Conservative figures and pundits picked up the Monday announcement that billionaire Elon Musk has purchased a significant stake in Twitter to boost well-worn false claims about censorship of conservatives on social media and to push for Musk to use his newly bought influence to allow former President Donald Trump to return to Twitter.
After the news broke of Musk's investment, which makes him the largest shareholder of the company, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal also announced that Musk had also been appointed to the platform's board of directors. Musk responded to the announcement by saying he was “looking forward to working with Parag and Twitter to make significant improvements to Twitter in coming months.” On Monday, Musk had floated the idea of users being able to edit tweets, and on March 24, he had said Twitter’s “algorithm needs to be open source.”
On Tuesday, Twitter responded to questions regarding the influence Musk’s board seat would confer. A spokesperson said the company is “committed to impartiality in the development and enforcement of its policies and rules” and that its “policy decisions are not determined by the Board or shareholders.”
The news of Musk's investment comes after recent pushes by Republican lawmakers to enact legislation in states like Texas and Wisconsin that would place restrictions on the content moderation policies of social media platforms like Twitter -- efforts that have largely been deemed unconstitutional. More recently, Twitter has drawn ire from conservatives after accounts belonging to Turning Point USA's Charlie Kirk and conservative satirical website The Babylon Bee were suspended for misgendering Adm. Rachel Levine.
Musk has drawn controversy for his tweets in the past, and he is currently fighting an agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that requires his tweets to be pre-approved after he made claims about Tesla, a publicly traded company owned by Musk, that resulted in charges of fraud. Musk recently tweeted that he believes Twitter was “failing to adhere to free speech principles” and “fundamentally undermin[ing] democracy,” although Musk himself has been accused of retaliating against those who levied criticism against his companies.
Prior to the announcement, some conservative pundits called on Musk to invest in the platform, with Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec calling on former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to “team up with @elonmusk” in order to “buy Twitter and take it private again.” Conspiracy theorist website Revolver News posed the hypothetical in an April 1 article headlined “Here’s What Happens if Elon Musk Buys Twitter,” which suggested Musk was “on the cusp of launching a global crusade to restore freedom of speech.”
Conservatives have used Twitter’s enforcement of its content policy -- including bans on manipulated media and election interference -- to accuse the platform of censoring right-wing voices. In actuality, Twitter remains an important platform for the dissemination of right-wing misinformation, recently acting as a sounding board for QAnon conspiracy theories, attacks on LGBTQ rights, and baseless smears about Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. The narrative around censorship of conservatives is well trodden and often inaccurately levied against Facebook as well, despite being resoundingly debunked time and again.
Twitter accounts of Gab and GETTR — alternatives to mainstream social media platforms, which often have little to no content moderation and which remain hotbeds of misinformation and propaganda — celebrated Musk’s investment. Gab claimed on Twitter that his purchase was “validating” to its “thesis” that “more speech and not less is a good thing.”
Right-wing media and figures have used the news of Musk’s purchase to again boost false claims that Twitter is censoring conservative voices:
- On April 4, Fox News' Tucker Carlson started off his show with a monologue about censorship being “essentially the hallmark of neoliberalism.” He then provided a list of “ideas that the people in power use to justify their power and their rule over you,” which included statements he termed “ridiculous” such as “white supremacy is our biggest threat” and “Ukraine is a vitally important ally.” Carlson then accused social media platforms of censoring “all rational scrutiny of the regime's claims” and asserted they “now function like the North Korean state news agency.” He then posed the question of whether Musk’s investment was “the first move in a hostile takeover of Twitter that transforms Twitter into a platform for free speech,” surmising that it “seems that way” and saying it is a “cause for celebration.”
- Later in the show, Carlson brought on the Daily Wire’s Candace Owens, who claimed, “it's more than a threat to free speech that we're talking about when you're looking at Twitter, and this is why what Elon Musk is doing is so important.” Owens went on to accuse the platform of censoring information on the COVID-19 vaccine and to suggest that on Twitter “you cannot say anything critical" of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
- The Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon appeared on the April 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, where he said he “was not expecting this type of movement, this type of possible solution to the problem of free speech” and claimed, “The censorship is so heavy handed, it looks like he wants to get involved and do something about that. I was thinking that we might have to wait for Congress or the courts to get involved. Hopefully Musk is able to exert some influence there.” He then reiterated that The Babylon Bee is still locked out of its account because “they’re requiring us to affirm that we engaged in hateful conduct as we delete the tweet” targeting Levine, saying, “We’re refusing to do that.” Dillon added “until something changes at Twitter, or the law changes, we’re going to be locked out of our account.”
- In a piece for the conservative blog Red State from April 4 headlined “Elon Musk Could Save Society from Those Looking to Control It,” Senior Editor Brandon Morse wrote, “For years, people were thrown off the platform for merely saying things that rubbed the hard-left sentiments of Twitter’s hard-left employees the wrong way. It became increasingly clear that Twitter’s terms of service were, like the pirate’s code, more guidelines than actual rules. If someone said something that hurt the ego, the Twitter employee could somehow label the person saying it as dangerous and have them banned.”
- Jeremy Carl, a senior fellow at conservative think tank the Claremont Institute, tweeted on April 4, “If Musk helps restore @Twitter to its free speech roots and moves it away from its left-wing censorship regime, it will be perhaps the most heroic and public-serving action I have seen a billionaire take in my lifetime.”
- On April 4, Fox Business’ Kennedy started off a segment on the news with host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery asking whether “Elon Musk [has] the power to change Twitter’s algorithms and stop the corporate censorship that’s stifling America.” She later said she hoped “other billionaires and other companies will take these opportunities and follow suit.”
- Derek Hunter, columnist for Townhall, wrote a column on April 5 titled, “Hey Elon, Don’t Stop Now” in which he asked his readers to “imagine a social media platform where people can say whatever the hell it is they want to say. … Want to make a joke about Rachel Levine being ‘Man of the Year,’ go for it. That social media platform would be…well, what the current crop claim to be, just without the fascistic obsession with making sure ‘marginalized’ whatever aren’t ever upset.” Hunter claimed that Musk “might be making moves to bring that reality back to reality.” He later added that even if Musk was unable to “make the changes Twitter so desperately needs to live up to its alleged mission,” he “at least put the fear of God in people who desperately need it.”
- Dr. Simone Gold, founder of the anti-vaxx group America’s Frontline Doctors, tweeted on April 4, “BREAKING: Elon Musk buys majority stake in Twitter. Our 1st Amendment rights have been trampled far too long in the digital public square. It’s time to push back. True Americans are Free Speech Absolutists.”
- Fox Business senior correspondent Charles Gasparino tweeted on April 4, “Anyone who thinks @elonmusk is going to be a passive investor doesn’t know the man. My bet is he tries to force Twitter to accept more diverse views and stop censoring conservatives.”
- On the April 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy complained of the “anti-conservative bias” on Twitter and suggested the site “hates” conservatives. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt added that Twitter is “known for censoring certain stories and … shutting you down if you are a conservative.” Co-host Pete Hegseth claimed that Twitter used to be a place for “free thought,” but “groupthink leftists police that thought, and the corporate types at Twitter have been happy to enforce it,” pushing out conservatives like Donald Trump. Hegseth speculated that Musk might “open that up.”
- In an interview later on Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney said he wanted Musk to take full control of Twitter and “end the left-wing bias, the censorship that is already existing on Twitter.”
- Kim Dotcom, a fringe conspiracy theorist and online personality, tweeted on April 4, “Tech visionary @elonmusk buys 9.2% share in @Twitter. There’s hope that censorship and shadow-banning may stop. @Jack’s recent admission of regret is an indicator. Let’s see if they can resist the deep state which won’t want to lose its Twitter influence and backdoors. Good luck.”
Right-wing media personalities have previously decried Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend Trump from the platform in January 2021 after he used it to incite and encourage the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Prior to the ban, Trump had used his Twitter account to amplify QAnon supporters, live-tweet Fox News shows, and spread misinformation. Right-wing pundits used the news of Musk’s purchase to call for Twitter to reinstate Trump’s account:
- On the April 4 edition of Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume reacted to the news by calling for Trump's return to Twitter, saying, “Look, whether you are a fan of Donald Trump or not, it's not a good idea for the former president of the United States not speak on one of the most important communications platforms in America, which Twitter certainly is.” Hume then referred to “one Twitter big shot [who] said he was quitting because he didn’t want to work for Elon Musk,” apparently referencing a tweet from a satire account that some on the right, including Dave Rubin, took at face value.
- On the April 5 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld claimed “the Twitter CEO … just got a CEO,” and said, “The first thing [Musk’s] got to do is bring back The Babylon Bee. He should think about bringing back Donald Trump, although maybe, you know, wait a while.” Gutfeld then called for Musk to “fire everybody” and later claimed “the left is scared” of Musk because “he’s African.”
- Right-wing commentator Ian Miles Cheong tweeted on April 4, “Once Elon Musk becomes an active shareholder of Twitter the first thing he should do as the controlling member of the board of the directors should be to reinstate President Trump's Twitter account.”
- Conservative Canadian talk show host Andrew Lawton hinted in a tweet on April 4 that Musk might reinstate Trump, saying, “Wonder if @elonmusk will make Twitter unban any former presidents.”
- Monica Crowley, a former Fox News personality and Trump administration official, wrote on Twitter on April 4, “Now that @elonmusk is Twitter's largest shareholder, he should demand the end of political censorship, company-wide reform, and the reinstatement of President Trump.”
- Conservative commentator Ned Ryun tweeted on April 4, “Fascinating. Would be epic if Musk forced Twitter to let Trump back on, although to be honest, Trump might not want to. Would dilute his value and power with Truth Social.”
- Ryan Fournier, founder of Students for Trump, tweeted a video on April 4 depicting Trump’s hypothetical first tweet after returning from his ban and wrote, “Please do it, @elonmusk”
- On April 4, Newsmax host Benny Johnson tweeted, “My prediction: Twitter reinstates the @TheBabylonBee today. Twitter reinstates @charliekirk11 this week. Twitter reinstates @RepMTG next week. Trump gets brought back by the end of the summer. Panic.”
- Fox Business correspondent Sandra Li hinted on April 4 that Musk might push for Trump to be allowed back on the platform, saying that Musk “says that he wants a social media platform that allows everybody to have a say.” She added, “Does that include bringing back President Trump, possibly? Who knows right now.”
- On the April 5 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Hegseth complained that the left attacks free speech. He added that if Musk “attempted to bring Donald Trump back, which he should, the target is even bigger on his back.”