Why Elon Musk's conspiracy theory tweet about Paul Pelosi attack is 'dangerous'

Musk tweeted out a conspiracy theory from an outlet known to spread false news, suggesting it might be true.

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ByLiz Kreutz via KGO logo
Tuesday, November 1, 2022
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Elon Musk's conspiracy theory tweet about Paul Pelosi comes amid concerns of how much he will crack down on the spread of disinformation on Twitter.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Just days after taking over as Twitter's CEO, Elon Musk on Sunday tweeted out a conspiracy theory about the attack against Paul Pelosi in San Francisco, and suggested the baseless report he shared from an outlet known to spread false news might be true.

Musk deleted his tweet roughly six hours later, but not before it was shared widely to his 112 million followers.

On Monday, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott strongly refuted false claims circulating about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's husband calling it "damaging" and "sad."

"There is absolutely no evidence that Mr. Pelosi knew this man. As a matter of fact, the evidence indicates the exact opposite," Scott said in an interview on CNN.

EXCLUSIVE: Former partner of accused Paul Pelosi attacker DePape reveals new details about suspect

"It really is sad that these theories are being floated out there. Baseless, factless theories that are being floated out there," he continued. "And they're damaging. They're damaging to the people involved. They're damaging to this investigation. And, you know, people are running with this stuff and whether they believe them or not, these theories can influence the way people think about everything that's happening here."

Musk's post comes amid concerns about how the billionaire Tesla founder will run Twitter and how much he will crack down on the spread of disinformation.

"It has the potential to be hugely dangerous," Richard Craig, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State, told ABC7 News about Musk tweeting a conspiracy theory.

"The question is to what extent will his ownership of Twitter change what people think about whatever it is he has to say?" he said. "I mean, we don't know for sure if it will make a lot of difference, but it has the potential to make a lot of difference."

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SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that tracks online activity of white supremacist organization, said that following Musk's tweet, members of various far-right platforms began recirculating the false claims Musk shared.

"It's a huge issue," Ramesh Srinivasan, a professor of information studies at UCLA, said. "He's the owner of Twitter, and he's using the platform in abusive ways, in my opinion. And the platform itself has already been deeply problematic in spreading disinformation and misinformation."

Srinivasan studies the relationship with technology, politics and societies. He said it's the new normal to see conspiracy theories spread not only on far corners of the internet, but in seemingly mainstream spaces. Much of that, he said, is due to social media algorithms that reward controversial content.

"For example, on Facebook around the time of the election of Donald Trump, the top 20 fake news stories -- meaning verifiably, empirically false -- were more viral on Facebook than the top 20 real stories," he explained. "So, these are the issues we've seen hijack democracies and transform our political and cultural life in more extremist directions."

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