Elon Musk has reinstated the Twitter account of controversial radio host Alex Jones, pointing to an online poll he conducted that showed a majority in favor of the move. Jones, who runs the fringe media outlet Infowars, was permanently banned from Twitter in 2018 for violating its rules. He is known for spreading false claims that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a staged hoax, which led to him being ordered to pay damages to victims’ families.
Musk posted a poll on Twitter on December 3rd, asking users if Jones’ account should be restored. 70% of over 3 million respondents voted yes. Early the next day, Musk tweeted “The people have spoken. Alex Jones account has been reinstated.” A few hours later, Jones’ account and posts were publicly visible again, his first since the 2018 ban.
In explaining his decision, Musk tweeted that permanent account bans undermine free speech principles that he wants Twitter to uphold in the spirit of creating a digital public square. However, Musk added that Twitter’s crowd-sourced fact-checking system would likely respond rapidly to any of Jones’ tweets that require correction.
This represents a major shift for Musk, who previously said he would not allow Jones back onto Twitter’s platform despite external pressure to do so. Last year, Musk explicitly said he had no mercy for anyone who exploits child deaths for personal gain, politics or fame.
Musk’s reinstatement of Jones has drawn criticism as it poses risks for Twitter’s business as advertisers have been fleeing the platform over worries about loss of control of content placement next to risky content.
The restoration of Alex Jones seems indicative of Musk’s stated intentions to open Twitter to all legal speech, making it yet another possible absolutist ‘free speech platform’, but practical challenges around advertiser defections will continue posing tests.