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Read Part 1 here:
On Monday 2 May, as Elon Musk attended the Met Gala with his mom, Politico broke the news that the Supreme Court had decided to overturn Roe v. Wade, in a leaked opinion authored by Samuel Alito that was “a full-throated, unflinching repudiation of the 1973 decision which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights.”
It was a story that dominated the news—and Twitter—for the rest of the week as the backlash prompted nationwide protests.
One space-loving billionaire who wasn’t shy about telling the world his view that “everyone should have the right to a safe abortion if they choose to have one,” was Richard Branson. “It’s a personal choice that no government should interfere with,” he wrote in blog post shared on Twitter.
Bill Gates tweeted both his shock at the decision and his unequivocal support of a woman’s right to choose.
But suddenly avid tweeter Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, a self-proclaimed champion of “free speech,” a man willing to spend $44 billion to buy Twitter because it’s “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” had absolutely nothing to say about the one matter of vital importance to more than half the US population.
He didn’t tweet an opinion.
He didn’t link to an article.
He didn’t even share the reactions of Twitter users whose voices he could choose to amplify in this historic moment.
OK, He Did One Thing.
The one thing he did was reply to Tim Urban, creator of the popular Wait But Why website.
I don’t know much about Tim Urban, but Elon Musk apparently likes him a lot, has asked him to write about him and his companies, and follows and engages with him on Twitter quite often.
Urban and Musk are obviously very intelligent people. But based on this 2015 article, their belief that they are smarter about the world than other people, especially politicians, often ends up making them look like idiots.
Case in point:
Musk’s only tweet responding to the leaked SCOTUS ruling was to reply “Accurate” to an infographic Tim Urban posted stating that the only people denied abortion after this new ruling would be “women in states where abortion is illegal who do not have the means to travel to other states for a procedure.”
(Note: As a “reply” this tweet would only get shown: a) in the feeds of users who follow both Musk and Urban, which means it doesn’t get blasted to Musk’s 91 million followers, but to a subset of Urban’s 566,000 followers; b) to people who look at the replies to Urban’s tweet, or; c) to people who actively look at the “Tweets & Replies” tab on Musk’s page.)
While everyone else is freaking out on social media and in the real world, Twitter bros Urban and Musk are exuding calm.
To them, overturning Roe v. Wade is no biggie.
I mean, women “with means” can still get abortions, right? That’s not going to change. And I’m sure Republican politicians will find a way to pay their mistress’s travel expenses without their wives finding out if it comes to that (as it often does).
Urban’s Musk-approved infographic also cavalierly ignores the undue burden having to travel OUTSIDE ONE’S HOME STATE puts on a girl or woman even if she “has the means” to make the trip. Is she going alone? Staying overnight? Taking time off work? Who is looking after her family? etc. etc.
Urban’s infographic also takes an extremely casual approach to the medical and emotional circumstances that might play into the decision to have an abortion. What is a teenage victim of rape or incest supposed to do to get her out-of-state abortion? What does a woman do when faced with a life-threatening third trimester medical crisis?
One guy who does understand this better than most is Pete Buttigieg, whose remarks at a 2019 town hall made the rounds again this week.
Partial transcript of Pete Buttigieg discussing “late-term” abortions with Chris Wallace in 2019
Maybe Letting the Government Dictate Medical Decisions Is Not Such a Great Idea?
One other thing Urban and Musk discount is the fact that the SCOTUS opinion is written in a way that makes clear this is just the prologue.
In fact, Urban’s infographic was obsolete the moment it was shared.
Republicans in Louisiana are already looking to classify all abortions as homicide from the moment of conception. The penalty for that would be “murder prosecutions, punishable by life without parole.”
Oklahoma is already looking to crack down on birth control.
Meanwhile, as Pam Belluck and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write in the New York Times:
Many conservative states have already begun passing laws to restrict medication abortion, including banning it earlier than 10 weeks’ gestation and requiring patients to visit providers in person despite F.D.A. rules. Nineteen states ban the use of telemedicine for abortion. This year, Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group, listed laws against medication abortion as first among the organization’s “pressing priorities” for 2022.
And as Paul Waldman writes in The Washington Post:
The right to use birth control could go next, because the 1965 case that guaranteed it, Griswold v. Connecticut, was the foundation on which Roe was built. The conservatives could reverse Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that guaranteed marriage equality.
Heck, under the rationale Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. used in his decision, even Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state laws outlawing interracial marriage, would be vulnerable.
As the Republican Senate primary in Ohio just proved, Elon Musk’s formerly libertarian (and openly gay) PayPal buddy Peter Thiel is now a MAGA kingmaker, helping fund the GOP’s extremist plan to bring government-mandated misery to anybody seeking control of their body or the choice of who to marry.
It’s possible that Musk has no opinion or doesn’t feel qualified to talk about abortion rights. But that’s never stopped him before. So maybe he doesn’t want to say anything to annoy Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Larry Ellison right now.
Musk Is About to Find Out How Much He Needs Women
But his plan apparently includes firing 1,000 “woke” employees as part of the takeover. And there’s no indication that he will make any special effort to hire women at the company in greater numbers than he has at his other companies.
The reality is, meeting his ambitious revenue targets will be tough if Musk fails to convince female users that his commitment to “free speech” includes the guard rails that will limit the kind harassment that women routinely experience online from guys like him.
Women currently represent only 30% of Twitter users, but past research has shown that female “power users” are among the most prolific users of the platform. Musk’s plan to grow from 217 million users today to 931 million users in 2028 while simultaneously getting rid of spambots just can’t be achieved without women.
If he is truly committed to figuring out the business, Musk should get serious about “free speech” and engage with experts in the field to get a better understanding of free expression, the First Amendment and how “Terms of Service” should be communicated and enforced.
Instead of trolling them on Twitter, Musk could spend more time seriously engaging, amplifying and championing women on the platform.
Musk didn’t even follow any women during his first seven years on Twitter. Today, he only follows 14, including his mom, his sister and his ex-wife.
Instead of relying on Tim Urban explainers, Musk should take more time to educate himself about the realities of major political issues—starting with reproductive freedom and all the rights that could fall like dominoes once the chapters of the “GOP Handmaid’s Tale” start getting written.
Today is Mother’s Day. And Elon does seem to love his mom. But it’s time for him to rethink how he interacts with the rest of the women in the world
Because as women’s rights take center stage, Musk needs to prove to women that he can manage—and clean up—“the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
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