Elon Musk's Twitter emerges as right-wing media's new center amid Fox's plummeting ratings

"This is the place now where people can go who want to spread conspiracy theories," says an expert

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published May 27, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Elon Musk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Elon Musk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Elon Musk could be positioning Twitter to replace Fox News as the network's views plummet from the recent firing of Tucker Carlson and its bank account suffers from settling a hefty defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems.

For years, Fox News has attracted the right-wing base and served as a powerful force in Republican politics so much so that officials target the network's coverage as a political tactic. 

But with the recent firing of Carlson, who raked in millions of views, Fox's recent ratings have slumped and its grip on the Republican base is slipping, presenting a ripe opportunity for another platform to surpass the network's reign.

"It's basically a far-right platform now," Wendy Via, co-founder and president of Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, told Salon. "Musk is either ignoring or eliminating the civil and human rights rules that have been put in place over the years in the name of newsworthiness or free speech, which is an entirely false proposition."

Musk has used this as an opportunity to establish the network as the centerpiece of right-wing media offering Republican governor Ron DeSantis a space to officially launch his presidential campaign in a live Twitter-streamed conversation and letting Carlson bring some version of his show on the platform.

But that's not where it ends. The Daily Wire, a prominent conservative news outlet, has also announced plans to stream all of its top shows directly on Twitter.

The Daily Wire hosts are key figures in popularizing the right's campaign against "wokeness." Its co-CEO Jeremy Boreing told Axios in a statement that "Twitter is the largest free speech platform in the world."

"If Elon Musk stands by his commitment to make Twitter a home for free speech and delivers on monetization opportunities and more sophisticated analytics for content creators, I imagine we will invest even more into the platform," he said.

The new owner of Twitter has already won over the far-right by relaxing Twitter's policies on hate speech and disinformation and reinstating previously banned right-wing extremists. 

His actions are increasing Twitter's reputation "as the wild west of disinformation," said Jill Garvey, chief of staff at Western States Center.

"This is the place now where people can go who want to spread conspiracy theories and content that is not allowed on other platforms," she said. "Fox News isn't going anywhere so the threat may be less about Twitter replacing Fox News and more about Twitter just becoming an ever-expanding network of places where disinformation can spread."

Soon after he acquired ownership, the platform saw nearly a fivefold increase in the use of the n-word, the most engaged tweets were overtly antisemitic and the site was flooded with anonymous trolls spewing racist slurs and Nazi memes. 

Now as Fox deals with legal troubles facing its organization – including a lawsuit filed by former producer Abby Grossberg, who alleges she endured a hostile work environment while working on Carlson's program – Musk is allowing users like Carlson to continue feeding fringe conspiracy theories to a mass audience on his platform.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Via added that Fox is "getting hammered by the right-wing and losing viewership," giving Musk a financial opportunity to promote Twitter and draw users who promote similar far-right views. The algorithm has already shifted to reflect that. 

"There have been numerous studies that show that far-right, antagonistic content spreads faster and so the algorithms pick it up and it gets promoted more," Via said. 

Different users like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and former President Donald Trump, who were previously banned from the platform, have been allowed back on. At the same time, Musk has quietly let back other users who are part of white supremacy networks, Via pointed out.

"People who have been removed for promoting violence and inspiring such ideologies are back and you're combining that with former right-wing politically powerful people who are advocating for these actions that defy civil and human rights," Via added. 

Carlson, who became one of Fox's most recognizable and polarizing figures, has promoted false narratives like the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, which claims that liberal elites are deliberately driving high levels of immigration in order to "replace" white Americans.

Carlson had mentioned replacement theories more than 400 times on the air before the deadly mass shooting that killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket last May. It was later revealed that the shooter, a young white man, believed in this racist fiction and had driven for several hours to stage a violent assault in a predominantly Black neighborhood. 

Some of his ideas, which were once confined to the far-right white nationalist fringe, are now gaining traction among the Republican Party. 

But what's more concerning is that Twitter has a far wider reach and a global audience, Via said. This will allow more users to have exposure to fringe ideas that far-right figures are promoting. 

"It's going to pull more people to the fringe and I think you're going to see a surge in users on the far-right," Via said.

Musk has also allowed users to buy the "verified" blue check mark, which has been purchased by several accounts with a history of spreading conspiracy theories and hate speech, according to Media Matters.

Unlike extremist platforms that draw users who already hold fringe beliefs, Twitter has access to users from all across the political spectrum, including teenagers who are at risk of interacting with extremist content, Garvey said. 

Twitter could potentially expose younger users to bigoted content or conspiracy theories and serve as a "gateway to radicalization," she added.

"I don't think it remains to be seen if it's going to be detrimental. I think it simply remains to be seen how detrimental is going to be," Via said about Musk's ownership of Twitter. 

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

MORE FROM Areeba Shah

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Elon Musk Fox Twitter