Conspiracy theorists, QAnon-adjacent online influencers and far-right figures are celebrating Elon Musk’s arrangement to purchase Twitter and anticipating the return of their suspended accounts and content on the platform.
A deal for the world’s wealthiest person to own the social media company has added another link to long-running conspiracy theories about the imminent exposure of “deep state” control across media and politics, in which Mr Musk is believed to be a key figure who could reveal how the company banned QAnon figures and followers from using it.
“As stated weeks ago. The Twitter deal is done. Banned accounts will be restored,” said Ron Watkins, a conspiracy theorist and site administrator of a message board that facilitated posts from the “Q” persona. Mr Watkins is running for the Republican nomination for a congressional race in Arizona, and he has repeatedly denied his connection to QAnon.
Jacob Creech, a conspiracy theorist posting as BioClandestine on Telegram, called Mr Musk’s acquisition a “massive cause for celebration.”
“Deep state entities are now no longer in control of the de facto public forum, which they use to manipulate normies to carry out their will,” he wrote. “They just lost control of that and it will pay dividends in [2022 midterm elections] and all elections moving forward.”
In the aftermath of the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021, Twitter removed more than 70,000 accounts that promoted QAnon-related content, spanning conspiratorial posts related to a baseless narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump, envisioned as prophetic figure secretly fighting a Democratic cabal, as part of a conspiracy-driven community often relying on antisemitic and racist tropes and hate speech.
The communities thrived across message boards and eventually mainstream social media platforms, which began to crack down on QAnon-related content within the months leading up to and following the 2020 election, though such messages and accounts continued to crop up.
Conservatives and the far right have characterised concerns among Twitter users that Mr Musk will abandon the company’s policies against misinformation and targeted hate speech as a liberal “meltdown” over the forthcoming discovery of Democrats’ alleged crimes.
Their ongoing grievances and focus on Twitter – which is relatively small compared to the billions of daily views on platforms like Instagram and Facebook – follow their rejection from what they view as a contemporary “public square” that has an outsized influence with the attention and reach of international media and political figures. They then turned to platforms like Telegram, Parler and Gab, and now Truth Social, where accounts routinely complain about Twitter.
QAnon John of The Patriot Voice, aka John Sabal, believes that Mr Musk’s purchase is a “white hat driven operation” – referring to hackers working to expose the company in an effort to support the former president.
He claimed that Mr Musk’s deal and calls among Republican officials to “audit” the platform will reveal “backlogs” and internal communications that conspired to “censor free speech” on the platform.
“He isn’t just buying Twitter, HE IS BUYING EVIDENCE,” he wrote on Telegram.
“They aren’t all just freaking out about free speech coming back to Twitter,” said far-right commentator Jack Posobiec. “They’re freaking out at what Elon will find behind the curtain.”
Others pointed to four-year-old message board posts from “Q” as evidence and claimed that Mr Musk will change the “algorithms” to put their misinformation and hate speech back on the platform.
It remains unclear whether Mr Musk intends to revoke the kinds of policies that Twitter has implemented to curb the spread of harassment, violent threats and misinformation on the platform, though he has long bristled at censored posts in the name of preserving “free speech” and has gained the praise of right-wing figures and Republican officials who were previously banned.
In a statement announcing the deal, Mr Musk said that “free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”
“Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it,” he said.
Women’s advocacy organisation Ultraviolet warned that Mr Musk could “rip open Pandora’s box and reopen the floodgates for hate and baseless conspiracy theories” to proliferate on the platform.
“Without any conditions for Musk to purchase Twitter, the platform’s community standards and recourse to ban users who violate those standards, Twitter could set a dangerous precedent for other social media companies to follow,” the group’s communications director Bridget Todd said in a statement. “This is a massively slippery slope.”
Angelo Carusone, CEO of right-wing media watchdog group Media Matters, said Mr Musk has the potential to “unwind a whole range of very basic protections against harassment, abuse, disinformation.”
“Effectively, he’ll open the flood gates of hate and lies. And, he’ll use Twitter as a cudgel against other social media companies to press them to backslide,” he wrote, adding that Mr Musk’s claims of supporting “free speech” is “actually about idealogy.”
“He made that clear, like when talked about the need for liberals/others to become red pilled,” he said, referring to the term for far-right political awakening that Mr Musk used in 2020. “Now, he’ll have a massive engine to red pill many. Red pilling isn’t free speech, it’s radicalizing.”
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