Musk’s response to an anti-trans video sparks chaos for 24 hours on Twitter


A conservative pressure movement built against Twitter’s CEO, resulting in high-profile departures from the company.

A week ago, Elon Musk’s Twitter seemed to be taking shaky steps toward a new phase: mass layoffs had subsided, Musk had hired a new permanent CEO, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had tapped the site to help launching his Republican presidential bid.

Within a day, however, the turmoil that marked Musk’s seven-month ownership of the social media platform returned.

On Thursday, Twitter was dogged by an organized pressure campaign by conservative pundits trying to promote a 95-minute anti-transgender video titled “What Is A Woman?” Musk, who has expressed hostile views toward transgender advocates, initially responded in ways that didn’t seem to satisfy anyone before eventually relenting and agreeing to promote the video himself. The incident resulted in two high-profile departures within 24 hours.

The episode was another window into Musk’s improvisational approach to rewriting Twitter’s rules.

Twitter’s head of trust and safety Ella Irwin left the company the same day after a stint leading its content moderation efforts. A second executive, A.J. Brown, whose job it was to reassure advertisers that Twitter was a safe place for their brands, also decided to step down, the Wall Street Journal reported. A third person, a program manager who worked on brand security, said on her Twitter profile that she was now “ex-Twitter.”

Musk said in a tweet on Friday that the departures were related to his decision to allow the conservative magazine The Daily Wire to publish “What Is A Woman?” — a decision that thrust Twitter back into a raging cultural debate.

The Twitter battle over ‘What is a woman?’ The video began early Thursday morning with a complaint from Jeremy Boreing, CEO of The Daily Wire, who said the video was being hidden. He also said that Twitter canceled a distribution deal with the store because the video featured two instances of abuse of transgender people. In one thread, he then stated that he considers the incident a matter of free speech.

Transgender abuse had been restricted on the platform since 2018, but under Musk the company quietly removed that rule.

Musk responded to Boreing’s thread by saying that while he personally uses people’s preferred pronouns, misogyny is allowed on the platform.

“This was a mistake by many people on Twitter,” Musk tweeted in response to Boreing’s complaint. “Of course it’s allowed. Whether or not you agree with the use of someone’s preferred pronouns, not doing so is rude at best and certainly does not break any laws.”

LGBTQ groups quickly denounced Musk’s decision, saying it opened the door to more bullying of transgender people online.

But the fight for the video didn’t end there. After Musk allowed it to be published, Twitter users were still unable to share the film or comment on it, limiting its spread, Boreing said Thursday night. It pushed Musk to do more.

“That was fast. Even after @elonmusk said Twitter’s threat to call What Is A Woman ‘hateful conduct’ and limit the film’s reach was wrong, Twitter did just that right after the film aired” , Boreing wrote.

In a series of tweets Thursday night, right-wing influencer Robby Starbuck called on Musk to take action against anyone involved in limiting the video’s reach.

“Whoever did this should be fired,” Starbuck’s tweeted.

Musk, who has an adult transgender daughter who no longer wants to be associated with him, initially did not side entirely with conservative pundits. Backing his support for the video, Musk tweeted at 8:57 p.m. ET Thursday that the video was “sensitive content” and that Twitter would not actively recommend it to people.

But the pressure campaign continued into the night, with some conservative Twitter users saying they might cancel their monthly subscriptions to the premium Twitter Blue service if the video continued to be restricted at all.

Early Friday, Musk backtracked and made the video public.

“It’s working now. The only limitation is that it will not be placed next to the ad,” Musk wrote at 8:28 am. ET on conservative pundit Matt Walsh, who stars in the video and has gained attention for his videos targeting transgender people and drag queens.

Three minutes earlier, at 8:25 a.m., Musk himself tweeted the film, adding, “Every parent should see this.” The film was pinned to the top of Musk’s profile on Friday afternoon.

By late Friday afternoon, the video had received more than 62 million views, according to Twitter’s tally.

Neither The Daily Wire nor Walsh immediately responded to requests for comment. But Walsh celebrated on Twitter and called Musk’s help “a huge win.”

“What a great way to ring in Pride Month,” Walsh wrote, referring to LGBTQ Pride month that began on June 1.

The incident shows the ongoing challenge of stabilizing Twitter seven months after Musk bought the company for $44 billion. He fired most of his employees and then rehired some of them, in a chaotic series of events that marked the beginning of his ownership.

Musk has also steered Twitter in an ideologically conservative direction, welcoming fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson and removing some of Twitter’s restrictions on bullying and hateful content.

Irwin was among Musk’s staunchest supporters at the company. In January, Bloomberg News called her the “executor-in-chief of Musk’s whims.”

But within hours of Musk’s decision to allow the “What Is A Woman?” video, Fortune reported that Irwin’s internal Slack account had been disabled.

Irwin, responding to a request for comment from NBC News, referred to Musk’s tweet that the departures are related to the fight for transgender rights.

Irwin is the second head of trust and security to leave Twitter during Musk’s tenure. Yoel Roth left the job in November, saying the company had little need for the position because Musk was rewriting the rulebook according to his own edicts.

Irwin’s defense of Musk hasn’t always won her fans with others who have done similar work. A former Twitter and security employee told NBC News that, in their opinion, it was never clear how much influence he even had.

“We’ll probably never know how much of her responsibility was, as opposed to just following orders from Musk, or how much worse things could have been,” this person said.

Twitter has seen an uptick in anti-LGBTQ hate speech during Irwin’s tenure and, overall, since Musk took over the platform.

Using pronouns other than one’s preferred is a common way to bully transgender people, including on social media. People who are transgender or gender non-binary often feel that misgendering invalidates their identity.

Musk’s views on transgender rights have put him out of sync with many other Silicon Valley billionaires. Dustin Moskowitz, CEO of software company Asana and co-founder of Facebook, argued that people with views like Musk’s need to talk to more trans people.

“Actually, meeting some people who changed was the most important part of maturing my views. I highly recommend talking to them instead of just trying to imagine what they’re like,” Moskowitz tweeted.

Twitter responded to an emailed request for comment with an automated, non-informative response. Newly hired Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino, a former NBCUniversal advertising executive, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


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