Twitter has long been described, even by its most ardent users, as a hellsite. But under Elon Musk, Twitter has evolved into a platform that is indistinguishable from the wastelands of alternative social-media sites such as Truth Social and Parler. It is now a right-wing social network.
In December, I argued that if we are to judge Musk strictly by his actions as Twitter’s owner, it is accurate to call him a far-right activist. As a public figure, he has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the right’s culture war against progressivism—which he refers to as “the woke mind virus”—and his $44 billion Twitter purchase can easily be seen as an explicitly political act to advance this specific ideology. Now the site itself has unquestionably transformed under his leadership into an alternative social-media platform—one that offers a haven to far-right influencers and advances the interests, prejudices, and conspiracy theories of the right wing of American politics.
Earlier today, NBC News reported that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is slated to kick off his 2024 presidential campaign in a Twitter Spaces event with Musk. Twitter, quite literally, is a launch pad for right-wing political leaders. Also today, The Daily Wire, the conservative-media juggernaut that is home to Ben Shapiro as well as the political commentators Matt Walsh and Michael Knowles, who are known for arguing against trans rights, announced it would bring its entire slate of podcasts to Twitter starting next week. And earlier this month, the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson announced that he would take his prime-time-show format—a dog-whistling broadcast style known for its fearmongering and bigotry——to Musk’s platform.
Both Carlson and certain Daily Wire hosts have been deplatformed elsewhere—Carlson, of course, only recently lost his sinecure on cable, and Walsh had his popular YouTube channel demonetized over his transphobic commentary. And although they reportedly haven’t brokered official deals with the platform, Carlson and The Daily Wire will likely make use of Twitter’s new subscription features and ad-revenue sharing to monetize their audiences.
This should feel familiar. Twitter is essentially following the playbook of platforms like Rumble, which used to be the go-tos for canceled and deplatformed right-wingers seeking a soft landing and the promise of revenue. Like Rumble, which pivoted from a struggling YouTube alternative into a full-fledged far-right platform in the late 2010s, Twitter appears to be dipping into the well of popular right-wing shock jocks as a way to revive the financially adrift website.
The move makes sense. In just a few months, Musk has actively worked to elevate a particular right-wing, anti-woke ideology. He has reinstated legions of accounts that were previously banned for violating Twitter’s rules and has emboldened trolls, white-nationalist accounts, and January 6 defendants. Musk’s own rhetoric has moved from trolling to dog whistling to outright conspiracy peddling, and it has intensified in recent months, culminating in his recent anti-Semitic remarks about George Soros. A stroll through Musk’s replies on the site reveals the extent to which one of the richest men in the world spends his time replying to far-right influencers and nodding in approval to their racist memes.
A social-media platform will always reflect the values of its owners, and Twitter’s credo is nearly identical to that of the lesser-known alt-tech sites. Despite appearing to cave to the demands of autocratic governments and censoring links to competing platforms, Musk has attempted to position himself as a free-speech absolutist, similar to his right-wing-activist peers. Before shutting down after a failed acquisition by Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), Parler billed itself as the “free-speech social platform.” Truth Social, a website backed in part by Donald Trump, says it encourages “an open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating on the basis of political ideology.” This language is indistinguishable from the way that Carlson spoke of Musk’s Twitter, arguing that “there aren’t many platforms left that allow free speech,” and that the site is “the last big one remaining in the world.” If it acts like a right-wing website and markets itself as a right-wing website, it just might be a right-wing website.
Twitter has so fully assumed the role of a far-right platform that it might be killing its competitors. When Parler shut down in April, its parent company noted that “no reasonable person believes that a Twitter clone just for conservatives is a viable business any more.” Left unspoken is the reason: Twitter has become a right-wing echo chamber.
If Musk weren’t too preoccupied lapping up approval from trolls, reactionaries, and Dogecoin enthusiasts—a few of the constituencies left on his site that still seem to adore him—the Parler statement should worry him. Right-wing alt-tech platforms may attract investors and a flood of indignant new users with persecution complexes, but they are, ultimately, bad businesses. That’s precisely because they lack the one thing that fuels far-right discourse: a way to own the libs. A culture war is no fun if there’s no actual conflict, and although some journalists and pundit diehards remain, many of Twitter’s prolific users are posting less and on different platforms. Social-media platforms that cater to the right’s ideology eventually become tired and predictable—the result of the same loud people shaking their fist at digital clouds. History has shown us that there are plenty of ways a social network can die, but the quickest way is boredom.