Back to the banned: Do Twitter exiles return under Musk?

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FILE – Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, attends the opening of the Tesla Berlin Brandenburg factory in Gruenheide, Germany, March 22, 2022. Musk, the richest man in the world and owner of SpaceX and Tesla, says he is an absolutist of free speech that doesn’t support the kind of content moderation that has seen people like former President Donald Trump banned for inciting violence (Patrick Pleul/Pool via AP, Archive)

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QAnon supporters, COVID deniers, neo-Nazis and a former American president: The list of people banned from Twitter is long, but their exile could soon end if Elon Musk’s $44 billion bid for the platform is approved.

Musk, the world’s richest man and owner of SpaceX and Tesla, calls himself a free speech absolutist who believes in allowing any content that doesn’t break the law.

While Musk didn’t offer details on how he would run the platform, his musings are sparking celebrations from some of those muzzled by Twitter, even as they alarm internet security experts who predict a rise in harassment, hate speech and misinformation about topics like vaccines. and elections.

“There’s no reason these people wouldn’t want to be in this space,” said Jaime Longoria, research and training manager for the Disinfo Defense League, a nonprofit that works with local organizations to combat the effects of disinformation. “Ultimately, I think Elon’s premise of saving the public square is going to create a square that no one wants to be in.”

From former President Donald Trump to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to white supremacist David Duke, here’s a look at who might return to Twitter if Musk’s offer to buy him goes through.

TWEETER IN CHIEF

Trump has said he will not return to Twitter even if Musk lifts the ban imposed after the deadly January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. The platform cited concerns of further incitement to violence.

After his banishment, Trump created his own platform, Truth Social, which launched earlier this year.

“I’m not going on Twitter. I’m staying on the truth,” Trump told Fox News last week. “I hope Elon buys Twitter because he will make improvements to it and he is a good man, but I will stand by the Truth.”

Trump built one of the biggest Twitter followers in the world before his suspension, using his account to demean critics, spread lies about the 2020 election and amplify potentially dangerous misinformation about COVID-19.

Despite what the former president has said, returning to Twitter can be too tempting to resist, said Emerson Brooking, resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

“If Donald Trump is the GOP presidential candidate in 2024, it’s almost unthinkable that he won’t return to Twitter the moment he has the opportunity to do so,” Brooking said.

Two former Trump aides – Steve Bannon and Roger Stone – were also banned by Twitter after repeatedly violating its rules. Bannon was expelled for ordering Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert.

Stone, finally suspended for a series of vulgar threats against CNN journalists, tried to create a new Twitter account on Thursday but was quickly suspended.

Other Trump allies pitched on Twitter include Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, Lin Wood and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was permanently banned in January for repeatedly spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccine safety.

HATE SPEECH AND WHITE SUPREMACISM

Perhaps the most complicated challenge for Musk is content that, while legal, preaches hate based on things like race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

White supremacists banned by Twitter include Duke and the Proud Boys organization, along with far-right trolls like the one who goes by the name Baked Alaska, who promoted anti-Semitic tropes and faces charges stemming from his involvement in the Jan. from the USA.

Twitter’s efforts to police hate speech have had mixed results. While some extremist leaders have been defeated, a quick search of the platform reveals a number of racist slurs and attacks.

Several admitted white supremacists still on Twitter cheered the news of Musk’s interest in the platform, predicting that ownership will mean more flexible rules. “We are freed!” one wrote this week.

“Extremists are celebrating,” tweeted Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. “They believe he will usher in a ‘new era’ on Twitter and that they will return to the platform. This is dangerous.”

CONSPIRACY THEORISTS AND QANON

Twitter began cracking down on QAnon content on its platform years ago and accelerated the process after the Capitol Hill attack. More than 150,000 accounts have been suspended since last year, according to the company’s latest update.

QAnon followers espouse a conspiracy theory rooted in the baseless belief that Trump was fighting so-called enemies of the deep state and a cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibals operating a child sex trafficking ring. The mob that stormed the Capitol included some believers.

Now, some of them are eager to get back on Twitter.

“Twitter deal is done,” Ron Watkins, a prominent QAnon leader, wrote on the Telegram platform. Watkins’ Twitter account was shot up last year. “Banned accounts will be restored,” he predicted.

Other conspiracy theorists have also felt the sting of Twitter, though usually only when their stated beliefs turn to hate or harassment.

David Icke was kicked off the platform two years ago for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, including allegations that Jews and 5G towers were behind the pandemic. Icke is a prominent supporter of the belief that a race of lizards dominated the Earth posing as human leaders.

Alex Jones, the creator of Infowars, was permanently banned in 2018 for abusive behavior. Jones recently lost a defamation case filed by the parents of children killed in the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut school shooting, due to Jones’ repeated allegations that the shooting was fake. Twenty first graders and six teachers were killed in the massacre. Infowars is now seeking bankruptcy protection.

HAPPY IN EXILE?

Trump may not be the only Twitter user kicked out who ends up happily in a new home. Other new platforms, like Gab, GETTR and Parler, have grown in recent years catering to conservative and far-right users who don’t like the moderation policies of Twitter and Facebook.

The new sites have little to no moderation, meaning Nazi imagery, homophobic threats and misogynistic content can easily be found alongside conversations about US politics and culture.

Following Musk’s takeover bid, Gab CEO Andrew Torba predicted that the billionaire will struggle to realize his vision for Twitter. While Trump may be sticking to his own new platform for competitive reasons, other conservatives may not be immediately tempted by Musk’s promises of free speech absolutism. Twitter employees, for example, may struggle, according to Torba.

Parler CEO George Farmer made a similar note in a message to users.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Farmer wrote.

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