of a hands-off approach to policing the platform. Musk sought to quell the concerns of advertisers, but the issue ballooned as he chose to conduct large-scale layoffs in the run-up to the midterm elections, prompting fears about how the platform would be policed.

Some advertisers chose to express caution.

Companies including General Motors, Volkswagen Group and General Mills all said they were pausing advertising on Twitter. Meanwhile Civil Rights groups called for an advertiser boycott, as the NAACP President Derrick Johnson said, “It is immoral, dangerous, and highly destructive to our democracy for any advertiser to fund a platform that fuels hate speech, election denialism, and conspiracy theories.”

Under financial pressure to turn the company around quickly, Musk has been touting a plan to charge users $8 per month to get verified and receive a check mark testifying to their account’s authenticity, among other benefits. Musk initially promised the new subscription plan, known as Twitter Blue, would launch on Monday, and there was widespread confusion Saturday about whether or not the feature was launching.

But a person familiar with the plans, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans, told The Post the launch will not happen until after the midterms. The New York Times first reported the delay.

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The company began reaching out over the weekend to try to rehire employees it had just laid off, according to multiple internal sources, including two with direct knowledge of the rehiring efforts who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. Among the people Twitter is said to be seeking to rehire are engineers who worked on the company’s Android app, members of its Cortex machine-learning team, and others with specific technical expertise needed to launch new products, sources told The Post. The attempt to bring back laid off employees was first reported by Platformer on Friday.

“They’re asking people to come back because a lot of things are breaking there,” said one laid-off Twitter employee who was asked about their interest in returning, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. A few teams “were completely eliminated without much thought and now it’s causing roadblocks for other teams. It’s been a frustrating week for those employed, too.”

The employee told The Post they planned to decline the offer to return.

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Generating some of the most controversy, Twitter started suspending accounts “engaged in impersonation” on Sunday after Musk announced that all accounts falsely using the names of real people without a “parody” label would be immediately banned from the platform. The move came after a flood of users changed their display names to match his.

“Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended,” Musk tweeted Sunday afternoon. “Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning.”

The new impersonation policy appeared to contradict Musk’s assurance last week that he would convene a “content moderation council with widely diverse viewpoints” before making any major decisions. In May, Musk criticized permanent suspensions, saying that they “fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter.”

Musk had also previously indicated he would reinstate permanently suspended accounts such as that of Trump, who was banned after the Jan. 6 riot under Twitter’s policies against inciting violence. But last week he said the company would not bring back Trump or other banned accounts before the midterms.

The decision to suspend users over impersonation came after several Twitter users, some of whom are verified on the platform, started changing their display names to “Elon Musk” after the billionaire completed his $44 billion purchase of the platform in late October. Many, posing as Musk, jeered his controversial announcement that Twitter would soon charge users $8 per month for verification.

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Among those suspended from Twitter for changing their display names to “Elon Musk” was comedian Kathy Griffin, who, under Musk’s moniker, urged Americans to vote for Democrats in the midterm elections.

“I’ve decided that voting blue for their choice is only right,” she wrote shortly before her account was suspended. YouTuber Ethan Klein was also appeared to be suspended from the platform after he joined those impersonating Musk.

Griffin’s fans called Twitter’s move a crackdown on freedom of speech and parody, using the hashtag #freekathy to criticize the platform’s new policy. Later on Sunday, Musk, who is the world’s richest person, tweeted that Griffin could have her account back if she paid up.

“If she really wants her account back, she can have it,” Musk wrote. “For $8.”

Cat Zakrzewski contributed to this report.