Elon Musk has been criticised for seemingly attempting to resurrect the widely debunked QAnon conspiracy theory, “Pizzagate”.
Pizzagate was an anti-Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory promoted on 4chan, Reddit, Twitter and other platforms in the final days before the 2016 US presidential election, and is seen as a precursor to the QAnon movement.
Believers accused then presidential hopeful Ms Clinton and other senior Democrats of running a child sex trafficking ring out of the basement of a Washington DC pizza restaurant. The conspiracy theory led to a shooting at the restaurant – which turned out not to have a basement.
On Tuesday the billionaire tech entrepreneur shared a meme from from the US television comedy The Office on his social media platform X on Tuesday, which accused the “experts” that had debunked the theory of themselves being paedophiles.
The post, which was not labelled with a correctional “community note”, made reference to former ABC journalist James Gordon Meek who pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse image charges earlier this year.
“Does seem at least a little bit suspicious,” Mr Musk wrote, also linking to an article about Meek’s guilty plea.
Other X users suggested that Mr Musk had fallen for a fake New York Post headline which was circulated on the platform that associated Meek with the debunking of Pizzagate. The former journalist was not involved in the exposing of the conspiracy theory, according to a fact check by the Reuters news agency.
“So... Community notes? He’s just wildly transparent,” wrote one user.
Another added: “Man who controls Twitter/X and, while we’re on it, a majority of the earth’s satellites, among other things, sharing a *wildly* debunked conspiracy theory.
“We don’t just have "experts" – we *know* it was invented on 4chan. This is flirting with some incredibly dangerous stuff.”
Shayan Sardarizadeh, of the BBC Verify team, wrote in response: “The meme shared by Elon Musk about the pizzagate conspiracy theory is itself based on the completely false claim…
“... that James Gordon Meek, a journalist who recently pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography, had debunked pizzagate. Meek never reported on pizzagate.”
Another BBC disinformation journalist, Alistair Coleman added: “Your regular reminder that Pizzagate was created as a joke on a 4Chan message board, but spread because far too many people on social media aren’t particularly good at critical thinking. And here we are.”
The meme shared by Elon Musk about the pizzagate conspiracy theory is itself based on the completely false claim that James Gordon Meek, a journalist who recently pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography, had debunked pizzagate. Meek never reported on pizzagate. https://t.co/Z7Dc5cgNvJ
— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) November 28, 2023
By Tuesday lunchtime Mr Musk had apparently deleted the tweet.
It comes shortly after another online post by Mr Musk that attempted to link the founder of Media Matters – a left-leaning non-profit group that has accused X of promoting adverts from global companies alongside pro-Hitler content – to the owner of the Pizzagate restaurant.
Earlier this month, a slew of big brands, including Disney and IBM, decided to stop advertising on X after a report by Media Matters said ads were appearing alongside pro-Nazi content and white nationalist posts.
Mr Musk boosted a post rehashing the claims of links between the company and the restaurant owner by replying to it, with the one-word phrase: “Weird.”
Self-described “free-speech absolutist” Mr Musk has also come under fire on multiple occasions recently over content promoting antisemitism on the site, sparking outrage over his own posts and comments which have promoted antisemitic content.
On Wednesday November 15, Mr Musk described a post that said a post, had appeared to push the “great replacement” conspiracy theory on X, was “the actual truth”. The post claimed that Jewish communities “have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them”.
“You have said the actual truth,” Mr Musk wrote, a response which earned him praise from white nationalist Nick Fuentes – and accusations of antisemitism from dozens more, including the White House.
The billionaire met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who scolded him over content on his platform, and joined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a tour of the Kfar Azza kibbutz, a rural village that Hamas militants stormed on 7 October in a deadly assault that launched the war.
“The platforms you lead, unfortunately, have a huge reservoir of hatred, hatred of Jews and antisemitism,” Mr Herzog told him.