Elon Musk steers X into deeper controversy with Alex Jones

Elon Musk steered X, formerly Twitter, into further controversy over the weekend when he brought back the accounts for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his InfoWars website, and then appeared in an audio chat with Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. 

Jones, whose accounts were restored after Musk conducted a public poll from his own X account about the decision, is known for spreading conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where 20 children and six adults lost their lives in 2012. The far-right radio host show still owes families of victims more than $1.5 billion in defamation penalties. 

The highly controversial decision to restore Jones comes on the heels of a massive pullout from advertisers, including Disney and IBM, from X after Musk supported an antisemitic conspiracy theory on the platform.

Since the beginning of the advertising pullout in November, Musk has continued to lean into sharing conspiracy theories on the platform and making moves that have inflamed the already volatile situation. During a live interview at The New York Times’ Dealbook Summit last month, Musk said he regretted tweeting in support of the antisemitic conspiracy theory but told fleeing advertisers: “Go f— yourself.” 

After restoring Jones’ accounts on Sunday, Musk joined him on Sunday for a three-hour Space (X’s version of an audio room, where anyone can listen to a group of speakers). The Space was hosted by Mario Nawfal, one of X’s leading Spaces influencers who has also been followed by allegations of bad business practices, and included Ramaswamy and the controversial influencer Andrew Tate, who is currently facing charges of human trafficking, rape and forming a criminal gang in Romania.

During the Space, Ramaswamy, who pushed conspiracy theories at Wednesday night’s Republican debate, seemed to downplay criticisms of Jones.

According to X’s view metrics — which NBC News can’t independently verify — more than 9 million people listened to Sunday’s Space. The primary topic of discussion was the alleged censorship of conservative viewpoints on big tech platforms, the same allegations that have fueled support for Musk and his leadership at X. 

A representative for X did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Elon Musk during his visit at the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair in Paris
Elon Musk during his visit at the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair in Paris, on June 16, 2023. Alain Jocard / AFP via Getty Images file

Musk’s reinstatement of Jones is his latest push to amplify and restore conspiratorial, far-right figures to the platform, which has in turn inspired prominent users and brands to post less on X and increase their presence on alternatives like Meta’s Threads and Bluesky. In October, Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Threads has just under 100 million monthly active users. Musk said July that X had over 500 million monthly active users. Bluesky now has over 2 million users.

Musk has typically cited “free speech absolutism” as his motivation for reinstating previously banned accounts, but the reinstatements have primarily benefited major conservatives, conspiracy theorists and extremists.

In addition to Jones, Musk has also reinstated former President Donald Trump, Ye (the rapper formerly known as Kanye West), and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. Trump and Ye were both banned for reasons pertaining to incitement of violence, but all three accounts spread disinformation on those occasions, too, from Ye’s antisemitic posts to Trump denying the 2020 election results and Greene posting Covid-19 conspiracy theories. 

Musk previously said just over a year ago that he wouldn’t restore Jones’ accounts, writing about the loss of his first child and noting, “I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame.” 

Jones was permanently banned from Twitter in September 2018, more than five years ago, after other major platforms like YouTube and Spotify took action against him. Jack Dorsey, then-Twitter CEO, had been reluctant to permanently ban Jones, tweeting in August 2018 that the move would be “adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.” At the time, Twitter said Jones’ suspension was for “abusive behavior,” after Jones posted a video of himself berating a CNN journalist between congressional hearings about anti-conservative bias in social media moderation. 

As of Monday afternoon, Jones has 1.5 million followers on the platform — 600,000 more than when he was banned.