The billionaire tweeted a joke featuring a meme that showed a large hand crushing struggling figures with the accompanying words: “’To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.’ – Voltaire” Underneath that, the meme includes the joking comment: “we need to rise up against children with leukemia.”
The very same “Voltaire” quote, however, was the subject of a fact-check piece last year from The Associated Press after Republican Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie shared it in a tweet criticizing Dr Anthony Fauci, also attributing the words to the French philosopher.
“Enlightenment-era writer Voltaire did not say this,” AP reported. “The quote, which was paraphrased, comes from a 1993 radio broadcast by Kevin Alfred Strom, who has been identified as a neo-Nazi by organizations that monitor hate groups.”
The AP continued: “The original quote from Strom, a self-proclaimed American white nationalist and Holocaust denier, has been used previously online and paraphrased in a variety of ways … Despite the quote originating more than a hundred years after Voltaire’s death in 1778, it has been repurposed and incorrectly attributed to him dozens of times. In 2019, actor John Cusack tweeted the quote before deleting the post and apologizing.”
On Saturday, Musk’s tweet remained for hours without correction or apology as users pointed out the inaccuracy, some with glee and some with scorn.
“If only your ability to launch rockets or presidential campaigns was as good as your ability to launch misinformation,” tweeted commentator and author Keith Olbermann. “Voltaire didn’t say that. A neo-Nazi said that. 30 years ago. Good work, Elmo.”
Another user, @HistoryUser, shared a Reuters fact-check link and wrote: “This was not said by Voltaire but by Kevin Strom, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier. It’s a cool quote and I wish it had been said by a better dude, but it wasn’t, and so people should really stop using it. (And definitely stop saying Voltaire said it!)”
The Independent has reached out to Twitter for comment.