Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Roundtable: What Elon Musk means for the future of Black Twitter

 April 29, 2022 at 3:28 PM PDT

S1: This week on roundtable what Elon Musk's potential takeover of Twitter means for Black Twitter. An investigation finds disparities in Park and rec center funding that favors high income areas and changes in how San Diego enforces its rules on living in vehicles. I'm Matt Hoffman , and the KPBS roundtable starts now. Welcome to our discussion of some of the week's top stories. I'm Matt Hoffman. And joining me this week on the KPBS roundtable are Los Angeles Times columnist Erica Smith , reporter Alexis Rivas from NBC seven San Diego and Voice of San Diego , reporter Lisa Halberstadt. Earlier this week , billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion , though the deal still needs final approval from regulators. The announcement is sparking strong reactions from across the political spectrum. Some are celebrating the move , while others are saying they will leave the platform and never come back. But this digital town square , as Musk referred to the Social Network soon after the announcement , has also become a vital virtual space for black life in culture. It's a place known as black Twitter. Erica de Smith's latest column in the Los Angeles Times reflects on black Twitter's influence , while also raising concerns about its future with Twitter's new owner. Erica , welcome to roundtable.
S2: Thanks for having me on.
S1: Great to have you here.
S2: You know , humor , outrage at times. You know , it's important because it's kind of been the core creativity for Twitter. It's , you know , a lot of the memes and gifts that we all share to to comment on things before on Twitter come from black Twitter originally , that kind of sense of humor. But it's also been a hub of social change. I mean , a lot of the major maybe issues and movements that are come out of black life have really started on Twitter with hashtags Black Lives Matter being among them. So it's kind of this multifaceted community that has grown over time as Twitter has grown.
S1: And you sort of start your column by raising concerns with the owner of Tesla taking the helm of Twitter now , particularly as it relates to black Twitter.
S2: I mean , you know , love him or hate him , most people agree , is controversial. He's the world's richest man. He's also one of the founders of Tesla. And right now he's his company. Tesla is being sued by the state of California on behalf of thousands of workers over alleged racial discrimination at this plant in Fremont. The company has already been forced to pay millions to at least one black employee for similar issues. And he's also said some questionable things about COVID vaccines and some other issues online over the years , mostly through Twitter. And so I think there's just a little a lot of concern about who this guy is , how he's going to run this company and what his aims are. And I think that gets reverberated through black Twitter because they are so kind of attuned to who he has been as a business person.
S1: And we've seen Elon Musk make comments advocating for a more hands off approach for the policing of content on Twitter , sort of citing the importance of free speech. Do you agree with that approach or that line of thought ? No.
S2: I mean , I think that , you know , I'm all as a journalist , I'm up for free speech. But I also recognize that there are you know , there's always been limits to free speech and there's always been consequences to free speech. And we can't go running to a movie theater and shout fire inside a you know , a stampede into people get killed. And there's no repercussions for that. You know , and also , you know , it's important to remember that Twitter is a private company. I mean , it's publicly traded now. But assuming the deal does go through , it will be privately held under Musk. I mean , there's no responsibility under the under the First Amendment to allow that. And so while free speech sounds great in theory , we've also seen the repercussions of what that looks like. We see conspiracy theories. We see lots of just lies and falsehoods and just kind of just nasty comment that makes people feel like just kind of awful and frankly , are just have been bad for business for Twitter. So when he talks about free speech , I think there's a big gap between what he's saying and what the reality of what that looks like.
S2: I mean , we saw that , you know , in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis , where people were shouting that it's now we have Black Lives Matter plazas all over the country , including in Washington , D.C. That's a hashtag that started , you know , on Twitter. I think another one is OscarsSoWhite. That's , you know , relevance as those of us here in Southern California in terms of pointing out the fact , the lack of diversity in Hollywood and really pushing for some change there that we started to see another one of that police brutality , one movie I Can't Breathe , which again came up after George Floyd , but was also around before that. And so there's and there's a number of people who have been killed by police. Their names have become hashtags. That's a thing. I think more on the positive side. I think there's , you know , black girl magic is the one that gets thrown around a lot , particularly as as a way of kind of like bolstering and talking about the beauty of blackness in a society that doesn't always value that.
S1: So , Erica , we know that Elon Musk's his Twitter takeover , it's happening.
S2: The very least it's going to change. I do think it's probably going to end in the ways that we've known it in the past. I don't think you're going to see as many black users , particularly prominent black users , spending as much time on the platform and making it a central kind of look out for to create change. I just don't think that there is a trust in the ownership , particularly once the company becomes private. You know , I do think that , you know , black people will remain on Twitter. I mean , I don't plan on deleting my account anytime soon , but I just think that the notion of what it has been in kind of the parts of Twitter will change. And I think that will definitely be the case. If , you know , Twitter under Elon Musk does kind of get rid of some of these content moderation that has been put into place , even if it's not the greatest now. But if you say return some of the more controversial right leaning voices to the platform , I do think that's going to change what Twitter is and what it looks like and what it does.
S1: Billionaire ownership of major media entities , it's nothing new. Amazon's founder , Jeff Bezos , he owns The Washington Post , Rupert Murdoch's News Corp , they own The Wall Street Journal , among a lot of other publications.
S2: I mean , it's noted The L.A. Times is owned by a billionaire , as is the San Diego Union-Tribune. But , you know , news organizations , newspapers , news outlets are very different creature than Twitter. I mean , any news organization , no matter how big or small , its hired journalists. There's a limited number of us who are hired to basically report and put out news. And if we report it badly , if we defame somebody , if we liable somebody , there are consequences to that as a company. Twitter , on the other hand , is this massive international platform where anybody can say anything that they want at any given time. For the most part , there are no checks and balances. And I think the other thing that's different about Twitter is Twitter can be a news. It can kind of start a news source of its own. I mean , we've seen situations where a rumor has started on Twitter or online and it's cause of real world consequences. I mean , there's January six , but there's also smaller things like here in Los Angeles a few weeks ago , there's a rumor that was floating around online that people could get homeless vouchers if they came to a specific place at a specific time. Hundreds of people showed up cause all sorts of chaos. That was something that was created online. That wasn't true , but it had real world consequences. But there was no accountability for who actually put that out there. So I think they're very different things.
S2: I frankly just think this is kind of an adjustment period for people. I think that , you know , we've all heard that Musk was going to potentially buy Twitter for the last few days. But , you know , in some ways , it kind of came across all of a sudden. So I think people are trying to decide what they're going to do. But I definitely think there is this at least small , if not growing exodus of Twitter from black people. I see it in some of the more prominent people who are on Twitter that are talking about that we're leaving. So and that's been true since Ellen first floated the idea of actually buying the company. But ten , 12 days ago.
S2: I mean , I think that's just the nature of people , is particularly for the number of users that are here on Twitter. I mean , it could be that nothing really changes with the platform. Maybe the content , moderation stays the same. I think beyond the the surface level changes of how we use the platform , I do think there's also just going to be this level of trust that people don't trust Elon Musk , and that's harder to quantify and how that will or will not push people away from the platform. So that's really , I think , one of the things I have to watch. I don't think there's going to be this like immediate , you know , by the end of the week , everybody's gone. But I do think there is going to be this kind of trickle away from it.
S1: And yeah , I know you obviously don't have a crystal ball here , but do you have hope about the future of black Twitter ? You know , even if Musk takes over ownership of Twitter.
S2: I don't know if it's hope. I think that , you know , in the history of technology , anything else ? I mean , I think that black people , like all people , have found ways to use that technology in the best way possible. I mean , I think about during early in the pandemic how , you know , one black DJ in particular decided to create kind of a dance party. We were all stuck in the house and that became Verses , which is now sponsored by Apple and a number of other companies. I think there's a way of bending the technology to the way the needs that we have. And I think that black people , for whatever reason , have been really good at that over the years. And so whether it's Twitter or whether it's Instagram , whether it's TikTok , whether it's , you know , some other yet to be invented platform , I'm sure people will migrate to something else and that will be the new thing until it's not and then we'll go do something else. So I don't know , it's hard to tell , but I think there will be some changes afoot.
S1: I've been speaking with Los Angeles Times columnist Erica de Smith. You can read her latest column about Elon Musk. And Twitter , L.A. , And Erica , thanks so much for your time today.
S2: Thanks for having me on.
S1: A recent audit revealed huge gaps in the way the city of San Diego parks and recreation centers are funded. Parks in wealthier neighborhoods receive up to 13 times more funding compared to lower income neighborhoods. San Diego City Councilmember Vivian Moreno says it's just not right.
S3: The city of San Diego has been saying.
S2: That we're one San Diego.
S3: No , we're not. We're to San. Diego's.
S2: Diego's.
S1: Now , the city and the mayor are trying to do something about the inequity gap. Joining us for more on this is NBC seven investigative reporter Alexis Rivas. She's been following the money here. Welcome to Roundtable , Alexis.
S2: Thanks for having me , Matt.
S1: Great to have you here. So this audit of the city's Parks and Rec department , it was published earlier in the year.
S2: You're not used to seeing numbers , actually , at least I'm not that are that large when you're looking at disparity , 47%. That's how much more funding. Parks , generally speaking north of the eight were getting than parks south of the gate. And it's interesting , you can see it almost when we visualized it into bar graphs , the audit into the parks spending split all of these park and ride centers into two groups. Group one was the north half of the city and group two was the south half of the city. And it does really kind of follow the line of Interstate eight when you see it broken down , kind of into like an Excel sheet. It's even wilder. You have instances where there's a parks that are getting $650,000 plus per year in spending , and then there's rec centers that are getting 30,000. So it is pretty wild to see just how far the range can be.
S1: And yeah , you mentioned those graphics. You have some of them in your story that clearly show that the northern part of the city gets a lot more funding than the South.
S2: So if you'll go to park and rec centers in the north part of the city , you'll see there's a lot of afterschool programs , karate classes , maybe senior programming , and that can be exercise to be arts and crafts. It can be yoga. All of these things cost money. So I think it's at least when I started doing this story , I was thinking , okay , well , maybe there's fancier playground equipment or there's more fields. Yeah , there's some of that. But a huge part of it , too , is just programming and services they're providing for the community as well.
S2: There's like double the amount that we're trying to. Over 3000 programs were offered north of the eight. And we're talking about things like a youth sports clinic or teaching kids to play volleyball , for example. I think it was less than half that it was 1500 something south of the eight.
S2: And she says she just had a gut feeling at the time that she called for it. She was chair of the audit committee. She just had this feeling that there wasn't as much going on north of the eight. I think when I talked to her , you know , kind of before interview , she's like , you know , they had watercolor painting. We don't have that at the rec center down where I live. So she asked for this audit to be done. And then when it wound up showing , that gut feeling had a lot of truth behind it.
S1: So you actually went out to some of these parks to see the inequities firsthand.
S2: And that could have been in some cases , they were locked and only opened at select times of the week for senior programming. None of them are closed. But Stockton was gated and completely logged in. Is only available for senior programming right now , so I wouldn't say it's completely open at the moment. So just I think less facilities or facilities that just weren't usable were more likely to be found. Now , I went to a park rec center up in La Hoya that had it was the one that had over $650,000 in spending. And it wasn't just this beautiful playground and softball fields and dog park. And people were really out there using it. It was also you could see all these posters lining a little fence , telling you about all of the school programs and sports programs that are available to you as well. So , yeah , just totally different environments.
S1: You also spoke with some residents while you were out there.
S2: But everyone was pretty much in agreement here that everyone should have the same amount of opportunities and same amount of investment in park and rec centers. It's important. It's not just for kids , but also for adults living in every neighborhood that these kind of spaces are really valued.
S1: Part of this audit. Included a lot of recommendations to fix this funding inequality. You spoke to the city's Parks and Rec manager.
S2: He's very excited. He was I was almost taken aback by how willing the Parks and Rec director was to not only do our interview , but just address this upfront. It was pretty clear in saying , you know , we we sort of suspected it ourselves that this was going on for a long time. And this is the most amount of money now that has ever been put into addressing it. So this is kind of an exciting time for them , which kind of speaks to how we got here to begin with. A lot of these parks and rec centers , the programming , the services , everything that's going into them wasn't decided by one person or even a central department. This was really split up into a bunch of these regional nonprofits that were deciding for each single rec center what they were going to get and what wound up just happening as a lot of these little nonprofit groups are just asking for more in the north part of the city. So they were getting a lot more. And it wasn't until things changed organizationally that the city sort of started get the hunch that something was going on here. And it was in 2018 that that happened. But this had been going on for about 40 years before that. So it didn't happen overnight. And I think because of the audit , it kind of gave the platform and the attention to the issue to motivate the mayor to put more funding into this. And so we're going to see a lot of changes , the park and rec centers very soon. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. And , you know , earlier you had mentioned , you know , Councilmember Vivian Moreno. She said she had this gut feeling that there were these big disparities here. You mentioned the city's parks manager. They said that they thought that was the same if this audit never happened. Do you get the sense that these changes would be happening or that we would just still be exactly where we were before.
S2: The audit , I think came at just the right time. I think the first time it was presented before council was either last month or the month before , and it was just in the Public Safety Neighborhoods Committee than it was before the full council , which was just before the Mayor announced his proposed budget , which has $1.2 million specifically to address this inequity. So I think it absolutely was a motivating factor in bringing attention to the issue , which could then bring the funding necessary to change it without that funding. It might be different. This funding not only allows for more programs and services to be provided south of the eight , it doesn't take away from North Ozone. I think that's a really important thing to mention , too , is we asked , you know , does this mean that the parks and rec centers that have been enjoying this abundance of funding will suddenly have to kind of strip back some of the clinics or programs that they offer ? And the answer is no. The plan is not to do any of that , but simply to add where there hasn't been for a long time.
S1: And so we know that there are changes coming to the parks and RECs department.
S2: The Presidio Rec Center. Yeah. Okay , so the basketball court was taped off because someone had graffitied on it and they had to repeat it. And while there weren't a lot of families there because there wasn't a playground. We did see a poster for a volleyball clinic. I saw another poster for a basketball clinic , park and rec staff member , kind of saw a camera and came out to check out what was going on. And I asked him about it and he said , those are those. Those were actually put up about a week before we were out there looking for interviews. So he said that there's a big push to make this more of a family oriented rec center. I have a feeling it's because of the audit. So hopefully some of the centers are already offering more programming , not just the Presidio Park and Rec Center. So I think change just started.
S1: I've been speaking with Alexis Rivas. She's an investigative reporter at NBC seven. And Alexis , thanks so much for your time.
S2: Thanks again for having me , Matt.
S1: San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria called homelessness his highest priority at his State of the City speech. Here's more of what he had to say on the issue during his remarks in January. During my first year in office , I have deployed a more compassionate , person centered approach to our homeless residents , offering them shelter and services while also carrying out our responsibility to enforce our city laws. But an investigation from Voice of San Diego found that the city has stopped enforcing laws relating to people living in their vehicles. Reporter Lisa Halberstadt from Voice of San Diego joins me now to talk about what she found out. Welcome back to Roundtable , Lisa.
S2: Thanks for having me.
S1: Great to have you here as always. So you wrote along with your co-author , Jacob Mcwhinney , that the city has stopped writing tickets for people living in their vehicles and they haven't done it since the start of the year. We know that this was a big effort under the previous mayor , Kevin Faulconer.
S2: That lawsuit was filed in 2017 and has been challenging enforcement that would affect people that are living in RVs , vans and other kinds of vehicles.
S1: Can you describe what these vehicle habitation citations actually are and sort of what their purposes ? Yeah.
S2: So the city's 2019 vehicle habitation ordinance bans sleeping in your vehicle overnight on a city street or on a public property or from staying in a vehicle. If you're within 500 feet of a home or school at any hour , if the ticket is written like an infraction , it would cost at least $280. Once you incorporate court fees , I think it's also important to mention that before the pandemic , vehicles could sometimes be impounded as a result of these sorts of violations. But as I understand , that's now been on hold since April 2020 , at least for specifically vehicle habitation.
S1: And now you write that we're back in the courts again here.
S2: But I really couldn't get clarity on exactly when the city decided to stop enforcing this. What I could see from the data is that the last ticket that the city gave for vehicle habitation was December 31st. It seemed like the ticketing slowed down a bit starting around September. But if the city really wasn't willing to provide that clarity. I do think it would be really logical to assume , obviously , that the city thought that continuing this enforcement might not be helpful to their legal defense.
S2: The mayor does direct city departments , including the police department , so it seems likely that his department ordered this. But the city didn't fully clarify that with me when I asked. I think it's worthwhile to note that often when there is litigation , it's a little bit harder sometimes for me to get clear answers on what happened and when and why.
S1: You write that during this time that the city has stopped citing vehicle dwellers , that they've become increasingly visible again , especially in beach communities like Ocean Beach.
S2: For example , along the Pacific Highway in the Midway Old Town area and Broadfield in Ocean Beach is another hub. But I don't think that the increasing visibility is simply because enforcement of this ordinance has stopped. When people lose their housing , their vehicles are often the first place that they fall into if they don't have a place to stay , say , on a friend's couch. So this is likely a sign that more people are falling into homelessness.
S1: You mentioned that city council president Shawn Lo Rivera , he's been supportive of finding alternative ways , flexible ways to have people living safely in the city. He cites his own experience of living in a vehicle for a short period of time.
S2: He lived in his SUV for a stint when he was in law school and had a conversation with him last week. He told me it's made him a lot more interested in finding solutions that would make folks who live in vehicles less concerned about getting tickets or , you know , getting the things that they need , such as a shower every day. He also told me that that experience really helped him understand that traditional shelters are services that aren't convenient or might be seen as a step down for people that are in a vehicle. Living in their own space might not be ideal as far as Mayor Gloria goes. He is a big proponent of what they call safe parking lots. The city has a handful of these where people can park without fear of tickets. They can be connected with services , ideally housing. The city did tell me that Mayor Gloria recently directed staff to look at whether some of the city safe parking lots , which are operated by Jewish family service , could be open 24 hours to lessen that need for people to move.
S2: I wouldn't expect , obviously , that enforcement would resume until after this trial. And for now , the players involved in this lawsuit are expecting that that trial could be scheduled later this year.
S1: Lisa Halberstadt is a reporter with the Voice of San Diego. You can read her piece on San Diego's change on enforcing people living in vehicles at Voice of San Diego , Dawg. And Lisa , thanks so much for your time today.
S2: Thank you so much for having me.
S1: That wraps up this week's edition of the KPBS roundtable. And I'd like to thank our guest this week , Erika de Smith from the Los Angeles Times , NBC seven , investigative reporter Alexis Rivas , and Lisa Halberstadt from Voice of San Diego. If you missed any part of our show , you can listen anytime on the KPBS roundtable podcast. I'm Matt Hoffman. Thanks so much for being here with us and join us next week on Roundtable.

Twitter on Monday announced it has accepted billionaire Elon Musk's bid to takeover the social media company for $44 billion.
John Raoux
Twitter on Monday announced it has accepted billionaire Elon Musk's bid to takeover the social media company for $44 billion.
Elon Musk's Twitter buyout could mark the end of Black Twitter. A city audit finds major disparities in parks and rec center funding that favors high-income areas. And a recent investigation found changes in how San Diego enforces its rules on vehicle dwelling.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman talks with Los Angeles Times columnist Erika D. Smith about what Elon Musk's Twitter buyout means for the future of Black Twitter. Also, NBC 7 San Diego investigative reporter Alexis Rivas explains how a city audit found major disparities in parks and rec center funding that favored high-income parts of San Diego. Then, Voice of San Diego reporter Lisa Halverstadt talks about why the city has stopped its enforcement of people living in vehicles.