I Finally Left Xitter Because of Alex Jones

I Finally Left Xitter Because of Alex Jones

I Finally Left Xitter Because of Alex Jones

I regret not leaving all the other times I promised to. But on the Sandy Hook anniversary, I had to get out of there.

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I’ve written a version of this piece before. A year ago. I even had a good headline, and maybe a better reason.

“I Got Hacked in St. Elmo’s Dumpster Fire.

“My Twitter account was hijacked by scammers last week. I can’t get it back. If you care about digital security, it’s time to leave Musk’s alt-right hellsite.”

Such great advice!

I somehow got my account back. And while I tried to figure out how to download and deactivate it, little shimmers of Xitter’s old magic—yes, I love that obvious way to pronounce the name of the hellsite, “shitter”—kept me hooked. I had so many things to promote, but don’t I always? Books, documentaries, stories I’m so proud of. Plus my various Xits, which are I guess what they sound like, but they do go viral sometimes. And I get that little dopamine Xit.

Since that first time, I have threatened to leave constantly: whenever I get targeted by antisemites, Nazis, racists and misogynists—the core of Musk, call him Satan’s Elmo—his fire, the brothers in his clubhouse. But I have not.

But then Elmo brought in liar and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who spent years torturing the surviving parents of Sandy Hook by claiming that the school massacre was an invention of “crisis actors,” and that was too much for me. (Elmo hosted Jones along with sex-trafficking misogynist Andrew Tate and the worst GOP presidential candidate ever—including Donald Trump—Vivek Ramaswamy, on a Twitter Spaces platform Sunday night.) Why was Jones the final straw? I have very few breaking points, but the Sandy Hook massacre, in 2012, broke me. As the 10th anniversary of that horrific day approached, I was blessed to work through those memories with a surviving parent last year. I won’t link to the article that resulted—I’ll share it on Threads and Bluesky, later—because I don’t want to link her to my decision, which I made too late, to leave what was once a thriving digital public square, now irredeemably corrupted by Musk. Or to this conversation. I apologize. You know who you are.

But on the 11th anniversary of Sandy Hook, I won’t share any space with sadist carnival barker Alex Jones.

On that awful day in December 2012, I saw the nightmare unfolding for hours on MSNBC, where I had a 4 pm hit time. Of course, it had been set up earlier in the week, to discuss something entirely different.

But of course, it was all anyone wound up discussing that nightmarish day. At the very moment my friend and then-fellow MSNBC political analyst Karen Finney and I got on the air, we heard White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tell the American people that the Obama administration could now confirm that 20 kindergarteners and six school staff had been murdered that morning. Karen and I grabbed hands under the table for a moment. Our response was televised for anyone to see; I have no memory of what we said, only the shock and devastation that overtook me.

I spent the following weeks, maybe months, in profound grief. Seeing children made me cry. Parents of young children too. I lived in faith that at least we would restrict the weapons of war that sick, sad boy had gotten his hands on to kill the martyrs of Sandy Hook (oh, and his mother first.). All of that was perfectly clear to me. It was newly reelected President Barack Obama’s top priority.

But it didn’t happen. So many iterations of legislation, so many compromises watering down what the parents wanted, from what Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, wanted. It was all moved aside for the “brilliant” Manchin-Toomey compromise—yes, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, today headed out of the Senate because he can’t get reelected, behind former Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, who made the same calculation, against right-wing maniacs, a couple of years ago. I honestly don’t remember what exactly their watered-down compromise would have accomplished; I only know even that didn’t pass. And here we are 11 years later, with nothing to protect the millions of American schoolchildren from the same terrors that came for those in Sandy Hook.

Jelani Cobb, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, wrote the definitive piece about the moral and political urgency of liberals, progressives and all decent people leaving Twitter in The New Yorker right after Musk bought it, at the time I intended to—more than a year ago. Cobb wisely captured why folks like us had been there.

Scroll back to May 26, 2020, the day after the excruciating video of George Floyd’s murder went viral on the platform. First, a large crowd gathered on the streets of Minneapolis, then in Oakland, and then in Pensacola, and even in Frisco, Tex., and outside the Iowa Statehouse. Online outrage begat outrage in the streets. The flow of communication was lateral, not vertical. People informed their peers about the nature of our government’s failings. Were it not for social media, George Floyd—along with Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor—would likely have joined the long gallery of invisible dead Black people, citizens whose bureaucratized deaths were hidden and ignored. This is what was at stake, quietly and loudly, when Musk acquired Twitter.

Not long after Musk acquired Twitter, a very disturbed right-wing mook broke into Nancy Pelosi’s home with the goal of kidnapping her, and instead disabled her elderly husband Paul, a nightmare Musk tweeted a baseless conspiracy theory about. It wasn’t the ugliness of Musk’s tweet that made it so dangerous and decisive at the time, it was the clear signal that he’d bought Twitter so he and it could be a powerful vector for the worst conspiracy theories, the most deranged, pathological and the most potentially damaging assaults on our still fledgling project of democracy. Cobb got that, right away.

But I didn’t. Even then—and even after I’d been hacked!—I was in the category many people called “Resistance Twitter”: those determined not to let that right-wing “anti-woke” Trump-hugger Musk drive us away, leaving the once vital digital space to the racists, antisemites, misogynists, incels and other losers. They’d already turned Truth Social, Gettr, Gab and into playgrounds for the alt-right and into utter garbage; why let them do the same to Twitter? Musk would almost certainly fail in his $44 billion vanity play, maybe sooner than later. Why not wait and see what happens after that?

When I got hacked, of course, it got weird. I was selling PlayStations, for “charity.” Friends said I was DMing them with even crazier offers. I felt, with no evidence, that I’d been targeted, not just for my (then) 350,000 followers but for my political platform. I never proved that, and I stopped thinking it, though as I think back it seems less crazy now.

I immediately notified Twitter Support that I’d been hacked. It was useless for almost a week. In the meantime, I went through crazy, seemingly Twitter-sent rescues that were probably catfishing by the same hackers. I consulted cybersecurity friends. The most helpful told me to freeze all my credit accounts and make sure I had two-factor authentication on every account that mattered to me. (If you haven’t done that yet, please do that now.) There was nothing else to do.

Actual Twitter Support (I think) dutifully kept e-mailing; they’d added my latest complaints to the ever-growing file of my complaints. And then they disappeared as well.

A few days later, for no apparent reason, I got my account back. No explanation, it just appeared on my phone. And then on my laptop. Weirdly, though, my photos had been stripped. My profile photo had been my dog Sadie and my daughter’s dog Bear lying on a chair in matching sweaters. Not even artful. Boring Grandma photography.

Who would change that? Who would give the profile back without that photo? Does someone still have it somewhere? I don’t care. But it’s still so crazy.

And still I stayed on Twitter. And stayed and stayed.

A few days before my account strangely reappeared, while I still felt violated by losing my it and getting no response from Elmo, I’d written a screed about why everyone I cared about should leave:

Get out. No one cares about your digital security; no one will help you if things go badly. And if you’re distracted, or naïve, and you fall for a phishing link, many worse things could happen than losing your Twitter account. Also, as Jelani Cobb argued so well, let’s not line the pockets of the world’s wealthiest man, who is turning into the South African Trump if he wasn’t already. OK, we may not exactly be lining his pockets—he’s lost at least half of Twitter’s top advertisers; Apple publicly announced it’s not on the site because of trolls and bots; and already he’s lost at least a million users. In the end, Musk’s Twitter venture is likely to make him less wealthy rather than more.

Like so many people who’ve written these elegies, I made genuinely close friends there, people who even became more than friends, in real life. I connected with celebrities I’d admired (if my father only knew that Rob Reiner followed me; if my Happy Days–loving mom knew I traded DMs with Henry Winkler). I mourned deaths, from Amy Winehouse to Clarence Clemons to Ana Grace Marquez Greene, from Muhammed Ali to Aretha Franklin to Congressman John Lewis. On Twitter I first learned that Michael Brown’s dead body was sitting in the hot Ferguson, Mo., sun for hours in August 2014; I first saw the video of Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd in May 2020. And so very much more.

All of that, and everything like that that’s happened since, kept me from leaving Elmo’s fire.

I’m not sure why Musk’s welcoming Jones back broke me. Except it’s the ultimate example of not just the idiocy but the cruelty of the misinformation that has run the right in recent years. According to Jones, the 20 Sandy Hook kindergarteners, and their still-grieving parents, and their murdered teachers and murdered and still-beloved principal Dawn Hochsprung—they were all crisis actors deployed to take away our Second Amendment rights. Of course Jones did not believe that. It was just a product he peddled.

And now he’s claiming that he was misunderstood, just playing “devil’s advocate,” you know. “I had a very small operation and did not even understand how powerful I was,” the gazillionaire liar told Musk on their Twitter Spaces talk a couple of days ago. His “small operation” was told to pay the Sandy Hook families who sued him $1.5 billion, but his bankruptcy shenanigans have blocked it so far. He was not a small operation, only a very small man. And as we’ve learned so many times, very small men do big harm. Most notably, in this space, teeny-tiny manboys like Elmo.

At any rate, Musk’s welcoming Alex Jones back to Xitter shook me. But in a necessary way. Elon Musk is one of the worst people in the United States—he has a lot of company—but he is making sure Xitter is welcoming the worst of the worst. He’s already beckoned Trump back. He’s created a clubhouse of sad, uberwealthy, dangerous misfit misogynists. I know I’ll miss the old Twitter, which is mostly but not entirely already gone. But some moral decisions make themselves.

This did, for me. And I hope it will, for you. Join me on Threads and Bluesky.

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