Let’s get to it. Elon got the reins of Twitter and immediately started with firing people and trying to turn the verification system into a cash cow. Thanks to Stephen King’s adept haggling skills, the price of per month verification dropped from $20 to $8. But the problem of pricing verification goes beyond the nickel and diming. Fundamentally, it is a matter of principle.
Are online tweeters actually who they claim to be? The switch from a verification system that checks who you really are to one that checks to see if you really paid your tithe this week has some drawbacks… and people were quick to elucidate Musk on what those are.
Actor Valerie Bertinelli impersonated Elon Musk on Twitter this weekend, posting and retweeting in support of Democratic candidates under the guise to make a point about his newly proposed verification system.
Bertinelli first changed her name on Saturday, shortly after Twitter rolled out the billionaire’s controversial paid-verification system, which requires users to shell out $7.99 a month to receive a blue checkmark.
This was, of course, as hilarious as it was effective. For people who just don’t read, it was pretty easy to mistake Bertinelli’s tweets for Elon’s. This wouldn’t be an issue for Twitter if the person imitating someone else was just slaying slurs, like so:
This is, of course, not Billie Eilish. The verified person, King_Staccz (who is currently impersonating Kanye West) is the one who actually tweeted this. He changed his name and profile picture to make it look like the singer to put slurs in a white woman’s digital mouth.
Bertinelli’s tweets were a problem because they imitated Elon Musk and said some very wild and inappropriate things. Like… people should vote.
Over the next several hours, the actor posted and retweeted dozens of tweets in support of Democratic candidates ahead of midterm elections Tuesday.
As “Elon Musk,” she posted hashtags like #VoteBlueToProtectYourRights and shared tweets supporting gubernatorial candidates Gretchen Whitmore in Michigan and Beto O’Rourke in Texas, among others.
As other users pointed out, many of the tweets on their feed appeared as if Musk himself had actually retweeted them.
In solidarity, others also fucked around a la Bertinelli. Unfortunately, Kathy Griffin was one of the few who also found out.
The gold nugget in all of this is that the satire supercharged the argument and he would’ve been better off leaving good alone. Blue checks verifying one’s identity means something — you know who you’re reading (assuming you bother to look at the handle) — a world where it just means you spend $8 a month takes away the verification that the check once conveyed. You know, maybe Elon would have been appreciative of how demonstrative this bit of trolling was if he would have read The Onion’s brief on the significance of good parody before he started swinging the ban hammer.
From The Onion’s Amicus Brief:
It really is an old trick. The word “parody” stretches back to the Hellenic world. It originates in the prefix para, meaning an alteration, and the suffix ode, referring to the poetry form known as an ode. One of its earliest practitioners was the first-century B.C. poet Horace, whose Satires would replicate the exact form known as an ode—mimicking its meter, its subject matter, even its self-serious tone—but tweaking it ever so slightly so that the form was able to mock its own idiocies.
This is not a mere linguistic anecdote. The point is instead that without the capacity to fool someone, parody is functionally useless, deprived of the tools inscribed in its very etymology that allow it, again and again, to perform this rhetorically powerful sleight-of-hand: It adopts a particular form in order to critique it from within. See Farah v. Esquire Magazine, 736 F.3d 528, 536 (D.C. Cir. 2013). Parody leverages the expectations that are created in readers when they see something written in a particular form…[t]he power of the parody arises from that dissonance into which the reader has been drawn. Farah, 736 F.3d at 537.
Tl;dr: Free Speech McGee here not only outlawed parody — one of the oldest forms of comedy — less than two weeks after he caged the bird, his use of permanent bans to do so undermines the notion that Twitter is a public square where everyone can voice their opinion. That’s not me pushing an agenda, he really said that:
Some struggling author is fuming right now because their genre bending dystopian novel about a world where a billionaire buys the world’s largest means of communication as a vanity project under the cover of “broadening free speech,” only to immediately monetize it and use it to broadcast political opinions directly to the masses, will now read as trite.
And if you thought the saving grace would be that the author would differ his dystopian fantasy from ours by imaging that the people would come to defend their new information overlord with bad legal takes to protect his fragile ego:
That’s right. Kathy Griffin changing her twitter display name to Elon Musk is being equated with a federal crime. Now that would make for an interesting “So what are you in for” conversation.
And for those of you that are like “Well, that’s just one guy saying that. Most people aren’t that stupid. Stop straw-manning,” explain this:
Since Elon bought the app, not for his own self-aggrandizement, but for the betterment of the species — no, this isn’t me overindulging in hyperbole, he really said that — it is important to pay attention to the early signs of what that “betterment” and cultivation of “free speech” will look like:
Again, not hyperbole — the free speech train got immediately more racist with Elon in the conductor’s seat.
The data was of course brushed away by Chief Twit shortly after:
I hope that someone updates the Don on Twitter’s new “Don’t hurt Big Elon’s feelies” policy when he logs back in on his formerly suspended account.
I’d try to come up with a snazzy summarizing sendoff, but I recognize the futility of reinventing the wheel — Jim M Felton said it best.
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.
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