CNN

Elon Musk signals he will restore the X account of notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones

Dec 9, 2023, 5:22 PM

Elon Musk may restore Alex Jones account on X.
(Reuters)...

Elon Musk may restore Alex Jones account on X. (Reuters)

(Reuters)

(CNN) — Elon Musk signaled Saturday that he would restore the account of right-wing extremist Alex Jones on X, formerly known as Twitter, reversing a 2018 decision by the company’s previous management to deplatform the notorious conspiracy theorist after he repeatedly broke rules prohibiting harassment and hate.

On Saturday morning, Musk posted an unscientific poll to his account asking users of the platform if Jones should be reinstated. By Saturday afternoon the poll showed roughly 70% of users had voted “yes.”

Earlier, in response to another user who said it was time for the restoration of Jones’ account, Musk replied, “OK.”

The looming move from the billionaire Musk, who has promoted conspiracy theories himself who has and elevated a number of extremist voices since taking over the platform, is likely to impact X even further as companies distance themselves from the troubled platform, which has seen hate speech and conspiracy theories surge in the wake of his decisions.

A slew of major advertisers has left the platform in recent weeks over concerns about brand safety and hate speech, prompted by Musk himself endorsing an antisemitic conspiracy theory in November. Musk apologized days later for his post amid a storm of backlash. But the  advertiser boycott has continued, which Musk has said could result in the eventual death of the company.

Musk acknowledged Saturday that reinstating Jones would “be bad for X financially,” but he argued “principles matter more than money.” Musk has sought to portray himself as a free speech absolutist, though he has taken action to curtail the speech of critics.

Musk said last year that he would not lift the ban on Jones because of his false claims that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax. But in recent days, following an interview with Tucker Carlson — another extremist right-wing personality who was fired by Fox News earlier this year — there has been significant pressure aimed at Musk from Jones’ right-wing allies demanding his account be restored.

The right-wing campaign seemingly persuaded Musk, who said he disagreed with Jones’ Sandy Hook comments but rhetorically asked, “Are we a platform that believes in freedom of speech or are we not?” in a post on X Saturday.

Jones is known as one of the world’s leading purveyors of dis- and misinformation. He has a lengthy history of spreading demonstrably false and hateful conspiracy theories on various issues.

Jones most notoriously suggested that the Sandy Hook massacre that left 20 children and six adults dead was a hoax. Courts have ordered Jones to pay the families of the Sandy Hook victims more than $1 billion in damages for his lies about the shooting, which tormented the parents of the children who died and resulted in a tsunami of real-world harassment aimed at them.

Restoring Jones’ account would be in line with the decisions made by Musk since acquiring the social media company for $44 billion last year. Musk has also reinstated the account of Donald Trump and welcomed back extremists and racists banned before he took control of the website.

Jones’ original Twitter ban

Twitter permanently suspended Jones and other accounts linked to his website, Infowars, in 2018, citing abusive behavior and following similar moves by YouTube, Apple and Facebook.

Twitter’s then-decision to permanently ban Jones came a day after the right-wing extremist hatefully accosted CNN reporter Oliver Darcy on Capitol Hill, and livestreamed the encounter on the platform.

Darcy had become a top target of Jones for aggressively reporting on his lies and hateful behavior. That reporting raised questions about why Jones had been allowed to remain on major social media platforms, despite repeatedly breaking their own rules about hate and harassment.

During the 2018 incident on Capitol Hill, Jones viciously shouted at Darcy for more than ten minutes, calling the CNN reporter of Middle Eastern descent was anti-American, degrading him as less than human and comparing him to vermin. Earlier in the day, Jones had also ranted at Sen. Marco Rubio in the hallway.

In a series of tweets from Twitter’s safety team at the time, Twitter said, “Today, we permanently suspended @realalexjones and @infowars from Twitter and Periscope. We took this action based on new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behavior policy, in addition to the accounts’ previous violations.”

A month after banning Jones and the main Infowars account, Twitter banned more than a dozen additional accounts affiliated with the website.

Musk’s flip-flop

Musk said last November that he would not reinstate Jones’ account, even as he brought back other controversial figures. The billionaire explained his position at the time by citing Bible verses and his own personal experience losing his first child to sudden infant death syndrome.

“My firstborn child died in my arms. I felt his last heartbeat,” Musk tweeted. “I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame.”

When some users responded with frustration to Musk’s decision not to restore Jones’ account, Musk responded on the platform: “Too bad.”

But Musk, who has shown a willingness to engage with radical voices since acquiring Twitter, appears to have changed his tune. Still, the decision to reinstate Jones appeared not to sit well with even some of Musk’s biggest supporters.

Investor Jason Calacanis, a friend and booster of Musk and once considered a frontrunner to become X’s CEO, posted on Saturday that he is “for freedom of speech, but what Alex Jones did by mocking the parents of murdered children caused real-world harm. These poor parents had Jones’ conspiracy-theory-loving audience show up in the real world to harass them.”

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Elon Musk signals he will restore the X account of notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones