Elon Musk, the mega-billionaire who is the new owner of Twitter, on Monday posted a meme with a fake headline attributed to CNN that makes it look like CNN anchor Don Lemon had asserted that Musk’s rollback of restrictions on types of content allowed on Twitter would “threaten free speech.”
Musk — without any indication that it was a joke — posted an image that said, “CNN: Elon Musk could threaten free speech on Twitter by literally allowing people to speak freely.” The post includes a photo of Lemon appearing to speak about Musk on air, with the made-up chyron below Lemon featuring the same text as the headline.
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In response to Musk’s tweet of the parody meme, CNN’s communications team wrote on Twitter, “This headline never appeared on CNN. Be better.”
The original fake CNN headline was published in April 2022 by Genesius Times, which calls itself “the most reliable source of fake news on the planet,” according to the Associated Press.
Twitter users have employed the service’s Community Notes to add context to Musk’s tweet, with a link to the AP story and a message that reads, “The screencap in this image is not real and originated from a satirical website. CNN aired no such report about Musk ‘threatening free speech’ and the chyron has been digitally altered to add the text.”
Musk, a self-described “free-speech absolutist,” has complained that in the past Twitter censored conservative viewpoints and that he would hold Twitter to strict principles of “free speech” — a stance that critics have feared will lead to an increase of misinformation and hate speech on the platform. The world’s wealthiest person closed the $44 billion deal for Twitter one month ago. “I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law,” Musk tweeted in April. “If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”
Earlier this month, Musk unilaterally decided to reinstate Donald Trump’s Twitter account, after he fielded a poll to his followers that showed a narrow majority favored allowing the ex-president back on Twitter. Trump to date has not resumed posting on Twitter, his once-favorite platform before he was booted off over his support for the Jan. 6 rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol.
On Nov. 24, Musk declared that starting this week Twitter will grant “amnesty” to suspended accounts (“provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam”).
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