Because Twitter is no longer a publicly traded company with a public stock price there’s no straightforward way to assess its current value. But most market analysts estimate the company is now worth no more than a third of the $44 billion Musk paid for it a year ago. To be fair, Musk clearly overpaid for the company. He paid a premium over the company’s current stock price and even that price was probably inflated. But there’s no question Musk’s erratic and destructive reign has dramatically damaged the company, torching its public reputation and leading to a catastrophic decline in ad revenues which Musk and independent press reports have pegged at between 50% and 60%.
But Musk has found a new scapegoat: the Jews. Or rather, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish community’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to fighting not only anti-Semitism but all forms of racial and religious bigotry and other forms of discrimination. But I suspect the “rather” or the distinction in general might be lost on Musk’s 155 million Twitter followers. Over the past several days Musk has gone on a tear claiming that the catastrophic decline in his company’s value since he purchased it is mostly or entirely the fault of the ADL and churning up Twitter debates that at least big time anti-Semitic accounts think is clearly boosting their cause.
As is often the case, Musk’s attacks have evolved out of tag teaming with notorious anti-Semitic accounts on the platform. It kicked off on Friday when Musk responded to a tweet by Keith Woods, an Irish white nationalist and self-described “raging anti-Semite.”
“ADL has tried very hard to strangle X/Twitter,” Musk told Woods.
From here, Musk went on to gin up support for the #BanTheADL hashtag while alternately claiming that he should ban the group but might not, before rolling into claims that the ADL was responsible for tens of billions of dollars of Twitter losses. This all culminated with Musk announcing he was being forced to sue the ADL “to clear our platform’s name on the matter of anti-Semitism.”
Discussing the defamation suit, Musk claimed the ADL could “potentially be on the hook for destroying half the value of the company, so roughly $22 billion.” Later he said that “giving them the maximum benefit of the doubt,” the ADL might only be responsible for $4 billion in damages.
Along with these claims of monetary damages came a storm of what can only be called the bullying hate speech we associate with … well, rabid anti-Semites. This included claiming that the ADL is actually “the biggest generators of anti-Semitism” on Twitter. That was in response to another Woods tweet calling the ADL “the most pro-Hitler organization I’ve even seen.” Indeed, most of Musk’s five day tear was made up of jumping into the comments of notorious anti-Semites and toasting or agreeing with their attacks. He chimed in approvingly when alt-righter Mike Cernovich suggested that many anti-Semitic accounts are run by the DNC to justify advertiser boycotts of Twitter.
As is often the case with Musk he claims he positively absolutely isn’t anti-Semitic at all. But self-professed anti-Semites don’t seem to agree. When Musk angrily declared that since purchasing Twitter “the @ADL has been trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me of being anti-Semitic” the anti-Semitic owner of the far-right Gab social media site chimed in, “Welcome to my daily life for the past seven years.”
Of course, it’s worth noting that even the narrow claims of monetary losses are absurd on their face. Musk bought Twitter on a self-declared crusade for his version of “free speech.” That meant welcoming back tens of thousands of accounts which had been banned for a mix of anti-Semitism, racism and various forms of harassing behavior. This rather predictably spurred a wave of hate speech and headlines which scarred off most advertisers. Again, it’s little more than 2+2 equalling 4 but Musk not liking the results. Various other controversies and firing half the company’s employees haven’t helped, either in reputation terms or keeping the site online. That was uncomplicated and predictable. Musk’s response is basically to sue math.
As a factual matter, U.S. courts have consistently ruled that calling someone or some thing an “anti-Semite” is subjective and protected 1st Amendment free speech. The same applies to racist, white supremacist and other related labels. Of course, there are other ways to get into court. And a bottomless bank account gives an almost endless number of ways to explore them.
But the key here is not really about lawsuits or the ins and outs of defamation. It’s that the richest man in the world who holds a commanding position in near-earth-orbit space delivery, electronic cars and global communications spent the weekend churning up hate against Jews as the source of his financial losses. Musk is sometimes compared to the innovator Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company. And the comparison seems increasingly apt, if not in the way many have intended.