As Dr. Anthony Fauci prepares to step down as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the end of the year, the leading immunologist faced derision on social media over the weekend from tech billionaire and Twitter CEO Elon Musk.
“My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” Musk tweeted on Sunday. The jibe, shared largely without context, drew support from prominent conservatives such as right-wing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — whose account was reinstated with Musk’s decision to end the platform’s COVID-19 misinformation policy last month, and who has been criticized in the past for her own comments mocking the use of gender pronouns — as well as backlash.
While Musk’s tweet acquired roughly half a million likes in its first few hours online, health experts like Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist and virology professor, defended Fauci’s work at the forefront of U.S. pandemic mitigation efforts and urged Musk to remove the post.
“For the record: Dr. Fauci has done nothing wrong, except serve our nation. 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,” Hotez wrote. Musk has not responded publicly.
Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat from Minnesota, also called out Musk for the apparent dig toward Fauci and commented on his inappropriate reference to personal pronouns.
“It’s America. You can select any pronouns you damn well please,” the congressman tweeted. “But Anthony Fauci has likely saved more human lives than any living person in the world. Shame on you.”
About an hour before posting the tweet about Fauci, Musk shared a meme with a caption that read in part, “Just one more lockdown,” which could be interpreted as an allusion to Fauci’s advocacy for safety mandates that public health specialists, including those at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agreed were helpful in slowing the spread of COVID-19 before vaccines became widely available.
Since he first became a public figure in March 2020, Fauci was hailed as a hero by some but condemned by others for his recommendations supporting social distancing, the use of face masks and vaccinations to protect against COVID-19. He notably clashed with former President Donald Trump and Fauci spoke out against rising misinformation and disinformation about mitigation policies and the virus itself. Recalling Trump’s false statements about COVID-19 while in office, Fauci said in a new interview with CNN that he felt he “had to” publicly disagree with the then-president despite his discomfort.
“I have such a great deal of respect for the office of the presidency that it just made me very uncomfortable, but I had to do it, Chris, because I couldn’t stand there and be complicit in saying hydroxychloroquine works when it doesn’t, you know, bleach works. It doesn’t. The virus is going to go away like magic. It’s not,” he said.
Twitter has undergone a number of changes since Musk purchased the company this fall and pledged to restore “free speech” on the platform. The ideology has so far resulted in mass layoffs that cut Twitter staff formerly in charge of content moderation, the reinstatement of accounts that were previously banned for violating Twitter’s conduct rules, the release of purported data claiming to reveal the site’s “blacklists,” which he calls the Twitter Files, and the removal of its COVID misinformation policy.
Musk’s takeover has triggered the exits of some celebrities and other large accounts from Twitter, amid accusations that he is empowering far-right actors and as research points to a significant spike in hate speech on the platform, specifically targeting marginalized groups, according The New York Times.