+
upworthy
Family

Elon Musk answered a critic on Twitter. He forgot something very important: his fans.

Twitter can be a remarkable tool.

The ability to instantly send a message to your favorite athlete, a movie star, or even the president of the United States still seems like something out of a sci-fi novel. The platform's ubiquity also means you may even get responses from the famous people you reach out to. That's a good thing, right? As we're learning with each passing day, maybe it's not.

When a science writer tweeted criticism of billionaire Elon Musk, she got a personal response from him — and many of his followers.

Writing for The Daily Beast, Erin Biba recounted what happened when she addressed Musk's recent anti-media tirades and his criticism of nanotechnologist Upulie Divisekera being "100% synonymous with BS" on account of her job title.


"A billionaire w/massive power @elonmusk lashed out at two of the most under-attack industries in the country: Journalism and Science. Both are essential for democracy. We should criticize our important institutions, but we shouldn’t threaten their existence w/powerful ignorance," wrote Biba in a series of now deleted tweets. She also noted:

"In this country we deify self-made men who create empires and when they behave irresponsibly we call them 'eccentric' and say the good they have done for the world excuses their bad behavior. But instead we need to make these men look at themselves and recognize the true scope of their power and the RESPONSIBILITY TO HUMANITY that comes with it."

Musk replied, "I have never attacked science. Definitely attacked misleading journalism like yours though."

Now, there's nothing too terrible about his response. In fact, it's the exact kind of reaction any of us might have when facing criticism we feel is unwarranted or unfair. The difference between you, me, and Biba is that Musk has, at the time of this writing, 21.9 million Twitter followers.

A number of those followers took Musk's response to Biba as an invitation to attack her. (She illustrates a number of examples in her story; they're pretty graphic.)

Her story raises a great question about what responsibility people with large followings have to mitigate harassment done in their name, if any.

There are no easy answers here. The truth is that there's a big difference between someone with 20 followers and someone with 20 million followers. Both people can respond to criticism in the exact same way with massively different outcomes.

In response to Biba's article, author Neil Gaiman opened up about some of the lessons in responsibility he's learned in recent years and why "with great power comes great responsibility when you have millions of followers."

Photos by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images and Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

He began with his own experience, saying, "I screwed up very badly almost a decade ago a couple of times, and was called out by friends, before I understood that arguing on Twitter in front of millions of followers can be bullying."

For the next several hours, Gaiman responded to occasional questions about his worldview and what he sees as his social responsibility on social media. "If you set people on other people it's bullying, even if you think you have right on your side," he wrote.

But really it comes down to "not being a dick."

Gaiman brushed off criticism that saying that people with large followings should take extra care not to subject people to an onslaught of harassment was itself a form of censorship, chalking it up to etiquette.

Most importantly, however, he said this: "I learned long ago that there are ways of doing Twitter that discourage followers from 'dogpiling,' and that's an important thing to be aware of when you have many followers. I learned it from doing it wrong, and being called out kindly by friends I respect."

This story could just as well be about any celebrity with a large following or intense fanbase.

This isn't about Elon Musk, specifically, but the way we navigate technology and the new ways it has enabled us to communicate with one another. Again, Musk's response to Biba was fine. Look at it in a vacuum, and it'd be hard to pinpoint the issue beyond a bit of mutual snark. The overwhelming majority of his Twitter followers are also, I'm sure, good people who don't harass others. But if even just one out of every 1,000 followers is the type of overzealous user who views criticism of Musk as something they need to personally address, that still amounts to nearly 22,000 people.

[rebelmouse-image 19469695 dam="1" original_size="750x397" caption="After a writer tweeted "Hey has @elonmusk denounced his antisemitic followers yet or is he still yelling at scientists?" he received a number of threatening images." expand=1]After a writer tweeted "Hey has @elonmusk denounced his antisemitic followers yet or is he still yelling at scientists?" he received a number of threatening images.

This issue plays out all the time and is often framed in a way that suggests the celebrity has cultivated a uniquely toxic fanbase, but that's not true. The issue — whether discussing fans of Elon Musk, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, or anyone else — is that all it takes to completely ruin someone's day (or worse) is for a tiny minority of any of these individuals' fans to lash out. An overzealous Musk fan isn't Musk's fault nor is Swift responsible for the most outrageous acts undertaken by her legion of "Swifties."

There are things celebrities can do to discourage dogpiles.

Some celebrities, such as President Donald Trump, bring out the worst their fans. After being elected president in 2016, Trump was asked about instances of his supporters harassing minority groups. He half-heartedly turned to the camera and said, "Stop it." Given that this came after a campaign filled with racist rhetoric and violent imagery at his rallies, his on-air plea to his supporters came across rather unconvincing.

Even if he'd been more careful about his language or been more convincing in denouncing harassment, a number of his supporters would have probably have done it anyway. Like Musk, Trump cannot be held responsible for every action by his supporters. Still, if you're a celebrity, there's definitely some benefit in letting people know you don't want them to cause harm in your name. It won't solve every issue, but it will almost certainly help.

That's what Musk did, clearing the air a few hours after Biba's article was published:

He took a proactive step to minimize the effects of harassment.

The lesson here is about empathy and the importance of not causing others harm.

A common criticism, as posed to Gaiman, is that suggesting people take into account how their followers might react to something is tantamount to being forced to give up "free speech." What this fails to examine is how the fear that posting criticism of the president or a billionaire CEO will result in days of harassment might also have a chilling effect on "free speech" as a concept.

Social media also has a flattening effect in which people see someone like Trump singling out a family who criticized him as him just pushing back — failing to take into account that he is the president of the United States (and before that, a candidate for president and business tycoon).

These types of power dynamics exist everywhere, but we're usually able to navigate them a bit easier in the offline world.

For example, imagine you're at a baseball game and someone sitting in the row behind you deliberately spills a drink on your head. You might pop up ready for a fight, ready to get in their face. Now imagine the drink was spilled by a toddler. Would you still be ready to fight the toddler? Would you still get in the toddler's face? Probably not. This is because we all understand the importance of proportional responses. On the internet, this gets lost.

If we can find a way to bring offline proportionality and understanding of power dynamics to the world of social media, we can improve the way we communicate and live up to some of the platform's loftier ideals.

"Freddie Mercury" by kentarotakizawa is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Fans are thrilled to hear Freddie Mercury's iconic voice once again.

Freddie Mercury had a voice and a stage presence unlike any other in rock music history. His unique talents helped propel the band Queen to the top of music charts and created a loyal fan base around the world.

Sadly, the world lost that voice when Mercury died of AIDS at age 45. For decades, most of us have assumed we'd heard all the music we were going to hear from him.

However, according to Yahoo! Entertainment, remaining Queen members Roger Taylor and Brian May announced this summer that they had found a never-released song they'd recorded with Mercury in 1988 as they were working on the album "The Miracle."

Keep ReadingShow less

Doorbell camera catches boy's rant about mom's chicken

When you're a kid you rarely have a lot of say in what you get to eat for dinner. The adult in your house is the one that gets to decide and you have to eat whatever they put on your plate. But one little boy is simply tired of eating chicken and he doesn't care who knows it. Well, he cares if his mom knows.

Lacy Marie uploaded a video from her doorbell camera to TikTok her son. The little boy is caught on camera taking the trash out venting about always having to eat chicken. He rants all the way to the trash can, being sure to get it out of his system before he makes it back into the house.

"Chicken. No more chicken. Tell me you like, we have chicken every day. Eat this, eat that, eat more chicken, keep eating it," the 10-year-old complains. "It's healthy for you. Like, we get it. We have chicken every day."

Keep ReadingShow less


We all know that Americans pay more for healthcare than every other country in the world. But how much more?

According an American expatriate who shared the story of his ER visit in a Taiwanese hospital, Americans are being taken to the cleaners when we go to the doctor. We live in a country that claims to be the greatest in the world, but where an emergency trip to the hospital can easily bankrupt someone.

Kevin Bozeat had that fact in mind when he fell ill while living in Taiwan and needed to go to the hospital. He didn't have insurance and he had no idea how much it was going to cost him. He shared the experience in a now-viral Facebook post he called "The Horrors of Socialized Medicine: A first hand experience."

Keep ReadingShow less
Democracy

Arizona election official posts perfect response to woman who received two mail-in ballots

These kinds of clear, concise explanations are the best way to battle misinformation about how votes actually get counted.

A woman received two ballots in the mail. Is that a problem?

Since having elected leaders instead of kings is a hallmark of our democratic system, Americans share a common concern for election integrity. But for some, that concern has grown into full-blown conspiracy theories and misinformation about election fraud since before Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.

Despite dozens of lawsuits either being dismissed as groundless or lost on their merit in court, people still try to claim that the 2020 election was rife with fraud.

One of the primary targets of those fraud claims is mail-in ballots. People haven't seemed to wrap their minds around how mail-in ballots can be secure and how people can be prevented from voting twice if they happen to have more than one ballot mailed to them.

Turning Point USA field rep Aubrey Savela shared a photo of two official Arizona ballots with her name on them to X, with the caption, "Maricopa county at its finest… My first time ever voting in a presidential preference election and I received not one but two mail-in ballots.Thank you @stephen_richer."

Keep ReadingShow less

A penguin and the planet SAturn.

Some folks just have a knack for remembering all sorts of random facts. They're the stars at trivia nights, but sometimes, they come off as too much of a know-it-all.

Do you ever wonder why some people seem to be better at recalling random facts than others? Monica Thieu, a multi-time “Jeopardy!” contestant, studied the phenomenon and found that people who are great at trivia and remember random facts could also recall the situation and content when they first learned the fact.

So, someone who is excellent at remembering random facts won’t just remember that Grant is buried in Grant's Tomb. They will also remember that they learned it on a sunny day while on a walking tour of Riverside, New York.

(President Ulysses Grant is buried in Grant’s Tomb, which is located in Riverside, New York.)

Keep ReadingShow less
Community

Hotel is giving away 10 all-expense-paid trips to help rebuild Patagonia hiking trail

Post your video entry by March 15 for a chance to do some good while exploring one of the world's most stunning ecosystems.

Las Torres Patagonia

Torres del Paine National Park

In the far southern reaches of South America, Patagonia beckons adventurers with its striking landscape. Rugged mountain peaks, deep valley vistas, pristine lakes, virgin forests, coastal cliffs and more combine to make this semi-arid land a paradise for nature lovers and photographers alike.

If you've ever seen a photo like this…

hiking trail next to a lake in patagoniaHiking trail at Torres del Paine National Park in PatagoniaLas Torres Patagonia

…and thought, "I have to go see that turquoise water for myself," now's your chance. Las Torres Patagonia is offering an all-expense-paid trip (including airfare) for 10 lucky winners to travel to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and stay at the all-inclusive Las Torres Patagonia hotel for five days.

Keep ReadingShow less