Who Is JESSE LEHRICH and Why Is He So Afraid of ELON MUSK Buying Twitter? (Opinion)

Jesse Lehrich, whose “Accountable Tech” nonprofit is a part of Hillary Clinton’s “Onward Together” PAC, is very scared of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter. Here are some thoughts on why that’s the case for the former Hillary Clinton foreign policy spokesman who likely helped pen the letter calling for brands to demand that Musk maintain Twitter’s censorship status quo.

In a recent open letter written to monolithic corporations such as Coca-Cola and Disney, the nonprofit Accountable Tech, along with 25 other NGOs, called for the major brands to secure “commitments from [Twitter] to retain its most critical policies, including on civic integrity and hateful conduct, and threaten to withdraw funding if [the social media company] does not comply.” The letter, which was sent just prior to the 2022 NewFronts digital advertising conference, comes following Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter.

In response to the letter, Elon Musk tweeted “Who funds these organizations that want to control your access to information? Let’s investigate …” So Sense Receptor did investigate. Beginning with Accountable Tech Co-Founder Jesse Lehrich. Lehrich, who “has a decade of experience in political communications and issue advocacy,” served as the foreign policy spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Lehrich notes in his brief bio on Accountable Tech’s website that he was, specifically, “part of the team managing the response to Russia’s information warfare operation.”

In response to Elon blasting a clarion call for deep-dive research Lehrich quote-tweeted Elon, saying: “many thanks for broadcasting our letter to your 90M followers, Elon.” Lehrich added “to be clear, I take it you won’t commit to keeping even Twitter’s basic safeguards against hateful conduct & harassment in place?”

In its own response tweet (likely written and/or vetted by Lehrich), Accountable Tech asked ironically, “Did we strike a nerve, [Elon Musk]?” The tweet goes on to note that “We asked you to maintain Twitter’s basic safeguards against hate, harassment, and harmful disinformation. Or will that not be a priority for your platform?” The tweet then links “[Elon’s] advertisers” to its open letter.

In the open letter—which features Accountable Tech’s name alongside that of Media Matters for America and Ultraviolet, front and center, at the top of the first page—the 26 NGOs claim that “Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter will further toxify our information ecosystem and be a direct threat to public safety, especially among those already most vulnerable and marginalized.” The letter, which was quite possibly drafted by Lehrich, goes on to say that “Under Musk’s management, Twitter risks becoming a cesspool of misinformation, with your brand attached, polluting our information ecosystem in a time where trust in institutions and news media is already at an all-time low.”

But why, exactly, are Lehrich et al. so frightened of Elon Musk purchasing Twitter? According to Lehrich himself (in the interview immediately below):

“I’ve listened pretty carefully to the types of comments that [Musk has] made about free speech, and his free speech absolutism, and I think… content moderation is hard. There [are] tradeoffs, there [are] different dynamics in every country and you’re operating a global platform and the casualness he talks about this stuff, it sounds more like a little kid that happens to have the most money in the world than someone who’s thought long and hard about how they’re going to moderate a global platform.”

Lehrich also notes that Musk’s purchase of Twitter:

“would be a good thing if he was serious about it. If he had thought through it more than a few minutes and actually had like, real plans to figure out what’s the responsible way to make our algorithms more transparent. What’s the right way to share this information without letting bad actors take advantage of it—I think more openness, more transparency, more accountability for these platforms is great, but, I just don’t have a lot of confidence that Elon has spent more than a few minutes thinking about any of this.”

At one point in the interview Lehrich bluntly summarizes his thoughts on the matter: “I don’t think Elon has a very sophisticated understanding of freedom of expression.”

But are these the real reasons Lehrich is so ghastly afraid of Musk’s Twitter acquisition? Or are there other motives—perhaps political ones—at play?

Interestingly, Lehrich is not only a former foreign policy spokesman for Hillary Clinton, but Accountable Tech also joined the “Onward Together Family” in December of 2020. Onward Together, which is “dedicated to advancing the vision that earned nearly 66 million votes [for Hillary] in the 2016 election,” is an American political action organization (or PAC) that was founded in May 2017 by Clinton herself. (The Washington Post reported in February of 2018 that “Federal election filings [showed] that Clinton’s Hillary for America political committee transferred $800,000 in May to Onward Together. A person close to the group called it an ‘incubator’ and said it has given out more than $1 million over the past year.”)

“It’s a tremendous honor to join the Onward Together family, and to have the opportunity to work alongside such a dynamic coalition of leaders in the fight for a more just future,” Accountable Tech wrote in a December 2020 press release. “Our broken information ecosystem poses urgent and intersectional threats” that “disproportionately harm” women and “communities of color,” the organization adds.

Would Lehrich’s near-direct funding from Hillary Clinton naturally pit him against Musk anyway, despite his general thoughts on fair and safe online interaction and the polymath billionaire’s supposed childishness in this context? That would certainly make sense.

Some of the largest—indeed, historical—suspensions Twitter has dished out in the past have, unequivocally, damaged the Republican party and served to aid the Democrats. The social media giant, for example, suspended President Donald Trump from Twitter for violating its content policy guidelines. Likewise, Twitter temporarily suspended The New York Post when it attempted to expose the—very real and very incriminating—laptop belonging to President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. (That suspension happened in the thick of the 2020 presidential race.)

One doesn’t even need to imagine that under Musk’s leadership Twitter wouldn’t have allowed either of those suspensions. Indeed, in tweets posted on May 2, 2022 (some of which are immediately above), the Tesla and SpaceX CEO called out NBC for covering up the “Hunter Biden laptop story,” having the Harvey Weinstein story “early” and killing it, and building “Matt Lauer his rape office.” Musk also said, in reference to comments made by Mehdi Hasan on MSNBC, that “NBC [is] basically saying Republicans are Nazis …”

Not only wouldn’t the diminishment of Twitter’s censorship status quo likely hurt Democrats more than it would Republicans overall, but both Lehrich and Hillary support the European Union’s Digital Services Act. The Act, which the American Action Forum notes “focuses on content moderation and online advertising” and seeks to “aggressively” regulate “online intermediaries and platforms,” is likely something Musk wouldn’t take to with much receptivity. Especially considering the Act’s overly broad language, which calls for “consistent, cross-border supervision of these online intermediaries.”

In a tweet on May 5, 2022, Accountable Tech posted screenshots of a tweet from itself linking to a CNN article covering the open letter to musk, as well as a tweet from The New York Times saying, in part, that “Numerous advertising executives say they’re willing to move their money elsewhere, especially if Elon Musk gets rid of the safeguards that allowed Twitter to remove racist rants and conspiracy theories.” Lehrich’s organization wrote in response to the screenshots “Progress from Tuesday to Thursday.”

As of this writing Musk has not acknowledged any of Lehrich’s or Accountable Tech’s claims or questions. It’s unclear if he cares, or if he’ll prefer to simply deal with Hillary Clinton herself regarding any issues he may run into with Lehrich in the future.

Feature image: Accountable Tech

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