Elon Musk reneged on his pledge to never allow Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones back onto his social media platform X over his harassment of families of Sandy Hook school shooting victims.
Mr Musk announced he had reinstated the notorious rightwing firebrand’s account after holding an unscientific poll on X on Saturday.
“The people have spoken and so it shall be,” Mr Musk wrote.
Explaining his decision, Mr Musk said he “vehemently disagrees” with Jones’ bogus claims that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, but added that the platform’s ethos was in favour of free speech above all else.
“That is what it comes down to in the end. If the people vote him back on, this will be bad for X financially, but principles matter more than money.”
Within hours of the reinstatement, “Alex Jones” and “He’s Back” were trending on the site, which has seen advertiser’s flee due to rampant hate speech and antisemitism since Mr Musk’s takeover last year.
Jones and his Infowars site were permanently banned from the platform formerly known as Twitter for violating its abusive behaviour policy in 2018.
The Infowars founder repeatedly and falsely claimed the shooting was a “false flag” event that was staged by the US government as a pretext for enacting stronger gun control laws.
Grieving families were subjected to a campaign of harassment by Jones’ supporters, and were in some physically threatened, subjected to death threats and forced to leave their homes.
In 2022, Sandy Hook relatives were awarded nearly $1.5bn in judgments against Jones after suing him for defamation in trials in Connecticut and Texas. The juries heard how Jones deliberately spread lies about the shooting to boost sales of supplements on Infowars.
In a post last year, Mr Musk cited the death of his first-born son as he vowed to enforce Jones’ ban.
“I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame,” Mr Musk wrote.
Hours after his reinstatement, Mr Musk joined Jones in a live Spaces event on X.
Mr Musk’s chaotic reign at the company previously known as Twitter has seen him axe nearly 80 per cent of the workforce, reinstate previously banned accounts linked to neo-Nazis and end the enforcement of rules which prevented the spread of misinformation.
In April he stripped legacy verification marks that distinguished high-profile users from impostors, before gifting them back to some celebrities when they refused to pay for the subscription service.
The self-described “free speech absolutist” temporarily banned journalists who criticised him, before allowing them back on.
He labelled public broadcasters such as NPR as “state-affiliated media,” a term previously reserved for accounts controlled by governments, before reversing the move after a backlash.
He also reinstated Donald Trump’s account, but the former president so far has not returned to the platform.
Since paying $44bn for Twitter in October last year, the company’s value had fallen to $19bn a year later, Mr Musk said at the time.
In recent weeks he has been trying to raise $1bn for an artificial intelligence startup xAI according to SEC filings. Mr Musk has said he plans to harness realtime data from X in order to compete with more established artificial intelligence platforms such as OpenAI.
The decision to reinstate Jones’ account is likely to further alienate top advertisers who have fled the platform after a recent report by advocacy group Media Matters found ads were appearing alongside pro-Nazi content and white nationalist content.
Last month Mr Musk amplified antisemitic conspiracy theories, before issuing an apology and touring locations attacked by Hamas fighters in Israel on 7 October.
He has claimed that advertisers who left X were blackmailing him during an interview for the New York Times Dealbook Summit in late November, telling them to “go f*** yourselves”.
In an interview on the Moby Podcast, Hunter Biden called Mr Musk the world’s “dumbest smart person” and claimed he was completely ignorant of the US political system.
“Elon Musk doesn’t care about the goddamn First Amendment. He doesn’t care about anybody but himself,” Hunter Biden said.
Jones’ reinstatement came days before the 11th anniversary of the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 first grade students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.