Twitter: Who Is The Projection Activist Who Mocked Elon Musk?

The messages, in plain white text, flashed on the walls of Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters Thursday night.

“Musk’s Hellscape.”

“Departure for bankruptcy.”

“Worthless billionaire.”

Other news outlets called Elon Musk, who completed his $44 billion purchase of Twitter late last month, a “space Karen” and a “lawless oligarch.” Another quoted a former Twitter engineer who had resigned and called on others to protest: “If your personal situation permits, it is your moral duty to disobey. Two strikes. Two protest.”

As a mass exodus of Twitter workers declining Musk’s “hardcore” ultimatum unfolded inside the building, the news continued to beam from a projector mounted on a tripod across the street. Crowds started gathering outside and the projections started going viral online.

The projections were the work of Alan Marling, a Bay Area activist who declined to reveal his age or comment on his profession. He stood nearby – wearing a Captain America face mask and a Sunrise Movement cap – as passers-by, many of whom were technicians coming from work from nearby offices, stopped to take videos and photos.

A breathless man approached Marling and said he ran away from home to catch a glimpse of the public display after seeing videos of the news posted on social media.

After projecting the messages for about an hour, Marling packed up his gear and headed home. On Friday, as Twitter’s fortunes grew uglier, Marling spoke to The Times about why he was protesting the tech giant and its controversial new owner.

Was this your first time presenting your work on Twitter?

I previously projected at Twitter and started there in 2017. I wanted the company to enforce its hate speech policy and stop amplifying its Donald Trump tweets. Twitter really gave him a platform and they amplified his hate speech. They gave him a way to spread his white supremacist conspiracy theories stemming from his Birth Movement tweets.

Were you happy when Twitter banned Trump from its platform?

I would have argued that they should have done it five years earlier. I won’t thank them for doing it so late.

Why did you show up Thursday to project more messages?

In recent months, as I’ve started paying more attention to the issue, it’s become clear that Elon Musk is a white supremacist himself.

In this case, I was particularly concerned that Elon Musk has gone above and below other companies by firing his human rights staff, his diversity and inclusion staff, and many of the moderators.

I wanted to challenge that and his claim that he wanted Twitter to be a place for free speech. It’s kind of fake because it’s a private company looking to capitalize on this freedom of expression.

We considered projecting next week, but we were concerned that Twitter would file for bankruptcy by then.

Have you protested to other movements in the past?

I protested the Iraq war. But in 2017 I realized that the level of extremism on social media was a problem in the US. Social media is causing our society to go extreme because of the way their algorithms work.

And why use a projector this time? Is it difficult to set it up?

I wanted a new way of protesting. It’s a non-violent, silent protest that allows people to interact with it as much or as little as they like.

The difficulty of the projection drives it. I was lugging around a 50 pound lead acid battery in a suitcase. The case would break and spill acid everywhere. Now I use lithium batteries but they tend to melt. But it doesn’t explode like Tesla batteries.

It’s difficult to act. That’s why you don’t see many projection activists.

How do people usually deal with your work?

Some people just walk by. But some people respond positively to it. When I’m projecting, I’m trying to project something that they’re thinking about but haven’t put into words yet. If I succeed, I hear “good work”, “great job” and get a thumbs up. The most common interaction is simply taking a photo.

Even if Twitter collapses, would you still return to its building to continue protesting?

I would be tempted yes

Regardless of whether Twitter implodes or not, we should hold big tech companies accountable for what they publish and distribute to the world. Extremism in particular drives most engagement on Twitter and elsewhere, and they will continue to increase it, even about truth and democracy, even about their own country’s interests, until we make it unprofitable for them.

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