The words “prosecute” and “Fauci” technically aren’t pronouns. But that didn’t stop billionaire Elon Musk from tweeting “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci” early on Sunday morning:
In this tweet, Musk was presumably referring to Anthony Fauci, MD, who’s been Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984. And not Joe Fauci, Emma Fauci, Tucker Fauci, Fauci Taylor Greene, X Æ A-12 Fauci, or some other Fauci. Also, presumably the billionaire’s tweet wasn’t suggesting that people should start associating the word “prosecute” with Musk or calling Musk “prosecute” or “Fauci.” Instead, it seemed like Musk was trying to somehow associate the word “prosecute” with the name “Fauci.” Hmm, that’s quite a Fauci ouchie but not in a Covid-19 vaccine type of way.
Yep, that’s what the richest man in the world just used his platform to tell his over 120.9 million followers. Granted this follower list may be some combination of humans, bots, people hired by Musk, and perhaps even Musk himself. These days you can’t really tell who’s real and who’s not on Twitter. Or who is actually a what. Nevertheless, Musk’s tweet probably landed directly in a lot of people’s feeds, even those who don’t officially follow the owner of Tesla, SpaceX, and horses. After all, Twitter is literally Musk’s platform, since he recently acquired the whole “Twit and caboodle” in a $44 billion deal. You might as well call it Musker, given the number of times you see what he is saying when you are on the platform. Whatever algorithms are now installed into the Twitter-sink could be doing things like “oh, I see you like cat videos, how about we show you these tweets from Elon Musk?” Or, “Hmm, you seem to be tweeting a lot about knitting One Direction sweaters. What about some tweets from Elon Musk to help you?” Plus, when you own a social media platform, you can kind of set up as many anonymous “burner” accounts as you’d like.
So before you trust any of the responses to Musk’s tweet, you should check to see whether the accounts are actually anonymous or not. Well, a number of real scientists and public health experts quickly pushed back against Musk’s tweet. For example, Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, tweeted, “For the record: Dr. Fauci has done nothing wrong, except serve our nation,” as you can see here:
Hotez’s tweet stated the following as well: “In the meantime, Mr. Musk should know that 200,000 Americans needlessly lost their lives from Covid due to this kind of antiscience rhetoric and disinformation. Elon, I’m asking you to take down this Tweet.”
Meanwhile, Gregg Gonsalves, PhD, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Yale University, posted a monster of a tweet:
Yep, Gonsalves tweeted that “Elon Musk is a monster. Full stop,” and added, “He’s tweeted out “prosecute/Fauci,” with “he” referring to Musk since that presumably is Musk’s real actual pronoun. Gonsalves used another pronoun “this” when he wrote, “This is a billionaire amping up millions to go after an federal official.”
Gonsalves’s tweet thread continued with Gonsalves emphasizing that he had “protested Fauci early in the AIDS epidemic, but we NEVER made threats like this.” The thread also called Musk a “right wing oligarch” and “a thug,” which, incidentally, aren’t officially pronouns either:
Gonsalves indicated that Twitter has “devolved into a cesspool,” which, by the way, wouldn’t be a positive statement. For example, if you were to tell your date, “Your face is a bit like a cesspool,” don’t expect a second date. And calling your friend’s house a cesspool would likely cause quite a stir.
Speaking of stir, Gonsalves’s tweet thread declared that “Musk LIKES stirring hate up. All of what he’s done is to stir up antisemitism, racist and homophobic attacks on this site and now he’s unleashed his hate on a individual. ” Additionally, Gonsalves labeled this stirring up as “Throwing red meat to his minions,” which was similar to what Gavin Yamey MD, MPH, MA, the Hymowitz Professor of the Practice of Global Health at Duke University, posted:
Real scientists and public health experts weren’t the only ones effectively saying “what/what/what” to Musk’s pronouns tweet about Fauci. For example, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-New York) wrote that “Elon Musk wants to criminalize Anthony Fauci because he disagrees with him,” in the following tweet response:
Not surprisingly, not everyone disagreed with Musk’s tweet. For example, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) responded to Musk’s tweet with an affirmative tweet of hers/herself:
So, at least Musk can say, “Hey, Marjorie Taylor Greene agrees with me.” Perhaps SpaceX could work with her on those space lasers that Taylor Greene referred to in 2018 when discussing wild fires in California, as I covered for Forbes in January 2021.
If you’ve been living in a toilet paper tent for the past few years and are still wondering what an “Anthony Fauci” is, you could always look up it in the Urban Dictionary. Because that’s where you should go whenever you don’t understand something, right? Well, one of the definitions in the Urban Dictionary reads, “A physician who specializes in infectious diseases. While he was known for contributing a lot of HIV/AIDS research during the 80s, but he is especially known now as a hero during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, he gets unfairly maligned by Trumplicans & covidiots because he’s honest and does not say what the American people want to hear.” The Urban Dictionary has the following definition of “Fauci” as well: “to confound others with erudite facts.”
These certainly aren’t the only definitions of “Anthony Fauci” and “Fauci” in the Urban Dictionary. There are indeed less flattering ones. And no one should treat the Urban Dictionary like a more formal dictionary such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. That could be like using 50 Shades of Grey as an anatomy textbook.
Nevertheless, the two Urban Dictionary definitions listed above do kind of capture what’s been happening with Fauci and politics over the past two-and-half-plus years. In 2020, when then U.S. President and current Mar-A-Lago resident Donald Trump was claiming that the Covid-19 pandemic was rounding the corner, calling the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 the “kung-flu”, asking whether disinfectant can be injected into the body, and amplifying theories not backed by scientific evidence, Fauci was seemingly the one person at the 2020 White House Covid-19 briefings willing to publicly say things that were not completely in line with Trump. In doing so, Fauci became essentially the lone voice of science with access to the White House megaphone in that first pandemic year when so many deaths and so much suffering could have been averted. All the while, Fauci never really used belligerent or incendiary language. It didn’t appear as if he was actively trying to draw attention to himself. After all, Fauci didn’t say things like “I have the best science”, “this is your favorite scientist”, or “I am a stable genius,” did he?
Sure, Fauci certainly hasn’t been perfect since early 2020. While he is a very accomplished and award-winning scientist, particularly in the AIDS and immunology arenas, public health experts have complained that Fauci could have been more vocal about the Covid-19 coronavirus’s ability to go airborne, the use of facemasks, and the need to layer and better coordinate different Covid-19 interventions. There were complaints that he could have been even more vocal against what Trump was saying. Plus, he is far from the only Covid-19 expert out there. No single scientist knows everything there is to know about Covid-19. Both the Trump and Biden Administrations could have done more to more broadly leverage the wide range of scientific expertise that exists in the U.S.
Nevertheless, the subsequent hostile and threatening attacks on Fauci have set a bad, bad precedent. Free speech means that you should allow other people to voice opinions even if such opinions don’t agree with you/your/youz own. But it shouldn’t mean that people can voice such disagreements in ways that can clearly be harmful, incite violence, or end up suppressing free speech. While Fauci doesn’t represent all of science, trying to silence him with threats would be like trying to silence science. If it happens with one scientist, it can happen with a whole lot more. And that kids is how a country meets authoritarianism.