Russian broadcaster that argued for drowning Ukrainian children wants Elon Musk to reverse Twitter ban

October 27, 2022, 4:05 PM UTC
Pro-war broadcaster Russia Today is hoping Elon Musk will reverse its Twitter ban now that he’s set to acquire the social media company.
Muhammed Selim Korkutata—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Now that self-described “free speech absolutist” Elon Musk will soon hold the keys to the gates of Twitter, he’s become a popular man in far-right circles looking to disseminate their message.

The latest figure to seek a Twitter pardon from the incoming owner is the Kremlin-backed broadcaster that recently argued for Ukrainian children to be drowned in a river.

The outcry over the comments hasn’t stopped Russia Today’s controversial editor-in-chief from reaching out to Musk personally and requesting—in English—that he release her network from Twitter purgatory so that it can post on the social media platform as it sees fit. 

“Elon, since you’re all for free speech,” wrote Margarita Simonyan on Thursday, “maybe unban RT and Sputnik accounts and take the shadow ban off mine as well.” 

This term refers to when a platform’s algorithm deliberately reduces the reach of certain users by hiding posts relevant to interested readers. For example, while Simonyan’s account remains active, a search of her posts yields no results.  

RT is a staunch backer of the country’s invasion of Ukraine with Simonyan celebrating the deliberate targeting of civilians in Kyiv in retaliation for a strike against the Kerch Bridge, a key supply line for Russia’s occupying military forces: “There’s the answer for you.”

Her broadcaster made the news itself recently after the EU-sanctioned host of TV talk show The Antonyms, Anton Krasovsky, argued that Ukrainian children who saw Russians as threatening occupiers deserve to die. 

“Drown them,” he said last week, “right there where the ducklings swim.”

He later apologized after being suspended by Simonyan, who called the comments “disgusting.” 

Experts have warned that social media is the best thing to happen to hate speech groups since the invention of the internet, since corporations compete primarily for engagement. Investing money in policing the platform or moderating content only squeezes the bottom line, something Twitter whistleblower Peiter Zatko recently confirmed to Congress.

Musk himself has said he wants conservative voices like Donald Trump to return to Twitter, which should serve as a “fair forum for lively, even if occasionally rancorous, debate between widely divergent beliefs.”

Last week the Tesla CEO posted memes he later deleted that showed him favorably with Trump and Kanye West, despite allegations of anti-Semitism.

No free-for-all hellscape

Yet even if Musk proves willing to help Simonyan spread Russia’s message at home and abroad, it’s unclear what he could do in some jurisdictions. As state-owned entities, RT and Sputnik are the targets of sanctions and are geoblocked within the borders of the European Union. 

That is because RT serves as a megaphone for Vladimir Putin, whose 20-year-plus reign has crushed underfoot a once vibrant and free media landscape that first emerged under his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.  

Now the Russian president has made it illegal to protest his war. Male demonstrators of military age are subject to arrest and deployment to the front lines in Ukraine as punishment for speaking out against the war.

The request from Putin’s anti–free-speech employee Simonyan comes amid Thursday’s assertion by Musk that corporate advertisers have nothing to fear once he owns the social media platform.

“Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences,” he wrote on Thursday.

Earlier the Wall Street Journal reported that advertisers were considering cutting spending on Twitter, citing leading ad-buying agency GroupM. This would make it far more difficult for Musk and his fellow investors to earn a return on their $44 billion investment. 

Previously the Tesla CEO had hoped to extricate himself from the purchase contract he signed in April, opting to walk away in July citing spam accounts. 

Twitter sued him in court, and after Musk was unable to produce evidence supporting his claims, he acquiesced and agreed to pay in full without so much as a symbolic, face-saving reduction in the hefty purchase price.

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