Has X become the go-to social media platform of the far right?

Twitter was known for its liberalism. It has been transformed into a very different beast, posing implications for news provision and political debate in a year with the next race for the White House

Brian Stauffer

Has X become the go-to social media platform of the far right?

Social media platform X has been constantly criticised since it was acquired by the controversial entrepreneur Elon Musk for an estimated $44bn in 2022 when it was still called Twitter. Musk said his main reason for the deal was to dedicate the site to free speech, lifting the restrictions imposed on what users could say in their posts, known as tweets.

But the changes ended up being more than cosmetic. The entire platform gradually moved toward the right of the political spectrum. That included the reinstatement of accounts widely seen as racist or extremist, as well as right-wing accounts that had previously been banned by Twitter's management, which had policies against hate speech.

Moreover, Musk himself has also reposted messages that promote conspiracy theories. The latest of which claims that US President Joe Biden’s immigration policy is aimed at attracting votes to the Democratic Party and that it will lead to even worse events than the 11 September terrorist attacks of 2001.

He has also criticised ideas that are seen as backing racial unity and coexistence and stands accused of promoting the idea that the white race is under attack from the policies of the left. Musk has used X to support right-wing media outlets, including Fox News, as well as conservative radio hosts and other figures associated with the far-right.

These moves have effectively changed the site. X is now more of a platform for exchanging right-wing political ideas, having previously been a forum for left-wing progressive ideas supporting the Democratic Party. In an interview with the former CNN news anchor, Don Lemon, Musk said that 99% of the political donations the previous Twitter administration made went to Democratic candidates.

It had been reported that Musk attempted to sign a contract with the left-wing Lemon to present his show exclusively on X in a move toward political balance. But after the host's interview with the social network’s owner, Musk announced he reversed the decision. He terminated Lemon’s contract due to significant differences of opinion, particularly over the distinction between freedom of speech on X and an ethical responsibility placed on the site’s administration to reduce hate speech and racist posts.

Musk believes that each subscriber has the right to express his or her opinion without interference or censorship of posts as long as they are legal, while Lemon disagrees. Musk became agitated during his conversation with Lemon and told him: “You are in favour of suppressing posts, and I am in favour of freedom of speech; we are different.”

Musk has led a campaign against the mainstream US media, which he claims does not report the full truth. He wants X to become an alternative for conveying accurate news coming directly from its users. He reconfigured the platform’s algorithms to increase the visibility of influencer accounts and their posts.

The new system adopted by Musk allows every user to verify their account for a fee of $8 per month. Bloggers can utilise this subscription system to publish longer content, appearing first to other users. Sources close to Musk and X’s chief executive, Linda Yaccarino, told The Washington Post that Musk intends to turn the platform into a news provider where users can post comprehensive and exclusive content. This approach is dubbed the “Revenue Sharing Program with Influencers,” where the platform provides space for users to post content in exchange for a share of revenue.

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Musk justified this strategy because it allows the platform and its users to verify and post news directly, away from traditional stations, which he believes are prone to political bias. Last August, he announced measures on his personal account to further stimulate content creation and increase user revenue.

They include lowering the minimum number of required views for profit sharing from 15 million to 5 million and reducing the minimum earnings withdrawal threshold to $10 instead of $50. Finally, Musk introduced an account verification service, X Premium, for accounts participating in the revenue-sharing programme.

One of X's most prominent content providers is Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News anchor known for his conservative right-wing views. He is among the first beneficiaries of Musk’s overhaul. Other participants include Andrew Tate, influencers who opposed Donald Trump, the former president running again for the White House, and brothers Ed and Brian Krassenstein.

Musk’s reforms have clearly appealed to many right-wing influencers, changing the tone of the political discourse on X. On the very first day of his acquisition of what was still Twitter, right-wing influencers' followers on the platform increased noticeably, while left-leaning influencers declined. The Washington Post attributed this pattern to a direct reaction to Musk's buying the site and the changes he went on to make.

Then came the reinstatement of accounts held by previously banned people, as Trump’s was in the aftermath of the 6 January insurrection on Washington’s Capitol Hill. The serving president at the time, Trump was accused of inciting the storming of the building in which the results of the election he lost were being certified by lawmakers.

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Musk has also introduced a five-second delay in how links on X work toward news sites he believes are non-neutral, including Facebook and The New York Times. It is seen as a move to reduce traffic to these destinations and has also affected the general political mood on X.

Among the re-instated accounts was that of the far-right activist Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist behind the false accusation that the Sandy Hook school shooting was staged, who was ordered to pay almost $1bn in damages for the harm caused to the families affected by the shooting for the untruths he promoted.

Jones was barred from Twitter by its previous management for violating its policies against hate speech. According to CNN, Musk promoted Jones' account to his own followers, boosting Jones’s audience on X to about 1.5 million—a move emblematic of Musk’s push to amplify right-wing voices on his redrawn social media platform.

Musk’s policy has an overarching motivation: He is pushing back against what is known as the concept of “woke.” The term relates to the primacy of views strictly promoting racial and gender equality above and beyond considerations of any other kind. It was first used in the English language among African Americans to deepen understanding of discrimination and racism based on skin colour.

But the term has since widened. It has been adopted to cover various issues relating to diversity and inclusion with narrower general support in many social circles, reaching all races, colours and genders. The use of the term is now associated with a general progressive liberal political discourse.

Musk publishes X posts attacking woke thinking to his 181 million followers. He refers to it as a “virus” of thought that threatens the future of civilisation and peaceful coexistence among humanity. He also shares posts from like-minded X users to influence the tone of the opinion and debate published on X. He believes woke culture to be a form of discrimination against white Americans.

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The pushback against woke has taken wider root in Silicon Valley, the US hub of the global technology sector, and a place long associated with the liberal political ideas that started off as a means toward diversity and inclusion and became seen instead as an increasingly serious threat to free speech without a grounding in any social consensus.

Musk has found an ally in Marc Andreessen—a US businessman who controls many asset management firms in Silicon Valley. He, too, wants to develop a community that does not necessarily support Trump in the upcoming election but rather wants to remake Silicon Valley along the lines of conservative ideals.

In a document published on Andreessen’s website in October, he outlined his vision for tech entrepreneurs—seeing them as defenders of the socio-economic and technological order against its enemies—which was praised by Musk.

Whatever else, it is clear that there is a growing right-wing feel to discourse in Silicon Valley, highlighted by Musk’s rhetoric and the changes he has brought to X and how discourse on the platform has changed. While Musk has denied rumours that he will support Trump’s campaign in November’s presidential elections, his use of X to support views traditionally seen as right-wing or conservative is clear.

It comes at a time when the world is witnessing social, economic, and even security changes that will benefit those who own the technology and have platforms to promote their ideas and interests.

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