If there were any question remaining about the political leanings of Elon Musk, and the direction that he’s guiding Twitter, this should probably seal it.
Today, controversial right-wing pundit Tucker Carlson, who was recently dismissed from Fox News, has announced that he’ll continue to broadcast his highly popular program exclusively on Twitter instead.
Carlson will take advantage of Twitter’s newly introduced longer video upload limits to lead a new charge at the app, which Twitter will be hoping could be the beginning of a new content shift towards the app.
In some ways, the announcement is major coup for the social network, with Carlson’s program regularly watched by over 3 million people per night on Fox News before its cancelation. However, it does also come with significant risk. Carlson has been the subject of various legal probes and investigations over the often outlandish claims aired within his program, while many advertisers also pulled their spend from Fox as a result of Carlson’s controversial statements and stances.
For Twitter, that’s unlikely to provide more reassurance to advertisers, many of whom have already stepped away from the app due to Musk’s various changes and updates – though Elon has said that the money doesn’t matter to him as much as upholding the principles of free speech.
Musk has also clarified that Twitter has not entered into a commercial agreement with Carlson, as such, with the commentator coming to the app via the same process as any other content creator, and using Twitter’s re-vamped Subscriptions program to monetize his work.
Though, logically, it does seem like some kind of deal must have been struck to get Carlson over the line, especially when you also factor in staff costs for production, etc.
Carlson’s decision to create content exclusively for Twitter will also put him at risk of violating his non-compete clause with Fox, which could cost him up to $25 million, while he’s also passing on other lucrative offers from conservative networks who had been keen to sign the high rating star.
Given previous reports that Musk and Carlson had met to discuss partnership opportunities, it seems like a lot for Carlson to give up on the hopes of getting enough subscribers in the app to make up that gap – but maybe, Elon is just that good at selling the platform, and that’s all that it took to get Carlson to commit to the project.
Either way, it’s another clear step towards conservative politics by Twitter, which has increasingly been the leaning communicated by Elon himself in his various tweets and statements.
Musk has repeatedly noted that Twitter was previously operating as ‘a Democrat activist machine’ under its old management, which he’s been working to stamp out, in favor of, theoretically at least, more balance in political speech. Since taking over, Musk has also stated that he wants people to see more political content from both sides, in order to facilitate greater understanding – though research has shown that exposing users to opposing political content has not, in past experiments, proven to be an effective way to reduce division and angst.
Really, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Musk’s version of ‘balance’ in this respect is actually just more right-wing content. Which is his prerogative, but as noted, it’s unlikely to reduce advertiser concerns, and unlikely to lead to more nuanced debate among users, another of his stated aims.
In fact, Carlson pretty much nails the main issue with this approach in his introductory video above:
‘You can’t have a free society if people aren’t allowed to say what they think is true’
What people might think is true is a lot different from actual facts, which is what journalism should be striving to communicate and share with audiences, in order to better inform people of the true state of the world. Which is where Twitter, as well as every other social platform, sits at the intersection. With tools that can provide amplification of any statement to millions, even billions of people, there’s a responsibility to manage that, in order to mitigate risks, which is why platforms have had to make tough calls on issues in the past, for better or worse, depending on your perspective.
Allowing the spread of child abuse material, for example is bad, because it can lead to direct harm, and nobody should facilitate such. But what about conspiracy theories about the invasion of Ukraine, which could lead the increased harm in that region? What about, say, climate change misinformation, which could increase resistance to measures designed to save the planet?
At what point does something become an accepted fact, wherein it’s harmful to keep amplifying incorrect information, and who, at the end of the day, is the arbiter of such?
Musk is trying to outsource this responsibility to users, via Community Notes, which, in his view, will see the people decide what’s true and what not, by calling out false claims in the app. But that’s not foolproof, and it’ll still allow many potentially harmful lies and theories to spread, with far less checking.
At some point, Elon and/or Twitter’s new management will also have to make difficult calls on tough, divisive issues – and in fact, he’s already doing so, through actions like banning live-location sharing because it could cause immediate harm.
The concerning element in Elon’s approach is that Twitter is increasingly coming to reflect his own ideological perspective, and his own political leanings, which, more and more, seems to be taking Twitter down the path of conservative social apps like Truth Social and Parler.
The addition of Tucker Carlson will only exacerbate this, with Twitter then looking to profit off the ensuing arguments, if it even can.