December 1, 2023

Did Elon Musk use the word "blackmail" incorrectly? Jonathan Chait thinks so...

... and makes much of it, in "Elon Musk Doesn’t Understand What ‘Blackmail’ Means/Companies refusing to pay for your ads is not blackmail" (NY Magazine).

We were just talking about the Elon Musk statement — "If somebody's going to try to blackmail me with advertising — blackmail me with money — go fuck yourself" — and I, a law professor, didn't think of going technical on the word "blackmail." Musk wasn't purporting to make a legal argument, and he was speaking spontaneously, and it was easy to grasp what he was saying: You can't use money to control what I do. He wasn't using the word "fuck" literally either. 

Chait writes:
Blackmail is a specific crime in which the perpetrator threatens to release public information unless the victim pays them or performs some service.
But Chait isn't really about what legal terms technically mean. 
[D]eclining to spend advertising money on a platform because the owner not only permits crazy and offensive comments to proliferate on it but also personally contributes his own crazy and offensive comments to the site, is not only not blackmail, it’s not even in the same universe as blackmail. In a capitalist economy, firms are free to spend money as they choose. It is not only permissible, but expected, that they will allocate their advertising dollars to associate their brands with safe, noncontroversial content rather than conspiracy-addled maniacs like Musk.

Did Chait listen to the whole context of Musk's quote? I did. And I can tell you that Musk agreed with the proposition that it's a free market and advertisers can go where they want. He also said that X is the best platform, that he's making it good according to his standards, which he won't compromise, and that advertisers will lose out if they avoid it. He said he looks forward to the ongoing competition and predicts he'll win. 

If Musk were threatening to sue Disney for withdrawing its ads, Chait's argument would make more sense. 

75 comments:

Wince said...

Chait writes:
Blackmail is a specific crime in which the perpetrator threatens to release public information unless the victim pays them or performs some service.

As far as technical definitions are concerned, isn't blackmail the threat to publicly release confidential information, not a threat to release "public information"?

Joe Biden Is Corrupt said...

Musk - report to the speech crime gulag. Your gray prison pants are ready. Outrage.

Bob Boyd said...

"These stupid rocket scientists...they really tax my patience sometimes." - Wily Johnny Chait, Super Genius

Joe Biden Is Corrupt said...

Only crazy leftist BS is allowed.

Rich said...

Blackmailing Musk with Money is like threatening the sea that you’ll pee in it.

Great strategy: insult your customers. Bound to succeed. Should be taught at business schools.

In my view, pressure is generally created by his internal value system and way of seeing the world. For example, he would seem to interpret people stopping doing business with ExTwitter as blackmail. I can’t think of many business people that would make that argument instead of looking at their business and asking ‘how can I serve my customers better?" Unhappy customer taking away business is not equal to blackmail

The Crack Emcee said...

There's no consequences for the rich, so why should we care? Blackmail, at worst, would be a fine for these guys - a fine which they could all easily pay - so what's any of it matter? I'm still locked out of X, under my own name, over a photo of Obama and Oprah, that I posted when Jack Dorsey owned it. That's the difference.

They can all go fuck themselves at this point.

Big Mike said...

Blackmail is a specific crime in which the perpetrator threatens to release public information unless the victim pays them or performs some service.

Release public information? Chait and I see to have different ideas about the distinction between public and private information.

Lefties like Chaitt are too busy with self-congratulation to look at the whole interview the way you did, Professor Althouse.

Bob Boyd said...

It is not only permissible, but expected, that they will allocate their advertising dollars to associate their brands with safe, noncontroversial content

That used to be the case, but it is no longer true. Now they are expected to be "allies".

tim in vermont said...

Most of the "elite media," and I include in this specialized media like Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs, exist not to explain to us what is happening, but to provide talking points to midwits, regarding the things that the elites think we need to believe in order for them to get what they really want, which, of course, we wouldn't understand.

Dr. Graphene said...

Jonathan Chait is a moron. (I am feeling charitable this morning.)

gilbar said...

lefties Sure Are Upset with musk's X
isn't That Weird? After all.. ALL lefties have SAID that they were leaving the platform.
Don't believe me? Just go on X, you'll see it's full of lefties posting that they'll NEVER post there

Since no lefties post there (which we know, from the multitude of leftie posts there saying so),
We can assume that No lefties ever even go there (which again, we Know, from the leftie posts complaining about other posts there)..
And since ALL PROPER COMPANIES (those controlled by Blackrock) have SAID they'll NEVER advertise there..
What's the Problem? musk is (OBVIOUSLY!) a poor deluded has been, with NO INFLUENCE in ANYTHING!
right? i mean, right?

the man is what? the 8,100,000,000th POOREST person, ON EARTH?
let the poor man fade away

Heartless Aztec said...

Since Elon has "fuck you" money he should threaten to sue Disney. That would put paid to the term "fuck you". It would be...MAD. Mutually Assured Deterrence.

fairmarketvalue said...

Chait's writing always makes him seem to me to be a very bitter man who got beat up alot in high school and is always seeking revenge against those Neaderthals who beat up on him by writing shit.

Aggie said...

"If Musk were threatening to sue Disney for withdrawing its ads, Chait's argument would make more sense. "

Who said anything about making sense? Chait isn't interested in 'making sense'. He mostly likes to imagine other people's reactions, when reading what he writes. And he is a committed leftist, so, he likes the solidarity of the attack.

I thought Musk was quite clear with his response, and I bet Bob did too. I admire Musk not for his wealth but for his achievements, and I recognize them as beneficial contributions to society. I think the Tesla EV is innovative but will ultimately not make it as a concept. But his accomplishments in the space program is stunning.

Kevin said...

Now do insurrection.

Terry di Tufo said...

"He wasn't using the word "fuck" literally either." I doubt I could have passed a law school course taught by you but it would have been worth the F.

rehajm said...

The not blackmail argument is the best they can do. It is all they have outside of corrupt government intervening. When Musk calls them gestapo tactics this Chiat doosh will not be able to try and discredit Musk by claiming they are not…

rehajm said...

Do think the Chiat doosh read the Althouse comments yesterday and was…inspired? Full credit Althousians

John henry said...

Is "blackmail" a specific legal term? Can chait point to a statute in which the word appears?

Or is it a colloquial or slang term, not specifically defined by law?

John Henry

MadisonMan said...

Chait has received the memo to attack Elon Musk all the time. Is there a Musk Derangement Syndrome tag? Maybe there should be -- although I know you're not a fan of adding too many tage.

rehajm said...

Is the Chiat doosh the one what wrote how it was illegal to boycott Bud Light?

iowan2 said...

Leftist often engage in pedantry, when the facts are just too overwhelming against their narrative. Much the same as the grammar police in comments.
Chait is not attempting to debate the issue. The left resorts to weak attempts at smearing their adversary.

The scary part for Chait and his handlers, remains that Musk wont respond to the pain the left tries to administer.

Go back to Rush Limbaugh. The left attacked him for 30+ years. Multiple attempts to squeeze his advertisers. But Rush did the hard work and showed his advertisers, the on line mob was an apparition. A shapeless form with zero substance. A couple hundred people could make themselves look like a million .. .

Musk, and Trump, scare the Democrats into idiocy. Because, they have spent there entire life creating, building, succeeding, by getting results. They know how to get things done, not spend all their energy inflating their poll numbers.
Trump proved the government can get things done, IF that's the goal.
Trump exposed the govt as all talk and no action/

Data Schlepper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ga6 said...

If Eon said up Johnny and Jonathan would say he meant down...

Howard said...

Who the fuck cares. The blackmail topic was the absolute least interesting thing about the Twitter/X portion of interview with Musk yesterday. The most gobsmacking thing that Elon said about his takeover of Twitter/X is how he is using all of the content, which apparently exceeds Google and Facebook, to feedback into his AI program Grok.

What that tells me is ultimately he doesn't need the advertisers, he just needs the users of X to keep posting shit. That's why he said that the "judge" will decide. When pressed on who the "judge" is, Musk said it's the people, the general public.

This just points to the fact that everyone, from the MSM social media and all the sad desperate angry comments here yesterday on the interview thread, is so focused on making stupid superficial kneejerk silly gotcha political points that they completely miss the meaty aspects of the topic.

Rob C said...

The "blackmail" part of it was probably aimed more at Media Matters and the sleaze ball way they tried to set up X as a peddler of hate. The fact that Disney used that as an excuse to withdraw advertising dollars completes the transaction. Basically it was the typical liberal establishment "lovely business you have here, shame if anything were to happen to it" BS. In fact, Chait is participating in it trying to run cover and blame it on Musk instead of MMFA.

Jake said...

lol. Chait is such a wussy cuck.

Leland said...

I understood Musk's comments regarding blackmail. The whole effort by Media Matters is identical to the Economic Social Governance (ESG) strategies used on companies to manipulate the free markets in ways that a government can't otherwise do. For instance, using government and social pressures to curtail free speech by attacking the business interests of a company that is not complying. The legality of these efforts are questionable, and they are being questioned in courts and being addressed by SCOTUS and state legislators.

If Disney were withdrawing advertising because it useless to market their products, then there is absolutely no coercion. When Disney withdraws advertising and says it is doing so because of content at X and will not consider doing business with X unless they remove that content; I think there is a form of coercion there that is very akin to blackmail or extortion. That coercion may be legal and may even be ethical. However, it seems a bit interesting that so many companies (IBM, Apple, Disney) all at once decided to withdraw funding over a free speech issue. Particularly when X is presenting evidence of manipulation by Media Matters.

Chait is either an idiot or pretending to be when it comes to understanding what's going on. Either way, he ought to be treated as one.

Kate said...

In the realm of cancel culture, if someone threatens to deplatform you if you won't behave the way they like, it is a kind of blackmail. Information will be used to damage your social or financial standing unless you conform to your blackmailer's demands.

Ann Althouse said...

My "yes" is in answer to "Is "blackmail" a specific legal term? Can chait point to a statute in which the word appears?"

gilbar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gilbar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tank said...

X.

I did my small part to support Elon by subscribing to premium plus. A small price to pay for free speech.

Do you support Elon? Put your money where your mouth is.

Lem the artificially intelligent said...

Maybe Elon's use of the word blackmail is more in like with "emotional blackmail".

The line came to me via a song by the Pretenders, covered into a hit by Grace Jones - Private Life - "And now you want to use me for emotional blackmail".

Google: "Emotional blackmail is an attempt to control someone with whom one has an emotional connection by tactics that make the person feel guilty or upset. It involves using another party’s fear, guilt, or sense of obligation to pressure them to comply with a demand. An example of emotional blackmail is making someone feel guilty for going to work".

Of course, the problem we have is we are not yet admitting that all these peoples/entities are acting in concert. So is very difficult to pin them down, the way they do "bitter clingers, deplorables, whackadoodles, conspiracy theorists, Fox News snorters and other pejoratives that right now scape my memory because I'm trying my very best not to obsess over this stuff. It comes at a cost to my emotional balance.

Oligonicella said...

He was in an interview, not court. He used the term in a commonly used manner, forcing someone to do something against their will indirectly. Like Trump, Musk understands the person on the street. They understood what he said and meant. I certainly did.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Chait is the worst of the worst when it comes to modern polemicists. Even this crappy excerpt is borderline nonsense. Public? Private? Whatever!

Oligonicella said...

iowan2:
Leftist often engage in pedantry,...

It's the default. The real grist is: Was he understood?

Stick said...

Elon personifies fuck-you money

TreeJoe said...

Chait doesn't know wtf he's talking about.

There was a clear strategy to punish Musk/X publicly using specious data by a shady org (media matters) to drive away advertisers. Advertisers then threatened Musk with "If you don't stop allowing these things we will pull advertising dollars."

Calling that Blackmail is exaggeration, but it's also not an uncommon way of referring to such behaviors in business.

Further, Chait acts like he knows what has gone on behind the scenes. He doesn't.

Lem the artificially intelligent said...

What Tank said…

I haven’t yet because I thought X was tanking and my little contribution was not saving it.

But your point is well taken.

rehajm said...

Yellow card for you language nitpickers what repeated Cheest’s turd without picking up on the public/private error. Feel shame…

Jamie said...

Information will be used to damage your social or financial standing unless you conform to your blackmailer's demands.

While this is true, I don't like the formulation - it seems to me that it feeds into the Left's whole "mis-, dis-, and malinformation" thing. It implies that all the coercing party is doing is persuading (!) you to stop trafficking in bad information. For society's good as well as your own, don't you know.

I can't even remember how they define the terms. Isn't one, like, actual lies, one incomplete or uncontextualized truth, and one ... I have no idea what the third one is, maybe truth presented in improper context or something, to give it a different meaning from actual truth? But the point is, they couldn't say, "So-and-so [coughTrumpcough] is using his online popularity to spread lies," because what was being spread wasn't lies, it was simply a differing opinion or - as Gore would have it - an inconvenient truth. So they created these other terms in order to "provide nuance" - that is, in order to expand the definition of "lie" to include anything they don't want said. And, not incidentally, to attach a connotation of The Science to their accusations: it's not just that someone is spreading a conspiracy theory or telling a lie (and it's certainly not just that they're sharing an improper opinion), it's that Information, the dark energy of our economy, society, and daily life, is being misused.

Original Mike said...

"Lefties like Chaitt are too busy with self-congratulation to look at the whole interview the way you did, Professor Althouse."

Oh, noes! Nobody tell lonejustice!

Butkus51 said...

amazing how these journalists never go looking in their own backyard. Epstein. Shouldnt the "New Yorker" have done that story by now?

rcocean said...

Big corporations should be advertising to sell product, not control political discourse. That's censorship. Organized Boycott's orchestrated by the ADL, should be illegal. Disney and Hollywood are controlled by explicitly Leftwing execs who are engaged in Political propaganda. And if they don't want to advertise on twitter, so be it.

But if Ford or Exxon aren't on twitter, its because someone, the ADL or whoever, is pressuring them and telling them to boycott. That has nothing to do with "Free Enterprise".

Twitter should be a place where people can make "crazy" comments that Chalit doesn't like. Other than threats of violence, and obvious illegal activities, there should be free speech.

hombre said...

The phony "blackmail" bit is just the ruse to smear Musk. Lefties will eat up this shopworn schtick because the smear is what they are after. Any old excuse will do.

"OMG, Musk misused 'blackmail." Let's take a closer look at what a miscreant he is!"

The Vault Dweller said...

Rich said...
Unhappy customer taking away business is not equal to blackmail


Sure in the technical definition of blackmail that is correct, but not in the figurative way Musk was using it, and probably not in the way most people understood him to mean. Very few to none, is the amount of people that would not go see a Disney movie or TV show because Disney was advertising on Twitter. There are exactly zero crazed Apple fanboys who would decline to purchase one of Apple's overpriced, overhyped products because Apple was advertising on Twitter. The companies that pulled their advertising weren't pulling it for a legitimate business purpose. It wasn't about protecting their shareholder's value; there decision was based on trying to impose their board's and their executive's values on Twitter.

This isn't a legitimate business purpose. Also it is worth noting relating to your use of the term 'unhappy customer', is that corporations cannot be unhappy, they cannot be upset. Corporations do not have emotions. And it is the job of the board and executives of a corporation to dispassionately run a corporation for the financial benefit of the shareholders. If the board or executives let their emotional responses take over they violate their duty of care to the company and the shareholders. Contrast this with the individual consumer who can feel emotions. The individual consumer can be upset or offended. This emotion can drive them to stop purchasing an otherwise unchanged product or service due to their dislike of an advertising campaign. So what is the legitimate business purpose of an emotionless corporation in pulling advertising from Twitter?

Ampersand said...

I used to think that the Soviets secured their control over the media with the implicit threat of the gulag. Chait shows us that you don't need a gulag to enforce message conformity. Just create a statusphere in which one's position is a function of adherence to the Party.

JAORE said...

Chait remains consistent. Points for that, I suppose.

Rabel said...

"He wasn't using the word "fuck" literally either."

Disagree.

The Vault Dweller said...

Blogger Ampersand said...
I used to think that the Soviets secured their control over the media with the implicit threat of the gulag.


Orwell wrote his dystopian novels after fighting in the Spanish civil war. It wasn't his experience fighting against the Francoists that gave him his inspiration but rather his fighting alongside the Communists. There are an unfortunately large amount of people on the Left that seem to have crystalline properties, in that they seem to be able to spontaneously self-assemble into larger authoritarian structures.

Rich said...

@The Vault Dweller: it is neither blackmail nor censorship. It’s free market capitalism. And Musk is grandstanding because it will drum up traffic and support from his fanboys on ExTwitter who credulously parrot his talking points for him.

n.n said...

The word comes from the freebooting clan chieftains who ran protection rackets against farmers in Scotland and northern England. The custom persisted until mid-18c. Black from the evil of the practice. The sense expanded by 1826 to mean any extortion by means of intimidation, especially by threat of exposure or scandal.

It's blackmail or extortion to undermine capitalism (i.e. fiscal democracy) through single/central/monopolistic leverage. The social industrial complex (SIC) is infamous for running these rackets.

Wince said...

Althouse said…
But I think statutes are more likely to use the word "extortion."

“So, if you mention extortion again, I’ll have your legs broken.”

https://getyarn.io/yarn-story/7557a9aa-be76-4652-a8ba-f50f84464a4e

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

When Chait shuffles off this Earth he will be remembered for penning the article
I Hate GW Bush
and for encouraging others to openly hate, not disagree with or debate or criticize, but hate the president because that's how progressives roll. Right up until Obama won the White House and according to Chait and others even simple polite disagreement with The One was considered racist (i.e. a hate crime).

Why Chait still has a platform and a paying job as "journalist" after writing such crap is beyond me.

Freder Frederson said...

The "blackmail" part of it was probably aimed more at Media Matters and the sleaze ball way they tried to set up X as a peddler of hate.

Could you please explain what the "sleaze ball" tactics used by Media Matters were? They might have been a little deceptive setting up the account (but of course if the "fictious" account passed X's vetting, X has no one to blame but themselves), refreshing the site more than most users do is hardly "sleaze ball".

Howard said...

I'd rather be a fanboy than a hater, Rich.

Joe Smith said...

He meant 'pressure.'

Everyone knew what he meant.

If someone says to me, 'Can I axe you something?,' I don't think they want to chop my wood.

Aggie said...

"...it is neither blackmail nor censorship. It’s free market capitalism. And Musk is grandstanding because it will drum up traffic and support from his fanboys on ExTwitter who credulously parrot his talking points for him.

So.... isn't that just free market capitalism, then?

Original Mike said...

For Freder: “Media Matters therefore resorted to endlessly scrolling and refreshing its unrepresentative, hand-selected feed, generating between 13 and 15 times more advertisements per hour than viewed by the average X user repeating this inauthentic activity until it finally received pages containing the result it wanted: controversial content next to X’s largest advertisers’ paid posts,” the lawsuit continued.

In other words, Media Matters intentionally manipulated the situation until they could create a situation that would financially hurt X, then tried to present it as just how things went naturally.

Rusty said...

Rich
Where does wealth come from?

John Yesford said...

"Blackmail is such an ugly word. We prefer extortion." -Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John MacIntire

Scott Patton said...

Chait was supposed to preface his comments with akshually.

Readering said...

Musk's use of of the term blackmail is nonsense even of he said other things that make sense. So Chait's argument makes sense.

JK Brown said...

Not spending advertising dollars is one thing. But these companies made the point to leave because they wanted Musk to change, that's blackmail of a sort

friscoda said...

someone reads Jonathan Chait? He is a tendentious fool.

Narayanan said...

in Atlas Shrugged when Dagny is pressured into delivering approved speech for regime she uses the term 'White Black Mail' >>

very much applicable to this incident with Musk is quite similar.

Rusty said...

Rich
take your time.

Greg the Class Traitor said...

If Unicorns farted Skittles, Chait's argument would make more sense.

Fixed it for you. Chait has made a sensible argument in years, if ever

Rusty said...

Thoughts, Rich?

Rich said...

@ Rusty: It’s worth half what he paid for it right now, declining user base, 50% less ads, huge debt repayments and absolutely zero end in sight. Threads is average, but is in a greater network, less Nazis and its user base within 6 months is not far from Twitter. It might not be the killer, but it’s hardly helping.

To paraphrase: “How did you burn $44bn?” “Gradually. Then suddenly”.

I get that you want to simp for him. But Musk doesn’t read these posts and he won’t see it, so you might as well try to maintain some dignity.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Freder the Media Matters deception and fraud is complicated but well elucidated elsewhere. Go look it up or stay uninformed and dull. Why come here and expect us to explain it to you.

Rusty said...

That wasn't the question, Rich.
If you don't know then just say you don't know.

Rich said...

Instead of flourishing on Conyers Farm Drive or Beverly Park Circle with A-rated customers, ExTwitter is moving into a rural city high street where the Rusty’s of the world live—with 4 gambling outlets, 5 charity shops and a few struggling pubs. Perhaps this is also a less woke place to be? But it's probably not where Tesla buyers are living...

Rusty said...

Just say you don't know, Rich. You don't have to prove how ignorant you are with the above word salad.