Some people are pretty happy with Twitter right now.
After then US President Donald Trump caused a stir by retweeting his anti-Muslim content, one of the UK’s most notorious far-right groups, Britain First, was banned from the social media platform in 2017. Facebook has followed suit months later.
The loss of this massive reach has crushed Britain First’s public visibility, membership and fundraising.
But that all changed when Elon Musk took over Twitter last October.
Calling himself a “free speech absolutist,” the tech billionaire granted an amnesty to hundreds of accounts that had been banned from the platform.
Within hours, those belonging to the leader Britain First Paul Goldingalong with former MP Jayda Fransen and the party itself, they reappeared.
“We are absolutely satisfied,” Golding told RockedBuzz via Euronews. “Now that we’re back on Twitter, our following is growing very, very quickly.
“The amount of people we are reaching is enormous. There are millions all over the world”.
He said his Twitter following had grown from around 30,000 to more than 100,000 in just over two months since he was reinstated.
“If the growth rate continues like this, I’ll be in the millions within a year or two,” Golding added.
“This is free speech in action. This is democracy in action.”
“The Trolley Man”
According to Golding, Britain First is a party of “patriotism, traditionalism, Christianity and national sovereignty”, with a current focus on “mass migration”.
However, the far-right party has been accused of promoting violence, hatred, sexism, racism and Islamophobia.
Golding was jailed in connection with a string of hate crimes against Muslims in 2018, with him and other supporters known for invading mosques and abusing worshipers.
“Britain First is a vile, hate-fueled group whose sole aim is to sow division,” Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said after Golding’s online ban in 2018. within our society via social media are reprehensible.”
Shut off Twitter and Facebook, Britain First has gained an online existence on fringe platforms, where the audience is much smaller. But now it’s back in the mainstream.
“Elon Musk… made sure [Britain First’s] content is much more important on the platform,” lead researcher Callum Hood to the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) he told RockedBuzz via Euronews. “It’s a real help for accounts like Golding’s.”
He explained that the “extremely sharp” growth in Britain First’s followers means that more and more people are being exposed to its “hate-stirring” content.
Golding’s account also now bears a blue check mark, previously a sign of authenticity, giving his tweets “more credibility,” Hood continued — even though the only barrier to entry has become a “willingness to deliver money to Elon Musk”.
“That blue badge gives Golding a number of benefits he’s never had before. This is a dream come true for him.”
But Britain First isn’t the only hate group to benefit from Musk’s chaotic reworking of Twitter policies.
A relationship from CCDH found that the number of accounts pumping toxic hate and abuse on Twitter has exploded since the Musk takeover, with the use of slurs like the n-word racist increasing by 202%.
“Its mission is to create divisions”
In an interview with RockedBuzz via Euronews, Golding said his content was not hateful, arguing that his tweets – often a dozen a day – were “completely legal”.
“When the media or politicians talk about the word hate on social media, they mean political beliefs or opinions they don’t like,” he said.
“The real reason we were shut down is that we were getting too big, our following was too big,” suggesting the UK government lobbied Twitter to do so.
There is no evidence to support Golding’s claim that the closure of his account was politically motivated. His platform was shut down for repeated hate speech.
On what he called the “old Twitter”, the far-right leader said there was “blatant and naked censorship of opposing views”, which have been replaced with “distorted narratives” on important political issues.
“That’s why Musk stepped in to restore free speech. Now we can say what we want,” he told RockedBuzz via Euronews.
Yet Golding has repeatedly been called out for sharing completely false or misrepresented information, particularly regarding the recent unrest in France.
On July 2, he shared a video of a group of armed and masked men, claiming that rioters in France were “a sight[ing] from “their arsenal of weapons”.
Ballot by BBC Verified Journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh revealed footage in the tweet – which has been viewed more than a million times – showing men in Dijon from 2020 defending their neighborhood after a teenager was attacked by a rival gang.
It remains on its page despite being flagged as fake.
Even Golding himself acknowledged that not everything he publishes is always accurate.
“If we see a video that’s trending and it says this is happening in France and it looks shocking, then we’ll share it,” she said.
“Sometimes we get hit with inaccurate videos.”
But, according to Hood, that doesn’t mean the group is simply inept.
“If you look at content Golding has produced that has been quite successful on social media, it’s toxic, dangerous, trash,” he said.
“They [Britain First] know exactly what they are doing. They create controversial content, with a total disregard for the facts, which fuels hatred of minorities.”
“Fortunately, on Twitter today, that’s a recipe for success,” he added.
“This Stuff Hurts”
Golding may have a blasé attitude about the truth, but digital hate and misinformation have real and deadly real-world consequences.
Dangerous protests outside asylum centers have erupted in the UK, sometimes based on entirely fabricated stories, and online content can help agitate violence against many different groups in society.
At the same time, as social media becomes increasingly vitriolic, it is actually stifling free speech online, with many groups increasingly removed from the platform due to abuse, Hood told RockedBuzz via Euronews.
He claims the boundaries of acceptable discourse on Twitter now depend largely on “Elon Musk’s whims of diktat.”
“This is clearly a worse situation for free speech,” he adds.
Musk has repeatedly deleted accounts critical of him, including one that tracked all of his private jet flights.
Returning to Twitter, Golding believed Britain First had a “very promising future”.
“Musk has put all political parties, not just Britain and first and foremost political parties in Britain, on a level playing field and parity. Five years later, we’ll see who’s popular and who’s not.”