Reporter Can't Give Example Of "Hateful Speech" After Blaming Elon For It
"then I say, sir, that you don’t know what you’re talking about"
This is what we came for.
Last night, in a contentious segment of a live Twitter Space interview with Elon Musk, BBC North America tech reporter James Clayton alleged vicious hate speech had increased on new Twitter, but — over the course of several excruciating minutes — couldn’t provide a single example. Since Elon bought Twitter, the BBC reporter initially and then repeatedly said, James had personally seen more hateful content on the platform. But:
“What hate speech are you talking about?” Elon asked. “You use Twitter. Do you see a rise in hate speech?” Clayton replied: “In my For You feed, I get more of that kind of content, yeah.” Do you have an example, Elon asked? No, I don’t use it anymore. Then what are you talking about? Well, I use it, I see it. Great, Elon pressed, do you have an example? No, I don’t use it anymore. I don’t like it.
And on, and on, and on.
I wouldn’t normally dedicate a piece to a single clip like this, no matter how incredible. But the exchange was almost perfectly indicative of what the tech press is, and how the tech press functions. I felt it worth sharing, and while I’ll keep this one brief, I do want to talk through the spectacle.
This morning, a colleague asked “why wouldn’t the reporter just lie?” Cornered so hopelessly, why wouldn’t he just say he saw an awful slur or something? But this is the beautiful thing about journalists (really): they genuinely believe they’re good guys, heroes even, on the side of Truth. Goodness is, in large part, their identity, and their aspirations are pure. But because they see themselves as “good,” they naturally clock their subjects as in some way nefarious.
The reporter’s goodness bias is so hardwired into his operating philosophy that he isn’t even aware of it. James not only believed hate speech was rampant on Twitter, more now than ever. He truly believed he himself had seen it. You’ll recall stories of young people who, when repeatedly told of invented, traumatic events, develop personal memories of entirely fabricated stories. It’s simple human error. Whatever. Our janky monkey brains are not the problem. The problem is because they see themselves as actual heroes, journalists are fundamentally incapable of humility. Emotionally, the belief that they are fundamentally “good,” and their subjects “bad,” also allows them a great deal of latitude in terms of the tactics they’re willing to use to take apart a “villain.”
When pressed on his root belief, James broke. He had two options: admit one of his core assumptions was entirely fabricated, and run the dangerous risk of provoking an identity reevaluation in himself, or assume he was still right, somehow, he had seen the hate speech, it did exist — because it had to exist, somewhere — and press forward. He pressed forward.
In earlier, terrible reporting from the BBC, it was also baselessly claimed that hateful content had skyrocketed on Twitter. The number “60%” was bandied about. The BBC’s evidence? Someone Elon fired told the BBC their job was to reduce “hateful” content, and that their tools, according to their own research, reduced such content by “60%.” No link to the report or methodology was included, but a little further down the BBC did loop in a think tank run by people who want more political censorship, and they also agreed that Elon, who does not want more political censorship, was bad. The think tank conducted some sort of research of its own, apparently. Links to the report? None. Examination of that methodology? Also zero.
Tabling the question of what has actually changed in terms of trust and safety on the platform (very little, if anything at all, and certainly nothing included in these pieces), there is the question of what “hateful” content even means. Reporters consistently demur, here, as if the question doesn’t matter. But it is, of course, the fundamental question. Because the average tech reporter’s definition of “hateful” content is simply “things with which we don’t like, or don’t agree.” I think they probably don’t realize this. I think they probably don’t actually believe all they’re angry about is the dismantling of a sprawling censorship apparatus run by a shadowy cabal of “truth experts” who all agreed with their personal political opinions. But draconian thought policing is, nonetheless, what we are talking about.
When Elon asked for a definition of hateful content, James defined it as “content that will solicit a reaction to something that is slightly racist, slightly sexist.”
“So you think if something is slightly sexist, it should be banned?” Elon asked.
The question is more complicated than it seems, which is why James refused to answer. What is sexist? Are traditional gender norms sexist? Are dating preferences sexist? There are many people, including even moderate Democrats, who believe anti-abortion legislation is sexist. Maybe all of these things are, in fact, sexist. But are you willing to silence people who hold these opinions? Roxanne Gay, a beloved NYT feminist, famously wondered if drag is a form of “woman face.” It is sexist, she implied. Certainly “hateful.” The right-wing Daily Wire also hates drag. So what do you say, the satisfaction of two polarizing birds with one stone? Should drag be banned from the internet?
Someone has to call these shots. Who should have this power? And who watches the watchmen? These questions of moderation never change, because there are never satisfying answers to these questions.
Finally, James said, “there are many organizations that say that this kind of [hateful] information is on the rise.”
This is true. There are many organizations, full of many people with the same political opinions as James, who believe everything that makes them angry on the internet should be suppressed. Unlike James, most of these organizations are self-aware. This is an information war, and in an information war platform control is the equivalent of nuclear weapons. The blue-haired think tank brigade is playing to win. The average reporter, totally blinded by their identity, simply parrots the bias-confirming pack of distortions.
In addition to hateful speech, the hour-plus-long interview covered misinformation, Twitter’s financial viability, Twitter’s advertisers, COVID, Elon’s relationship with the media, and TikTok. According to Clayton, the Space, which went live at 8:30 p.m. PT, came together at the last minute after he asked Elon for an interview that morning. In addition to the live Space, BBC filmed the interview.
Clayton’s Twitter bio says he “tries to explain tech clearly and simply.”
The full text of the hateful speech exchange is below—
Clayton: “We’ve spoken to people … who used to be in content moderation. They just say there’s not enough people to police this stuff, particularly around hate speech in the company. Is that something you want to address?”
Musk: “What hate speech are you talking about? You use Twitter. Do you see a rise in hate speech? Just your personal anecdote. Do you? I don’t.”
Clayton: “Personally, in my For You, I would say I get more of that kind of content, yeah. But I’m not going to talk for the rest of Twitter.”
Musk: “You see more hate speech personally?”
Clayton: “I see more hateful content in [the For You feed].”
Musk: “Content you don’t like, or hateful [content]? What do you mean — describe a hateful thing.”
Clayton: “Content that will solicit a reaction to something… that is slightly racist, slightly sexist — those kinds of things.”
Musk: “So you think if something is slightly sexist, it should be banned?”
Clayton: “No, I’m not saying anything.”
Musk: “I’m trying to understand what you mean by hateful content, and I’m asking for specific examples, and you just said if something is slightly sexist, that’s hateful content. Does that mean that it should be banned?”
Clayton: “Well you’ve asked me whether my feed has less or more — I’d say it’s got slightly more.”
Musk: “That’s why I’m asking for examples. Can you name one example?”
Clayton: “Honestly, I don’t use—”
Musk: “You can’t name a single example?”
Clayton: “I’ll tell you why. Because I don’t actually use the For You feed anymore. Because I don’t particularly like it. A lot of people are quite similar. I only look at my Following.”
Musk: “You said you’ve seen more hateful content, but you can’t name a single example. Not even one.”
Clayton: “I’m not sure I’ve used that feed for the last three or four weeks.”
Musk: “Well then how could you see the hateful content?”
Clayton: “Because I’ve been using Twitter since you’ve taken over. For the last six months.”
Musk: “Ok, so then you must have at some point seen the For You hateful content. I’m asking for one example.”
Musk: “And you can’t give a single one. Then I say, sir, that you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Musk: “Yes because you can’t give me a single example of hateful content. Not even one tweet. And yet you claimed that hateful content was high.
Musk: “That’s false.”
Musk: “You lied!”
Clayton: “No. What I claimed was that there are many organizations that say that that kind of information is on the rise. Whether it is on my feed or not—
Musk: “Give me one example! You literally can’t name one.”
Clayton: “Something like the Strategic Dialogue Institute in the UK, they will say that.”
Musk: “People will say all sorts of nonsense. I’m literally asking for a single example, but you can’t name one.”
Clayton: “As I already said, I don’t use that feed. But let’s—
Musk: “Then how would you know?”
Clayton: “I don’t think this is getting anywhere—”
Musk: “You literally said you experience more hateful content, and then couldn’t name a single example.”
Clayton: “Right. As I said—”
Musk: “That’s absurd!”
Clayton: “I haven’t actually looked at that feed—”
Musk: “Then how would you know if there’s hateful content?”
Clayton: “Because I’m saying, that’s what I saw a few weeks ago. I can’t give you an exact example. Let’s move on.”
This exchange is only possible in a world where a billionaire shitposting god of tech decided to do something crazy, and buy a speech platform. Elon is king, now. He has made mistakes, and will make more mistakes. Not allowing me to embed the actual exchange in this post, as it originally appeared on Twitter for example — a mistake! Sir, please fix this mistake! Regardless, Twitter now represents the single major speech platform that doesn’t care what the BBC thinks. It operates independently. This is an unambiguous, incalculable good. It is also, of course, the real reason the BBC sees Elon as, and truly believe he is, the enemy. But last night, rather than apologize for crimes he never committed, he simply asked a follow-up question.
This is the way.
Interview paraphrased for clarity and flow before the blockquote.
Comments open on this one — have a field day.
Tech journalism (hell, pretty much all journalism nowadays) reminds me a lot of every non-STEM class I had to take in college.
No matter what the topic of the discussion was, the end goal was to somehow tie it to whatever the lefty issue du jour was. Could have been a discussion about 19th Century British agricultural policy or Japanese wood cuts during the Meiji Restoration -- didn't matter, the end goal was to grab the discussion like a football and run in it into a woke endzone. Any and all mental gymnastics were justified and couldn't be questioned-- just score that touchdown.
For modern tech journalism, it doesn't matter what the question was, the answer is always "problematic rise in hate speech" or "further undermines marginalized groups."
This sort of thinking does not survive contact with reality.
Elon Twitter + Substack seems like the perfect pairing for free speech that we've all (well older millenials and young Gen Xers at least...) been begging for. Such a breath of fresh air. I hope they learn to get along.