Elon Musk’s X platform fueled far-right riots in Ireland, experts say

Elon Musk’s social media platform X has fueled far-right disinformation in Ireland and played a key role in riots last month in the country’s capital, Dublin, experts tell CBS News. The violent clashes broke out on 23 November between around 200 civilians and riot police in central Dublin as protesters unleashed fury following a stabbing incident that left several people injured earlier in the day, including a 5-year-old girl who was hospitalized with serious injuries.

False reports circulating on social media had suggested that the stabbings were carried out by an illegal immigrant. The alleged assailant was actually a naturalized Irish citizen originally from Algeria, the Irish Times reported.

The violence, in which a tram and a bus were set on fire and shops were looted, was partly fueled by local far-right extremists with a significant following on X, which was called Twitter before Musk bought the platform.

Dublin police clash with violent rioters in city centre
Police at the scene in Dublin as unrest broke out after a stabbing in which five people were injured, including three young children, November 23, 2023.

Brian Lawless/PA photos via Getty Images

“What we saw at the beginning of the riot was what started out as a protest, you know, either organized by the far right, or if it wasn’t organized by the far right, the far right wasn’t far away. behind,” Matthew Donoghue, an assistant professor of social policy at University College Dublin, told CBS News.

“The fact that we saw attacks on [police] cordon and the crime scene, these are clearly organized and orchestrated activities that require a lot of behind-the-scenes organizing… that’s where we see the far right’s use of X,” he said. “They were able to get a lot of people there . very quickly to basically take control of that situation, lead it.”

Eileen Culloty, a deputy director of the Institute for Media, Democracy and Society at Dublin City University, told CBS News that the riots had been plotted by “a core group” of prominent right-wing influencers on X, who “have a relatively high profile in that kind of alternative , right-wing world. Some of them will be alternative media, some of them will be right-wing anti-immigration activists.”

“They went into overdrive in the run-up to the riots,” Culloty told CBS News. “They posted lots of public messages on Twitter [X], but also on Telegram and other platforms from lunchtime onwards, encouraging people to take action. A lot of the hashtags they used promoted this ethno-nationalist idea that Ireland is full, that Ireland belongs to the Irish.”

A study conducted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an independent nonprofit think tank that studies and offers policy advice on extremism and disinformation, days before the riots in Ireland had also found that Twitter (X) “is used by virtually all of the most prominent actors in the Irish misinformation and disinformation ecosystem.”

The study focused on the growing online influence of the far right in Ireland over the past three years, analyzing 13,180,820 posts from 1,640 accounts across 12 online platforms. X had the highest number of far-right accounts of those analyzed by the researchers.

After his October 2022 takeover of the platformtech billionaire Musk has dismantled the platform’s core features — including its verification system and its trust and safety advisory group, as well as broader content moderation and hate speech enforcement.

As The Associated Press reported in Octoberexperts who study disinformation have said that X has deteriorated under Musk to the point that it not only fails to detect and remove misinformation, but favors posts from accounts that pay for the platform’s blue-check subscription service, regardless of who runs them.

Crucially, according to Culloty, regarding the violence in Dublin, the core group of far-right accounts suspected of inciting violence had previously been removed from the platform for violating the company’s security policies, but were reinstated after Musk took over the company. .

“They were able to move back to X and a many people who had been banned could return“, she said. “It is remarkable that there are more people who do not try to hide their identity [in the aftermath of Musk’s takeover.] So now they feel comfortable making these incendiary statements.”

In the wake of the unrest, other prominent figures from the right in American politics have pushed a conspiratorial, anti-immigration narrative on X in an attempt to justify the violence in Ireland.

Former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, who now streams his own show on X, told his millions of followers last week that “the Irish government is trying to replace the people of Ireland with people from the third world.”

Carlson’s interviewee on the show, former White House adviser and Trump ally Steve Bannoncalled Ireland “a powder keg.”

Musk himself has weighed in on the violence in Ireland on X and took aim at the Irish government last month.

In a post the day after the scenes unfolded in Dublin, Musk said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar “hates the Irish people” after the Irish government announced it would aim to pass new laws against hate crime and hate speech in response to the riots.

Speaking to the Irish parliament last week, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said X had refused to comply with requests from the Garda Síochána, Ireland’s national police force, to take down incendiary posts in real time as violence flared in Dublin.

McEntee said she had spoken to a detective “who was actively engaged with the social media companies” throughout the evening of the unrest, Irish state broadcaster RTÉ reported.

Other social media companies, including TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, “responded, they were in dialogue with gardaí and they removed these offensive posts as they came up,” McEntee said. “X wasn’t. They didn’t engage. They didn’t meet their own societal standards.”

In response to these specific allegations by McEntee, X’s Global Government Affairs Unit posted a message on the platform on Tuesday, calling the comments “inaccurate” and saying that X had “proactively taken action on more than 1,230 pieces of content under our rules regarding the riots.” “

The company said Irish police “did not make any formal requests to us until late” on November 27, four days after the unrest, at which point it said it “responded promptly” to the appeal regarding “a single position”.

Musk and X are facing a major ad pushback as brands like Disney, Apple, Coca Cola, CBS News parent Paramount Global and other major companies have pulled paid ads from the platform after Musk endorsed an anti-Semitic post the X who claimed that Jews incited hatred against white people. Musk’s commentary on the post called it “the actual truth.”

While the controversial billionaire has since apologized for his comment, he has criticized companies that have suspended advertising on X.

At the 2023 DealBook Summit in New York on Wednesday, Musk told the crowd: “If somebody wants to try to blackmail me with advertising? Blackmail me with money? Go f— yourself. Go. F— yourself. Is that clear?”

Elon Musk
X owner Elon Musk speaks during the New York Times annual DealBook Summit on November 29, 2023 in New York City.

Michael M Santiago/Getty

The drop in advertising could deprive X of up to $75 million in revenue, according to a New York Times report.

Responding to Musk’s comments, X CEO Linda Yaccarino said in a post on X last week that Musk’s remarks were an “explicit view of our position,” adding: “We are a platform that allows people to make their own decisions . . . And here’s my perspective when it comes to advertising: X stands at a unique and amazing intersection of free speech and the high street — and the X community is powerful and here to welcome you.”

CBS News has reached out to X for comment, but had not received a response by the time of publication.

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