WEST CHESTER, Pa. — Disinformation has long been a feature of American politics. Mudslinging, smear campaigns, dirty tricks. Yet wading through the muck ahead of this year’s midterm elections in one fiercely contested state, Pennsylvania, shows just how thoroughly it now warps the American democratic process.
In July, a tweet made the rounds spreading a falsehood about voting. “BREAKING: Pennsylvania will not be accepting mail-in ballots,” declared someone using an account called the Donald J. Trump Tracker.
In September, mysterious letters began arriving in mailboxes in Chester County, on the old Main Line west of Philadelphia, falsely telling people that their votes might not have been counted in the last election.
No, the Democratic candidate for United States Senate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, does not have tattoos of the Crips, the notorious street gang from Los Angeles, as Newt Gingrich said on Fox.
contentious primaries, Pennsylvanians have experienced a deluge of false or misleading posts, photographs and videos on social media, as well as increasingly partisan, bitter and at times unhinged claims on television, radio and live streams to a degree that no one recalled seeing before.
“I’m not saying the politics was ever, you know, perfect,” Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia from 2008 to 2016, said in an interview, lamenting the seemingly bottomless depth of the problem.
“I think what’s changed is you go back 100 years and you’d have had to put a whole lot more effort into spreading lies,” he said. “Now, you can just push a button.”
A lot of attention has focused on a stroke that Mr. Fetterman suffered in May, just as he clinched the Democratic nomination. The stroke left him with an auditory processing disorder, a condition that affects the brain’s ability to filter and interpret sounds, which Republicans have said makes him unfit for office. His speech has also become more halting, and he stumbles over his words, as he did multiple times in the debate last week against his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, the television personality known as Dr. Oz.
Opponents used his verbal gaffes in misleading ways. A video montage by a Republican campaign operative, Greg Price, exaggerated the effects of the stroke, while a Twitter account impersonating BuzzFeed falsely claimed that Mr. Fetterman had apologized for urinating on a campaign staffer. Mr. Price did not respond to requests for comment.
Other false claims have, again, questioned the machines that count votes, while a recent flurry of posts on Telegram, the app created in Russia, have incorrectly accused the state’s top election official of not complying with legal rulings about mail-in ballots. ActiveFence, a cybersecurity company, said that these claims have spread across platforms, garnering tens of thousands of impressions.
Jill Greene, the state representative for Common Cause, the national good-government organization, said that the many unfounded and untruthful claims posed a challenge for voters.
pledged to remove or marginalize false posts ahead of the midterms.
A doctored post on Facebook, to cite one of scores of examples, showed Mr. Oz kneeling to kiss the star of Donald J. Trump along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (In the original, he was kissing his own star.)
being repeatedly told that the American election process is deeply corrupted.
In fact, Mr. Mastriano’s candidacy has from its inception been propelled by his role in disputing the 2020 presidential election lost by Mr. Trump.
county by county, but election experts say they do not reflect factors as benign as changes in addresses.
“They’re in search of solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist,” Kyle Miller, a Navy veteran and state representative for Protect Democracy, a national advocacy organization, said in an interview in Harrisburg. “They are basing this on faulty data and internet rumors.”
Some Republican lawmakers have leaned on false claims to call for changes to rules about mail-in ballots and other measures intended to make it easier for people to vote. Several counties have already reversed some of the decisions, including the number and location of drop boxes for ballots.
Mr. Miller, among others, warned that the flurry of false claims about balloting could be a trial run for challenging the results of the presidential election in 2024, in which Pennsylvania could again be a crucial swing state.
In Chester County, a largely white region that borders Delaware and Maryland that is roughly split between Republicans and Democrats, the effort to sow confusion came the old-fashioned way: in the mail.
Letters dated Sept. 12 began arriving in mailboxes across the county, warning people that their votes in the 2020 presidential election might not have counted. “Because you have a track record of consistently voting, we find it unusual that your record indicates that you did not vote,” the letter, which was unsigned, said.
The sender called itself “Data Insights,” based in the county seat of West Chester, though no known record of such a company exists, according to county officials. The letters did include copies of the recipients’ voting records. The letters urged recipients to write to the county commissioners or attend the commission’s meetings in the county seat of West Chester, in September and October. Dozens of recipients did.
The county administrator, Robert J. Kagel, tried to assure them that their votes were actually counted. He urged anyone concerned to contact the county’s voter services department.
Even so, at county meetings in September and October, speaker after speaker lined up to question the letter and the ballot process generally — and to air an array of grievances and conspiracy theories.
They included the discredited claims of the film “2000 Mules” that operatives have been stuffing boxes for mail-in ballots. One attendee warned that votes were being tabulated by the Communist Party of China or the World Economic Forum.
“I don’t know where my vote is,” another resident, Barbara Ellis of Berwyn, told the commissioners in October. “I don’t know if it was manipulated in the machines, in another country.”
As of Oct. 20, 59 people in Chester County had contacted officials with concerns raised in the letter, but in each case, it was determined that the voters’ ballots had been cast and counted, said Rebecca Brain, a county spokesman.
Who exactly sent the letters remains a mystery, which only fuels more conspiracy theories.
“It seems very official,” Charlotte Valyo, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in the county, said of the letter. She described it as part of “an ongoing, constant campaign to undermine the confidence in our voting system.” The county’s Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.
Disinformation may not be the only cause of the deepening partisan chasm in the state — or the nation — but it has undoubtedly worsened it. The danger, Ms. Valyo warned, was discouraging voting by sowing distrust in the ability of election officials to tally the votes.
“People might think, ‘Why bother, if they’re that messed up?’”
Gearing up to report this year’s midterm election results, American television networks are facing an uncomfortable question: How many viewers will believe them?
Amid rampant distrust in the news media and a rash of candidates who have telegraphed that they may claim election fraud if they lose, news anchors and executives are seeking new ways to tackle the attacks on the democratic process that have infected politics since the last election night broadcast in 2020.
“For entrepreneurs of chaos, making untrue claims about the election system is a route to greater glory,” said John Dickerson, the chief political analyst at CBS News, who will co-anchor the network’s coverage on Nov. 8. “Elections and the American experiment exist basically on faith in the system, and if people don’t have any faith in the system, they may decide to take things into their own hands.”
CBS has been televising elections since 1948. But this is the first year that the network has felt obligated to install a dedicated “Democracy Desk” as a cornerstone of its live coverage. Seated a few feet from the co-anchors in the network’s Times Square studio, election law experts and correspondents will report on fraud allegations and threats of violence at the polls.
one-third of adults in a recent Gallup poll expressing confidence in it.
“I can’t control what politicians are going to say, if they choose to call an election result into question,” said David Chalian, CNN’s political director. “You’ve got to be clear, when it’s a partial picture, that nothing about that is untoward.”
Two years ago, TV networks prepared for pandemic-related ballot headaches and speculation that President Donald J. Trump might resist conceding defeat.
“blue wave” had fizzled and that Republicans would retain control of the House. It was Fox News again, working off a proprietary data model, that made the correct call that Democrats would take the chamber.
controversial Arizona call in 2020. Although Fox’s projection was eventually proved correct, it took several days for other news outlets to concur, and Mr. Trump turned his wrath on the network in retaliation. The network later fired a top executive, Chris Stirewalt, who was involved in the decision to announce the call so early; another executive involved in the decision, Bill Sammon, promptly retired.
“What we want to be, always, is right — and first is really nice — but right is what we want to be,” said Mr. Baier of Fox. “In the wake of 2020, we’re going to be looking at numbers very closely, and there may be times when we wait for more raw vote total than we have in the past.”
“It’ll be a lot smoother than that moment,” he added, referring to when he and his fellow co-anchors were visibly caught by surprise as their colleagues projected a victory for Mr. Biden in Arizona. Fox officials later ascribed the confusion to poor communication among producers.
“I think,” Mr. Baier said, “we all learned a lot from that experience.”
But by the early 2010s, it had grown into a global water cooler where millions of people went to make sense of the world around them. Its rapid-fire, 140-character bursts made it a valuable tool for those wanting to steer a conversation, attract attention to a cause or simply peer into the kaleidoscope of human thought.
On any given day, Twitter was the place to: talk about the news, complain about airline food, flirt with strangers, announce an earthquake, yell at your senator, cheer for your sports teams, post nudes, make dumb jokes, ruin your own reputation, ruin somebody else’s reputation, document police brutality, argue about anime, fall for a cryptocurrency scam, start a music career, procrastinate, follow the stock market, issue a public apology, share scientific papers, discuss “Game of Thrones,” find skillet chicken recipes.
And while it was never the biggest social media platform, or the most profitable, Twitter did seem to level the playing field in a way other apps didn’t.
But as Twitter and other social networks grew, powerful people found that these apps could help them extend their power in new ways. Authoritarians discovered they could use them to crack down on dissent. Extremists learned they could stir up hateful mobs to drive women and people of color offline. Celebrities and influencers realized that the crazier you acted, the more attention you got, and dialed up their behavior accordingly. A foundational belief of social media’s pioneers — that simply giving people the tools to express themselves would create a fairer and more connected society — began to look hopelessly naïve.
And when Donald J. Trump rode a wave of retweets to the White House in 2016, and used his Twitter account as president to spread conspiracy theories, wage culture wars, undermine public health and threaten nuclear war, the idea that the app was a gift to the downtrodden became even harder to argue.
Since 2016, Twitter has tried to clean up its mess, putting into effect new rules on misinformation and hate speech and barring some high-profile trolls. Those changes made the platform safer and less chaotic, but they also alienated users who were uncomfortable with how powerful Twitter itself had become.
These users chafed at the company’s content moderation decisions, like the one made to permanently suspend Mr. Trump’s account after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. They accused the platform’s leaders of bowing to a censorious mob. And some users grew nostalgic for the messier, more freewheeling Twitter they’d loved.
Forget about the endless drama, the bots, the abrupt reversals, the spectacle, the alleged risk to the Republic and all we hold dear. Here is the most important thing about Elon Musk’s buying Twitter: The moguls have been unleashed.
In the old days, when a tech tycoon wanted to buy something big, he needed a company to do it. Steve Case used AOL to buy Time Warner. Jeff Bezos bought Whole Foods for Amazon. Mark Zuckerberg used Facebook to buy Instagram and WhatsApp and Oculus and on and on. These were corporate deals done for the bottom line, even if they might never have happened without a famous and forceful proprietor.
Mr. Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter, which finally became a reality on Thursday, six months after he agreed to the deal, is different. It is an individual buying something for himself that 240 million people around the world use regularly. While he has other investors, Mr. Musk will have absolute control over the fate of the short-message social media platform.
It’s a difficult deal to evaluate even in an industry built on deals, because this one is so unusual. It came about whimsically, impulsively. But, even by the standards of Silicon Valley, where billions are casually offered for fledging operations — and even by the wallet of Mr. Musk, on most days the richest man in the world — $44 billion is quite a chunk of change.
the midterm elections’ most prominent campaign contributor, pumping tens of millions of dollars into right-wing congressional candidates. Two of his former employees are the Republican nominees for senator in Ohio and Arizona.
Elon Musk’s Acquisition of Twitter
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A blockbuster deal. In April, Elon Musk made an unsolicited bid worth $44 billion for the social media platform, saying he wanted to turn Twitter into a private company and allow people to speak more freely on the service. Here’s how the monthslong battle that followed played out:
A surprise move. On Oct. 4, Mr. Musk proposed a deal to acquire Twitter for $44 billion, the price he agreed to pay for the company in April. On Oct. 27, the purchase was completed. Mr. Musk quickly began cleaning house, with at least four top Twitter executives — including the chief executive and chief financial officer — getting fired.
Richard Walker, a professor emeritus of economic geography at the University of California, Berkeley and a historian of Silicon Valley, sees a shift in the locus of power.
“In this new Gilded Age, we’re being battered by billionaires rather than the corporations that were the face of the 20th century,” he said. “And the tech titans are leading the way.”
bought The Washington Post for $250 million. Marc Benioff of Salesforce owns Time magazine. Pierre Omidyar of eBay developed a homegrown media empire.
Deals have been a feature of Silicon Valley as long as there has been a Silicon Valley. Often they fail, especially when the acquisition was made for technology that either quickly grew outdated or never really worked at all. At least one venerable company, Hewlett-Packard, followed that strategy and has practically faded away.
$70 billion-plus acquisition of Activision Blizzard, which is pending, has garnered a fraction of the attention despite being No. 2.
said in April after sealing the deal. “I don’t care about the economics at all.”
He cared a little more when the subsequent plunge in the stock market meant that he was overpaying by a significant amount. Analysts estimated that Twitter was worth not $44 billion but $30 billion, or maybe even less. For a few months, Mr. Musk tried to get out of the deal.
This had the paradoxical effect of bringing the transaction down to earth for spectators. Who among us has not failed to do due diligence on a new venture — a job, a house, even a relationship — and then realized that it was going to cost so much more than we had thought? Mr. Musk’s buying Twitter, and then his refusal to buy Twitter, and then his being forced to buy Twitter after all — and everything playing out on Twitter — was weirdly relatable.
Inescapable, too. The apex, or perhaps the nadir, came this month when Mr. Musk introduced a perfume called Burnt Hair, described on its website as “the Essence of Repugnant Desire.”
“Please buy my perfume, so I can buy Twitter,” Mr. Musk tweeted on Oct. 12, garnering nearly 600,000 likes. This worked, apparently; the perfume is now marked “sold out” on its site. Did 30,000 people really pay $100 each for a bottle? Will this perfume actually be produced and sold? (It’s not supposed to be released until next year.) It’s hard to tell where the joke stops, which is perhaps the point.
“What was unique about Twitter was that no one actually controlled it,” said Richard Greenfield, a media analyst at LightShed Partners. “And now one person will own it in its entirety.”
He is relatively hopeful, however, that Mr. Musk will improve the site, somehow. That, in turn, will have its own consequences.
“If it turns into a massive home run,” Mr. Greenfield said, “you’ll see other billionaires try to do the same thing.”
Judge Kathaleen St. J. McCormick has become a very important person in the rambunctious life of Elon Musk.
The Delaware Chancery Court judge has given Mr. Musk until Friday to close his long-promised, $44 billion deal to acquire Twitter. If he doesn’t, Judge McCormick will preside over a trial in November that could end with Mr. Musk being forced to make good on the deal he made with Twitter in April.
The 43-year-old judge is also expected to preside over another case involving Mr. Musk in November. A Tesla shareholder accused him in a lawsuit of unjustly enriching himself with his compensation package while running the electric vehicle company, which is Mr. Musk’s main source of wealth. The package, which consisted entirely of a stock grant, is now worth around $50 billion based on Tesla’s share price.
Judge McCormick is also overseeing three other shareholder lawsuits against Mr. Musk, though it is not yet clear whether those will go to trial, too.
before it represented Mr. Musk. But, he said, “the deal will either close and then she will be a hero. Or not and Musk will look really bad.”
As a young girl, Judge McCormick played first base on the softball team and managed the high school football team. She has a long-held soft spot for the book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” about a Black man in small-town Alabama who was wrongfully accused of sexual assault.
unsolicited bid worth more than $40 billion for the social network, saying he wanted to make Twitter a private company and allow people to speak more freely on the service.
She then worked as a staff attorney with the Community Legal Aid Society, where she represented the needy and victims of domestic violence. She moved to a corporate law role at the firm Young Conaway Stargatt and Taylor in 2007, a mainstay in the Delaware legal circuit.
In 2018, she was nominated by John Carney, the governor of Delaware, to serve as vice chancellor on the state’s high court, the Delaware Chancery Court. In 2021, Gov. Carney nominated Ms. McCormick to become the first woman to lead the court.
More than 1.8 million businesses are incorporated in Delaware, including more than two thirds of Fortune 500 companies — and they all look to the court for guidance. When Twitter filed its lawsuit against Mr. Musk in July forcing him to close his acquisition, its case went to Delaware, where the company, like many others, is incorporated.
Judge McCormick, who has first dibs on any proceeding that comes before the court, chose herself of among a court of seven judges to oversee one of the most high profile corporate court battles in years.
At a hearing in September, as lawyers for Mr. Musk argued to delay the trial to take into account new claims from a whistle-blower, she poked at the billionaire’s decision to skip due diligence in his race to sign the deal in April. When Mr. Musk’s lawyer argued it would have been impossible to find out about the whistle-blower before the deal, she interjected, “We’ll never know, will we?” She added that “there was no due diligence.”
wrote in a ruling.
“She evidently was not putting up with any nonsense,” said Lawrence Hamermesh, a professor of law at Delaware Law School.
In October, after weeks of presiding over bruising back and forth arguments between the two sides, Judge McCormick granted Mr. Musk’s requests to put the trial on hold to give him more time to complete his financing for the acquisition. Judge McCormick granted him until Oct. 28 — a three-week delay.
“She had one eye on the clock,” said Brian Quinn, a professor at Boston College Law School, noting the two sides did not seem ready for a trial just two weeks away. “Another eye,” Mr. Quinn said, was “on potential appeals. She is looking forward saying, ‘Well, what if I ruled against Musk, and he appealed, and his appeal is that I pushed him — I rushed him toward the trial when he wanted to close the deal.’”
Judge McCormick is well-versed in trials involving deals with buyers that tried to walk away. As an associate at the law firm Young Conaway Stargatt and Taylor, she worked on cases involving deals that went awry when the stock market crashed in 2008. That included representing the chemical company Huntsman in 2008 when the private equity firm Apollo Global Management scuttled the deal it had struck to combine the chemical company with another it owned.
That deal, and others like it, paved the way for the kinds of contracts Twitter signed with Mr. Musk. Sellers learned how to prevent buyers from trying similar escape hatches. Companies increasingly structure deals with “specific performance” clauses allowing them to force a deal to close.
to follow through with its acquisition of a cake supplier after it argued that the pandemic had materially damaged the business by curbing demand for party cake.
Kohlberg contended it could not complete the deal because its debt financing had fallen apart. Judge McCormick did not buy that argument.
If Mr. Musk does not come through with Twitter’s money by Friday, that could ding his credibility in court, legal experts say. That could matter in November, when Judge McCormick is set to preside over a separate trial involving Mr. Musk and his compensation.
The case, filed in 2018, had originally been assigned to another judge on the Delaware Chancery Court, Joseph R. Slights III, before he retired in January. Judge McCormick picked up the case on Jan. 12, the same month Mr. Musk began to buy up shares of Twitter stock that ultimately led to his planned purchase of the company.
“It’s not ideal for him,” said Ann Lipton, a professor of corporate governance at Tulane Law School, of Mr. Musk’s multiple run-ins with Judge McCormick. “She’s uniquely low drama, which is the opposite of Musk. ”
“I thought to myself that there are many Chinese who also want freedom and democracy,” she said. “But where are you? Where can I find you? If we meet on the street, how can we recognize each other?”
At about 4 the next morning, she went downstairs from her dorm room to print some posters. She was nervous about running into other Chinese students, most of whom she would describe as “little pinks,” or pro-Beijing youths. She wore a mask to avoid cameras, even though she had seldom worn one since arriving in London a few weeks ago.
She was even more nervous putting up the posters on campus. Every time she saw an East Asian face, she would run to hide in a corridor or a restroom. She was afraid they could report her to the embassy or post photos of her on social media. Her parents are still in China, so she needs to take their safety into account.
After putting up the posters all over her campus, she felt much more at peace with herself.
A week later, when a new chat group titled “‘My Duty’ Democracy Wall in London” was set up on the messaging app Telegram, Kathy was one of the first to join. Within a day, more than 200 Chinese had also signed up. By Sunday, four days later, there were more than 400 members. Most introduced themselves as students and professionals in the U.K. Many said they had joined to find like-minded people because they, like Kathy, didn’t know whom to trust and felt lonely and powerless.
Citizens Daily CN, the Instagram account, organized Telegram chat groups in London, New York, Toronto and two other places to provide a safe online space for overseas Chinese to exchange views. Most people use online handles that disguise their identity.
They have discussed the depths of their frustration with political apathy and the best way to deal with pro-Beijing youth. Quite a few admitted that they were once nationalistic themselves, but added that China’s harsh zero-Covid policy had made them realize the importance of having a government accountable to its people. More important, they discussed what further actions they could take.
On Sunday, Kathy, who is in her early 20s, joined a demonstration for the first time in her life. For safety, she wore a mask and sunglasses, even though it was dark when the protest reached the Chinese Embassy in London. A young Chinese woman started chanting slogans made popular by the Bridge Man: “Students, workers, let’s strike. Depose the despotic traitor Xi Jinping.”
On the morning of July 8, former President Donald J. Trump took to Truth Social, a social media platform he founded with people close to him, to claim that he had in fact won the 2020 presidential vote in Wisconsin, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Barely 8,000 people shared that missive on Truth Social, a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of responses his posts on Facebook and Twitter had regularly generated before those services suspended his megaphones after the deadly riot on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021.
And yet Mr. Trump’s baseless claim pulsed through the public consciousness anyway. It jumped from his app to other social media platforms — not to mention podcasts, talk radio or television.
Within 48 hours of Mr. Trump’s post, more than one million people saw his claim on at least dozen other media. It appeared on Facebook and Twitter, from which he has been banished, but also YouTube, Gab, Parler and Telegram, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
gone mainstream among Republican Party members, driving state and county officials to impose new restrictions on casting ballots, often based on mere conspiracy theories percolating in right-wing media.
Voters must now sift through not only an ever-growing torrent of lies and falsehoods about candidates and their policies, but also information on when and where to vote. Officials appointed or elected in the name of fighting voter fraud have put themselves in the position to refuse to certify outcomes that are not to their liking.
a primary battleground in today’s fight against disinformation. A report last month by NewsGuard, an organization that tracks the problem online, showed that nearly 20 percent of videos presented as search results on TikTok contained false or misleading information on topics such as school shootings and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
continued to amplify “election denialism” in ways that undermined trust in the democratic system.
Another challenge is the proliferation of alternative platforms for those falsehoods and even more extreme views.
new survey by the Pew Research Center found that 15 percent of prominent accounts on those seven platforms had previously been banished from others like Twitter and Facebook.
F.B.I. raid on Mar-a-Lago thrust his latest pronouncements into the eye of the political storm once again.
study of Truth Social by Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring group, examined how the platform had become a home for some of the most fringe conspiracy theories. Mr. Trump, who began posting on the platform in April, has increasingly amplified content from QAnon, the online conspiracy theory.
He has shared posts from QAnon accounts more than 130 times. QAnon believers promote a vast and complex conspiracy that centers on Mr. Trump as a leader battling a cabal of Democratic Party pedophiles. Echoes of such views reverberated through Republican election campaigns across the country during this year’s primaries.
Ms. Jankowicz, the disinformation expert, said the nation’s social and political divisions had churned the waves of disinformation.
The controversies over how best to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic deepened distrust of government and medical experts, especially among conservatives. Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election led to, but did not end with, the Capitol Hill violence.
“They should have brought us together,” Ms. Jankowicz said, referring to the pandemic and the riots. “I thought perhaps they could be kind of this convening power, but they were not.”
It was Saturday, Oct. 1, and Jim Lewis, who frequently posts on Twitter under the moniker Wall Street Silver, made that assertion to his more than 300,000 followers. “Markets are saying it’s insolvent and probably bust. 2008 moment soon?”
Mr. Lewis was among hundreds of people — many of them amateur investors — who had been speculating about the fate of Credit Suisse, the Swiss bank. It was in the middle of a restructuring and had become an easy target after decades of scandals, failed attempts at reform and management upheavals.
There seemed to be no immediate provocation for Mr. Lewis’s weekend tweet other than a memo that Ulrich Körner, the chief executive of Credit Suisse, had sent employees the day before, reassuring them that the bank was in good financial health.
But the tweet, which has been liked more than 11,000 times and retweeted more than 3,000 times, was one of many that helped ignite a firestorm on social media forums like Twitter and Reddit. The rumor that Credit Suisse was in trouble ricocheted around the world, stumping bank executives and forcing them to call shareholders, trading partners and analysts to reassure them that everything was fine before markets reopened on Monday.
prop up the shares of GameStop, the video game retailer, determined to outsmart hedge funds that had bet the company’s shares would fall.
Our Coverage of the Investment World
The decline of the stock and bond markets this year has been painful, and it remains difficult to predict what is in store for the future.
A Bad Year for Bonds: This has been the most devastating time for bonds since at least 1926 — and maybe in centuries. But much of the damage is already behind us.
Discordant Views: Some investors just don’t see how the Federal Reserve can lower inflation without risking high unemployment. The Fed appears more optimistic.
Weathering the Storm: The rout in the stock and bond markets has been especially rough on people paying for college, retirement or a new home. Here is some advice.
College Savings: As the stock and bond markets wobble, 529 plans are taking a tumble. What’s a family to do? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but you have options.
But what started as a spontaneous effort to take down Wall Street has since become an established presence in the market. Millions of amateur investors have embraced trading, including more sophisticated strategies such as shorting. As the Credit Suisse incident shows, their actions highlight a new source of peril for troubled companies.
Founded in Switzerland in 1856 to help finance the expansion of railroads in the tiny European nation, Credit Suisse has two main units — a private wealth management business and an investment bank. However, the bank has often struggled to maintain a pristine reputation.
It has been the repository of funds from businesspeople who are under sanctions, human rights abusers and intelligence officials. The U.S. government has fined it billions of dollars for its role in helping Americans file false tax returns, marketing mortgage-backed securities tied to the 2008 financial crisis and helping customers in Iran, Sudan and elsewhere breach U.S. sanctions.
In the United States, Credit Suisse built its investment banking business through acquisitions, starting with the 1990 purchase of First Boston. But without a core focus, the bank — whose top bosses sit in Switzerland — has often allowed mavericks to pursue new revenue streams and take outsize risks without adequate supervision.
collapsed. Credit Suisse was one of many Wall Street banks that traded with Archegos, the private investment firm of Bill Hwang, a former star money manager. Yet it lost $5.5 billion, far more than its rivals. The bank later admitted that a “fundamental failure of management and controls” had led to the debacle.
surveillance of Credit Suisse executives under his watch. He left the bank in a stable and profitable condition and invested appropriately across its various divisions, his spokesman, Andy Smith, said.
Credit Suisse replaced Mr. Thiam with Thomas Gottstein, a longtime bank executive. When Archegos collapsed, the bank kept Mr. Gottstein on the job, but he started working with a new chairman, António Horta-Osório, who had been appointed a few months earlier to restructure the bank.
resigned after an inquiry into whether he had broken quarantine rules during the pandemic. But he made swift changes in his short tenure. To reduce risk taking, Mr. Horta-Osório said, the bank would close most of its prime brokerage businesses, which involve lending to big trading firms like Archegos. Credit Suisse also lost a big source of revenue as the market for special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, cooled.
By July, Credit Suisse had announced its third consecutive quarterly loss. Mr. Gottstein was replaced by Mr. Körner, a veteran of the rival Swiss bank UBS.
Mr. Körner and the chairman, Axel Lehmann, who replaced Mr. Horta-Osório, are expected to unveil a new restructuring plan on Oct. 27 in an effort to convince investors of the bank’s long-term viability and profitability. The stock of Credit Suisse has dipped so much in the past year that its market value — which stood around $12 billion — is comparable to that of a regional U.S. bank, smaller than Fifth Third or Citizens Financial Group.
appeared on Reddit.
Mr. Macleod said he had decided that Credit Suisse was in bad shape after looking at what he deemed the best measure of a bank’s value — the price of its stock relative to its “book value,” or assets minus liabilities. Most Wall Street analysts factor in a broader set of measures.
But “bearing in mind that most followers on Twitter and Reddit are not financial professionals,” he said, “it would have been a wake-up call for them.”
The timing puzzled the bank’s analysts, major investors and risk managers. Credit Suisse had longstanding problems, but no sudden crisis or looming bankruptcy.
Some investors said the Sept. 30 memo sent by Mr. Körner, the bank’s chief executive, reassuring staff that Credit Suisse stood on a “strong capital base and liquidity position” despite recent market gyrations had the opposite effect on stock watchers.
Credit Suisse took the matter seriously. Over the weekend of Oct. 1, bank executives called clients to reassure them that the bank had more than the amount of capital required by regulators. The bigger worry was that talk of a liquidity crisis would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, prompting lenders to pull credit lines and depositors to pull cash, which could drain money from the bank quickly — an extreme and even unlikely scenario given the bank’s strong financial position.
“Banks rely on sentiment,” Mr. Scholtz, the Morningstar analyst, said. “If all depositors want their money back tomorrow, the money isn’t there. It’s the reality of banking. These things can snowball.”
What had snowballed was the volume of trading in Credit Suisse’s stock by small investors, which had roughly doubled from Friday to Monday, according to a gauge of retail activity from Nasdaq Data Link.
Amateur traders who gather on social media can’t trade sophisticated products like credit-default swaps — products that protect against companies’ reneging on their debts. But their speculation drove the price of these swaps past levels reached during the 2008 financial crisis.
Some asset managers said they had discussed the fate of the bank at internal meetings after the meme stock mania that was unleashed in early October. While they saw no immediate risk to Credit Suisse’s solvency, some decided to cut trading with the bank anyway until risks subsided.
In another private message on Twitter, Mr. Lewis declined to speak further about why he had predicted that Credit Suisse would collapse.
“The math and evidence is fairly obvious at this point,” he wrote. “If you disagree, the burden is really on you to support that position.”
Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, has set off one controversy after another in the last week, first at his fashion show and then on social media, prompting accusations of racism and antisemitism.
On Monday, at Paris Fashion Week, he debuted a T-shirt for his fashion line bearing the phrase “White Lives Matter.” On Friday, he suggested on Instagram that Sean Combs, the rapper known as Diddy, was being controlled by Jewish people. Ye’s account was restricted by Instagram that day.
Early on Sunday morning, he went on Twitter and lashed out against Jewish people in a series of tweets.
Ye tweeted that he would soon go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” an apparent reference to the United States’ defense readiness condition, known as Def. Con.
separate tweet, Ye accused Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Meta, which owns Instagram, of removing him from Instagram.
“Who you think created cancel culture?” he added in another tweet.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Twitter said Ye’s account was locked for violating Twitter’s policies. A spokeswoman for Meta said it places restrictions on accounts that repeatedly break its rules.
Representatives for Ye could not immediately be reached.
The restrictions on Twitter and Instagram mean that Ye’s account is still active, but that the rapper cannot post for an undisclosed period.
Ye had returned to Twitter on Saturday after not posting for nearly two years.
The posts were yet another test of social media companies’ willingness to monitor content that is perceived as hateful.
called “White Lives Matter” a hateful phrase used by white supremacists.
At first, Ye appeared to relish in the T-shirt controversy, writing on Instagram that “my one t-shirt took allllll the attention.”
But outrage continued to build online from several artists, including Mr. Combs, who criticized the design in a video on Instagram.
“Don’t wear the shirt. Don’t buy the shirt. Don’t play with the shirt,” Mr. Combs said. “It’s not a joke.”
On Thursday, Adidas said it would put its partnership with Yeezy “under review.” (Ye ended his partnership with Gap last month.)
On Friday, Ye posted screenshots from a text message exchange with Mr. Combs to his Instagram account, where he suggested that Mr. Combs was being controlled by Jewish people. The comments were called antisemitic by several Jewish groups.
buy the social media company for $44 billion and could loosen its content moderation policies, replied to the tweet.
“Welcome back to Twitter, my friend!” Mr. Musk wrote.
Elon Musk proposed a deal with Twitter on Monday evening that could bring to an end the acrimonious legal fight between the billionaire and the social media company.
The arrangement would allow Mr. Musk to acquire Twitter at $54.20 per share, the price he agreed to pay for the company in April, two people familiar with the proposal who were not authorized to speak publicly said.
The potential deal comes after months of disputes that have created existential challenges for Twitter, cratering its share price, demoralizing its employees and spooking the advertisers it relies on for revenue.
A deal at the original price would be a victory for Twitter, which struck an agreement with Mr. Musk to buy the company for $44 billion. Mr. Musk declared in July that he no longer intended to complete the acquisition because he believed Twitter’s service was overrun by spam.
Twitter sued Mr. Musk in July to force the completion of the acquisition, and was set for a showdown with the billionaire this month in a Delaware courtroom. The company argued in legal filings that Mr. Musk’s reasons for abandoning the deal were smoke screens, and suggested that he had simply hoped for a lower price after stock market declines had decreased his overall wealth.
Mr. Musk said Twitter had most likely undercounted the amount of spam on its platform, making the company less valuable than he had initially believed. He also cited whistle-blower claims from a former Twitter executive, who said the company had misled regulators about its security practices, as a reason to exit the deal.
Mr. Musk submitted a proposal to Twitter on Monday evening, a person familiar with the conversation said. The parties met in court on Tuesday to discuss the proposal. The offer was reported earlier by Bloomberg.
A deal could allow both sides to avoid a messy public trial, which most likely would have featured testimony from Mr. Musk and senior Twitter executives.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.