• Washington Post

Musk recommends voting GOP, suspends Twitter accounts for ‘impersonation’

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration//File Photo
An image of Elon Musk is seen on a smartphone placed on printed Twitter logos in this picture illustration taken April 28, 2022.

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.

Meanwhile, Twitter started suspending accounts “engaged in impersonation” on Sunday after Musk announced that all accounts falsely using the names of real people without the “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.”

“Any name change at all will cause temporary loss of verified checkmark,” he added, referring to the blue check mark next to people’s names, which indicates that their account is authentic and not an impersonation.

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 content decisions. In May, Musk had 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 former president Donald 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 prior to the midterms.

In yet another quick reversal, 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 and confirmed by Bloomberg News on Saturday.

“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.

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. But they also drew widespread mockery.

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.

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.”

Griffin, meanwhile, appears to have moved on to other platforms.

Soon after she was locked out of her Twitter account, she wrote on Instagram: “I’m trending on Twitter. Long story.”

She also joined Mastodon, the six-year-old social platform that has steadily gained new followers since Musk’s Twitter takeover.

On Monday, Mastodon’s founder, Eugen Rochko, said it was “pretty cool” that the social network had reached more than 1 million monthly active users and that the network had acquired almost half a million new users since Oct. 27 – the day of Musk’s Twitter takeover.

Last week, Mastodon acknowledged its servers are “under very heavy load,” a result of what it said was an “extreme spike in user numbers.”

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.

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. Twitter’s app on the iOS App Store included release notes indicating it would support the new subscription plan, called Twitter Blue. But the company

Researchers saw early signs that the conversation was already changing in the first week of Musk’s ownership, as conspiracy theorists were apparently emboldened by his promises of a hands-off approach to policing the platform.

Advance Democracy Inc., a nonprofit that conducts public interest research, found posts from accounts related to Q-Anon nearly doubled in Musk’s first five days of ownership of the company. There were 19,581 posts from 772 accounts related to the conspiracy theory on Nov. 1, up from 10,736 posts from 528 accounts on Oct. 27, the day Musk finalized his purchase of the company.

The same researchers also found that more than one in ten posts about the U.S. elections mentioned election fraud on Twitter between the dates of Oct. 26 and Nov. 1. Some of the most popular tweets on the platform cast doubt on U.S. elections.

The day after Musk bought Twitter, conservative comedian Terrence K. Williams tweeted, “I can finally speak the truth on Twitter. Joe Biden did not win the 2020 Election.” The tweet garnered nearly 20,000 retweets and was unlabeled.

Twitter has been in tumult since Musk acquired it and immediately fired its top executives. The mass layoffs and push to get users to sign up for an

Employees told The Post last week they’ve received few direct communications from him and have resorted to following his Twitter feed and using anonymous gossip apps for basic information about their jobs.

Musk’s turn toward endorsing 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 tweeted a meme depicting what he saw as the left’s shift away from him since 2008, when he was shown as slightly left of center.”I strongly supported Obama for President, but today’s Democratic Party has been hijacked by extremists,” he wrote in a tweet.”The following month, he further explained his shift.”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 the covid-19 restrictions of 2020, as Tesla’s factory stood shuttered and his company was unable to produce cars there. 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.Around that time, Lorena Gonzalez, a powerful Democratic state assembly member, tweeted an expletive at Musk.”Message received,” he wrote in response, shortly after threatening to move Tesla’s operations to Texas.In October 2021, he announced he had relocated to Texas, where Tesla’s headquarters would move as well.