Elon Musk, the dynamic entrepreneur and CEO, once again stirred the pot of controversy this past weekend with his latest moves at X, the rebranded Twitter. In a decision that has sent ripples across social media landscapes, Musk reinstated the accounts of notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his InfoWars website.
This bold move was followed by Musk's participation in an audio chat alongside Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy, further intensifying the debate. Alex Jones, a figure synonymous with controversial conspiracy theories, especially regarding the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, saw his accounts restored after Musk conducted a public poll on his X account.
Jones, still indebted to the families of the victims for more than $1.5 billion in defamation penalties, represents a highly polarizing figure in the media. The decision to bring Jones back to the platform comes amid a significant advertising withdrawal from X, with major companies like Disney and IBM pulling out after Musk echoed an antisemitic conspiracy theory.
Since this advertising exodus began in November, Musk has increasingly engaged with and propagated conspiracy theories, exacerbating the already tense situation. At The New York Times’ Dealbook Summit last month, Musk, while expressing regret over his controversial tweet, had a blunt message for the departing advertisers: “Go f--- yourself”.
Musk's Controversial Space
Further stoking the flames, Musk joined Jones in a three-hour Space (X's version of an audio room) on Sunday. The event, hosted by the influential Mario Nawfal, also embroiled in his own set of controversies, included the likes of Andrew Tate, currently facing serious legal charges in Romania, and Ramaswamy.
The discussion, drawing in an audience of over 9 million according to X's metrics, centered around the alleged censorship of conservative viewpoints on tech platforms, a narrative that has garnered support for Musk's leadership at X.
Musk's latest actions are part of a broader trend of reinstating accounts that often espouse conspiratorial and far-right views, leading to a noticeable shift in user and brand engagement on the platform. This trend has seen notable figures and brands diversify their social media presence, with alternatives like Meta’s Threads and Bluesky gaining traction.
As of October, Threads boasted nearly 100 million monthly active users, while X claimed over 500 million in July. Bluesky, a newer entrant, has already amassed over 2 million users. Musk, who has often championed "free speech absolutism," seems to have selectively reinstated accounts, mainly benefiting conservatives, conspiracy theorists, and extremists.
This list includes former President Donald Trump, rapper Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., all previously banned for incitement of violence and spreading disinformation. Interestingly, just over a year ago, Musk had publicly stated he would not reinstate Jones' account, citing the personal pain of losing his first child and condemning the exploitation of children's deaths for personal gain.
This stance starkly contrasts his current actions, highlighting a significant shift in his approach to content moderation. Jones, who was permanently banned from Twitter in September 2018, saw other major platforms like YouTube and Spotify take similar actions against him.
At the time of his suspension, Twitter cited "abusive behavior" following an incident where Jones confronted a CNN journalist. As of Monday, Jones' follower count on X had surged to 1.5 million, a significant increase from his numbers prior to the ban.