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Semafor LogoKadia Goba
Kadia Goba
politics

Democratic lawmakers are looking for the exits in case Twitter implodes

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Title iconThe News
SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during a conversation with legendary game designer Todd Howard (not pictured) at the E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 13, 2019.
REUTERS/Mike Blake

Elon Musk’s daily Twitter wars have Democratic lawmakers looking for backup social media options in case the situation worsens, aides and members told Semafor.

“It's definitely time to prepare for life after Twitter,”  Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. said.

The Congressman said he is testing out Post, a new VC-backed Twitter rival still getting off the ground, while his wife is trying out Mastodon, an open-source platform that Musk is currently blocking links to on Twitter.

A number of Democrats have publicly criticized Musk’s recent decisions to suspend journalists, his conspiratorial tweets, and his abandonment of the prior management’s approach to hate speech and harassment. While no members are quitting just yet, several offices say they’re checking out new options and may change up their social media diet.

“I will continue to use Twitter as many people are still on it and utilize it for information about our services,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y. said in a statement to Semafor. “However, our focus will primarily be on TikTok and Instagram especially for providing the public with information on what happens in the halls of Congress. Additionally, we have joined Mastodon.”

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Elected Democrats publicly objected to Musk’s decision on Thursday evening to ban prominent journalists who had covered his business. Musk said the suspensions were for making various references to an also-suspended account that tracked his private jet, which he argued compromised his safety.

Some lawmakers are still demanding more information. A concerned Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass. noted on Thursday that her staff had met with Twitter earlier to discuss protections for journalists and had been assured Musk would not retaliate against critics.

An aide to Trahan told Semafor that their office has a Mastodon account “if we feel like we need to leave,” but that the latest moves were “not the deciding factor yet.”

Aaron Fritschner, an aide to Rep Don Beyer, D-Va. and a frequent tweeter himself, told Semafor that his office still planned on primarily using Twitter given its connection to a broad politically-minded audience. But if the audience moved, that could change.

“What Elon Musk is doing is forcing people to actively explore alternatives,” he said via text, pointing to Beyer’s use of Mastodon. “If/when we see more of the important political conversations moving off of Twitter in response to what Musk is doing, I do think you’ll see people reevaluating this logic.”

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In addition to the explosive political fights taking place publicly, there are also more mundane complaints about the quality of service under Musk. Some staff on both sides of the aisle have grumbled that Twitter is less responsive to day-to-day questions and concerns after mass layoffs.

Griping about Twitter was one of the site’s most popular uses even before Musk took over and some prominent Democrats are still planning on posting away.

“I have no plans to leave,” Rep Richie Torres, D-N.Y. told Semafor. “Twitter is a tragic necessity for elected officials.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who tweeted his way into #Resistance fame, is also sticking around. “Yeah, why not,” he told Semafor.

Progressive Twitter icon Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. told Musk she sympathized with his concerns about safety given the many online threats she faces, but urged him to find other ways to cope.

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“Take a beat and lay off the proto-fascism,” she tweeted. “Maybe try putting down your phone.”

undefined headshotKadia's view

Lawmakers have become so reliant on social media, especially Twitter, to reach their constituents, spin journalists, and even message to donors. that a hard pivot away from the platform seems too disruptive. When you factor in the obsession with likes and retweets among the most online politicians it seems implausible that verified political accounts will just abandon Musk’s Twitter. A slow migration to a successful heir to Twitter might be possible, but it’s hard to tell if that platform even exists yet.

Title iconThe View From Conservative Twitter

Twitter users on the right, even some who have criticized recent Musk decisions on bans, find the complaining a little rich. Where were Democrats when their favorite journalists were getting suspended over rules around harassment, they ask?

“Did any of these liberal hypocrites have the same kind of meltdown when Tucker Carlson was suspended for saying that there are only two genders?” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted.

Title iconThe View From Europe

Vera Jourova, EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency, warned Musk that arbitrarily banning journalists could violate EU rules around social media. Germany’s Foreign MInistry also criticized Musk, tweeting that "#FreedomOfThePress must not be switched on and off at will.”

Title iconNotable
  • Some of the suspended reporters were able to hold a conversation with other journalists on Twitter Spaces last night thanks to an apparent digital loophole, Buzzfeed reports, and Elon Musk even popped in briefly to reiterate his stance. Twitter Spaces was then taken down, which Musk later tweeted was to fix a “legacy bug.”
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