SAN FRANCISCO — Elon Musk on Sunday tweeted a link to an unfounded rumor about, just days after Musk's purchase of Twitter fueled concerns that the social media platform would no longer seek to limit misinformation and hate speech.
Musk's tweet, which he later deleted, linked to an article by a fringe website, the Santa Monica Observer, an outlet that has previously asserted that Hillary Clinton died on Sept. 11 and was replaced with a body double.
In this case, the article recycled a baseless claim that the personal life of Paul Pelosi, the speaker's husband, somehow played a role in an intruder's attack last week in the couple's San Francisco home, even though there is no evidence to support that claim.
Musk did so in reply to a tweet by Hillary Clinton. Her tweet had criticized Republicans for generally spreading "hate and deranged conspiracy theories" and said, "It is shocking, but not surprising, that violence is the result."
In response to Clinton's tweet, Musk provided a link to the Santa Monica Observer article and added, "There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye."
The Los Angeles Times, the dominant news organization in the Southern California area where the Observer is located, has said the Observer is "notorious for fake news."
Police in San Francisco have said the suspect in last week's attack, identified as David DePape, 42, broke into the Pelosi family's Pacific Heights home early Friday and confronted Paul Pelosi, demanding to know, as CBS has reported, "Where is Nancy?"
The two men struggled over a hammer before officers responding to a 911 call to the home saw DePape strike Paul Pelosi at least once, police said. DePape was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, elder abuse and burglary. Prosecutors plan to file charges on Monday and expect his arraignment on Tuesday.
Police say the attack was "intentional" and not random but have not stated publicly what they consider to be the motive.
The exchange between Musk and Clinton occurred a day after Yoel Roth, Twitter's head of safety and integrity, tweeted that the company's policies toward "slurs" and "hateful conduct" were still in place.
"Bottom line up front: Twitter's policies haven't changed. Hateful conduct has no place here," Roth wrote.
Musk himself said Friday thatand promised advertisers that the website would not devolve into a "free for all hellscape." Musk has also described himself as a "free speech absolutist."
But at least one major advertiser, General Motors, has said it will suspend advertising on Twitter while it monitors the direction of the platform under Musk.
Also on Sunday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that she didn't trust Musk to run Twitter.
Referring to antisemitic conspiracy theories that were advanced online by DePape, the suspect in the attack, Klobuchar said, "I think you have to have some content moderation."
"If Elon Musk has said now that he's going to start a content moderation board," the senator said, "that was one good sign. But I continue to be concerned about that. I just don't think people should be making money off of passing on this stuff that's a bunch of lies."
"Part of what to really keep in mind is that when he says something, it doesn't matter if it's been fact-checked or whatever, there is a large group of people who are going to say, 'Well he's the leader of Twitter, he ought to know. He probably already vetted this,'" said Ian Sherr, CNET Editor-At-Large.
Musk has 112 million followers on Twitter. By the time he deleted the tweet, it had racked up more than 28,000 retweets and 100,000 thousand likes.
"Part of what I think is interesting is that Elon Musk is taking this very, very strong spotlight he has as one of the richest people in the world, as CEO of very high-profile companies, and drawing it to this thing, and that is part of where I think it really matters," said Sherr. "Advertisers will likely look at this, and they're probably a little on edge anyway."
Joe Tuman is a political science professor at SF State.
"What's really remarkable I think in this situation is not just that he would say those particular things but that he would say anything like this at all, after claiming once he had acquired Twitter in this instance, that he was going to be instituting some rules about moderation," said San Francisco State political science professor Joe Tuman. "Donald Trump's hands, by the way, his handprints are all over this as well because he clearly wants back into Twitter. And I'll just make this statement tonight - I think part of the motivation for Elon Musk to want to have somebody like Donald Trump back as a regular user of Twitter - is Trump will bring thousands and thousands of people who followed him before he was banned," said Tuman.
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