Conspiracy theorists back after Twitter amnesty
WASHINGTON — A conspiracy theorist urging Americans to burn voting machines, an anti-Muslim activist posting a photo with a gun, a retired general who called for a coup — Elon Musk’s Twitter has reinstated thousands of once-banned accounts.
Twitter has turned into what campaigners call a cesspool of misinformation, hate-filled conspiracies and racial slurs amid what appears to be reduced content moderation in recent weeks following mass layoffs and an exodus of key staff focused on user safety.
Musk, a self-proclaimed free speech absolutist who completed his $44-billion buyout of the influential platform in October, has further stoked alarm by restoring what one expert estimates are over 27,000 accounts once suspended for fueling falsehoods, harassment, and violence.
“Restoring these accounts will make the platform a magnet for actors who want to spread misinformation,” Jonathan Nagler, co-director of the New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “And there will likely be less moderation of hate speech, making the platform less hospitable to many users.”
Those reinstated include far-right activists, anti-Muslim extremists as well as others peddling election conspiracies and COVID-19 misinformation, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Media Matters of dozens of restored accounts with millions of combined followers.
Among those allowed back is former US President Donald Trump, who was handed a “permanent” ban by Twitter after his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump has so far resisted the offer to return and remained on Truth Social, a platform he founded where his following pales in comparison to his Twitter account with 87.7 million followers.
Many other reinstated influencers have actively returned to the platform, including flamboyant anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller and Mindy Robinson, a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy movement whose first tweet after being restored included a picture of herself with a gun.
Also reinstated was controversial former kickboxer Andrew Tate, who is notorious for his misogynistic remarks. After a heated Twitter exchange with environmentalist Greta Thunberg, Tate was recently arrested in Romania for alleged human trafficking and rape.
After thanking Musk for restoring his account, election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell called on his followers to “melt down the electronic voting machines and turn them into prison bars.”
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who once appeared to endorse the idea of a Myanmar-style coup in the United States, also thanked Musk on Friday — the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection — after his account was restored.
“Under Musk, misinformation superspreaders are emboldened, and readers have less information about the reliability of the sources feeding them news and information,” Jack Brewster, from the media watchdog NewsGuard, told AFP.
Musk’s interventions, he added, “have the effect of catering to the extreme — on both sides of the aisle — and obscuring readers’ path to high-quality information.”
Twitter has not publicly said how many accounts have been reinstated.