The wealthiest man in the world took to his social media platform on Sunday morning to spread disinformation about the 82-year-old who had been beaten in the head with a hammer by an intruder.
In response to a tweet Hillary Clinton sent out about how David DePape, the suspect in the attack on Paul Pelosi, spread far-right conspiracy theories, Musk responded, "There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye," and included a link to a false article that claimed Paul Pelosi and a male sex worker had been in a drunken quarrel.
The article appeared in the Santa Monica Observer, an outlet that has proven itself to be unreliable at best. For example, in 2016, the paper claimed that Hillary Clinton had died on September 11 and had been replaced by a body double.
Musk's tweet, posted at 8:15 a.m. EDT, remained up until the afternoon and caused the Santa Monica Observer's website to crash.
On Twitter, Musk has more than 112 million followers.
Musk deleted the tweet after hours of criticism, but not before it was liked and retweeted tens of thousands of times.
In a Monday appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, NBC senior reporter Ben Collins, who covers internet disinformation and extremism, explained the stakes of this kind of disinformation.
"Lies on the internet move faster than the truth, and that's, in part, why there are all of these safeguards that Elon Musk is trying to take down on Twitter right now," Collins said. "The lies that were pushed were from bad pieces of information they found. For example, they said that Paul Pelosi was in his underwater. Of course, he was, at 2:30 in the morning, at the time he was attacked. That led them to believe this was a lover's quarrel between two different people that knew each other. The reason they believed they knew each other is because police put out a statement saying they didn't really know who opened the door. That led them to believe there was a third person in the house."
Collins continued to explain the birth of this homophobic conspiracy theory.
"From there, there was this world-building on the pro-Trump Internet. What could be the opposite of reality here? And the opposite of reality they came up with was these two people were having a lover's quarrel in the house, and the police sort of intruded on us. That's fundamentally incorrect. It was pushed by the richest man in the world, and then yesterday, it was pushed by Donald Trump Jr., who posted a picture of underwear and a hammer and said it was a Halloween costume for Paul Pelosi."
The time for concern has passed, said Collins, who spends most of his time browsing the darkest recesses of the Internet.
"If we don't cut this out right now — not just the normalization of violence — but the idea that reality can't even exist anymore because it cannot catch up to the lies on the Internet. I'm not a scholar on authoritarian history, but I've read all of these people. This is how it gets really bad. This is the start of something that gets really, really bad. If you are getting the guardrails off the truth, where it literally cannot catch up to the lies on the Internet because of how the pipe works, how the systems works, because of the incentives of the richest people in the world, then that's how you lose your democracy."
Paul Pelosi and the suspect did not know each other before the incident, according to police, contrary to the Santa Monica Observer's false claims.
The suspect allegedly broke into the Pelosi home in San Fransico early Friday, yelling "Where is Nancy?"
Musk and Twitter did not respond to The Advocate's request for comment.