Dems want answers from Musk’s Twitter

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Elon Musk’s tumultuous first two weeks running Twitter have won him some new foes among Washington’s Democrats — and they want answers about what he’s doing to safeguard data and privacy on the platform.

“Musk said he would work to protect users, but we have seen quite the opposite,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce panel on consumer protection.

The company has been plunged into turmoil since the tech billionaire took over — he’s gutted the company’s workforce, lost his top trust and security executives, scared away advertisers and drawn the close scrutiny of federal regulators. And the chaotic rollout of a new subscription service — that offered verification badges for a fee — spawned a wave of fake accounts impersonating big companies, celebrities and politicians (the service is now paused). 

Noting that the company is already under a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission for previous security and privacy violations, Schakowksky said that “Musk should be held personally liable because he purchased Twitter, took it private, and made the conscious decision to violate the 2011 consent decree in which Twitter pledged, unequivocally, to protect consumer data.”

Earlier this week, a Twitter attorney said that Musk’s breakneck pace for setting up new systems, including the new subscription service, would lead to “major incidents." The FTC responded with a highly unusual warning that they are watching the company with “deep concern.”

Musk’s lawyer reportedly tried to quell concerns from Twitter employees after the FTC’s warning.

"Twitter is already on privacy probation,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who’s demanding answers from Musk about the wave of fake “verified” accounts — including one impersonating Markey himself.

“Every day at that company brings increasing chaos that threatens users’ wellbeing,” Markey added. “The FTC has an obligation to make sure Twitter and its leadership are abiding by their responsibilities under the law and agreements with regulators."

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. The vast majority of the company’s communications staff were laid off just over a week ago.

It’s not just data privacy that’s drawing Democratic scrutiny. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) wants a powerful government council to investigate Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Twitter deal. And President Joe Biden said the platform “spews lies,” adding a few days later that he too would like to see Musk’s foreign ties investigated.

Musk likely did himself no favors on the left when he endorsed Republicans the day before the midterm elections, arguing that a divided government is what’s best for the country. It was an unusual move for a tech mogul, given that his fellow billionaires tend to avoid stepping so directly into partisan politics.

And Musk tweeted out a false story about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband just days after he took over the platform, stoking fears among advertisers and users that his promise of a more free and open dialogue on the platform would instead usher in a new era of misinformation and malicious content.

Musk also said recentlythat “it’s true that I’ve been under unfair & misleading attack for some time by leading Democrats,” and he’s exchanged Twitter barbs with leading Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has over 13 million followers on the platform. Musk himself has over 110 million followers.

It’s the kind of behavior that will likely only increase friction with Democrats in the coming months.