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Britain's far right is booming on Elon Musk's Twitter

Britain's far right is booming on Elon Musk's Twitter

Some people are pretty pleased with Twitter right now.

After US president Donald Trump caused a furore by retweeting its 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 followed suit months later.

Losing this huge reach 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 kicked off the platform.

Within hours, those belonging to Britain First leader Paul Golding, along with former deputy Jayda Fransen and the party itself, reappeared.

“We’re absolutely pleased,” Golding told Euronews. “Now that we’re back on Twitter, our following is growing very, very rapidly.

“The amount of people we’re reaching is huge. It's millions all around the world.”

He claimed his Twitter following has lept from around 30,000 to more than 100,000 in little over two months since being reinstated.

“If the rate of growth carries on this way, I'll be in the millions within a year or two,” Golding added.

“This is freedom of speech in action. This is democracy in action.”

‘Bogie 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 to a series of hate crimes against Muslims in 2018, with he and fellow supporters known to invade mosques and abuse worshippers.

"Britain First is a vile and hate-fuelled group whose sole purpose is to sow division," London Mayor Sadiq Khan said following Golding’s online ban back in 2018. "Their sick intentions to incite hatred within our society via social media are reprehensible."

Ben Stevens/Ben Stevens/
Leader of Britain First Paul Golding, center, gestures during a demonstration by Britain First and EDL (English Defence League) in London, Saturday, April 1, 2017. - Ben Stevens/Ben Stevens/

Shut out from Twitter and Facebook, Britain First eked out an online existence on fringe platforms, where audiences are much smaller. But now it is back in the mainstream.

“Elon Musk… has made sure [Britain First's] content is much more prominent on the platform," head researcher Callum Hood at the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) told Euronews. “That’s a real helping hand to accounts like Golding’s.”

He explained that Britain First’s “extremely sharp” follower growth means an ever-increasing number of people are being exposed to his content that “foments hatred”.

Golding’s account also now carries a blue tick, formerly a badge of authenticity, giving his tweets “more credibility”, continued Hood – even though the only barrier to entry has become a “willingness to hand Elon Musk money”.

“That blue badge gives Golding a range of perks he has 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's policies.

A report by the CCDH found the number of accounts pumping out toxic hate and abuse on Twitter has exploded since Musk’s takeover, with usage of slurs like the racist n-word soaring 202%.

'His mission of whipping up division'

In an interview with Euronews, Golding claimed his content was not hateful, maintaining that his tweets – often a dozen per day – were “completely legal”.

“When the media or politicians talk about the word hate on social media, they mean political beliefs or opinions that they don't like,” he said.

“The real reason we got closed down is that we were getting too big, our following was too large,” suggesting the British government pressured 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 closed for repeated hate speech.

On what he called the “old Twitter”, the far-right leader alleged there was “blatant, naked censorship of opposing views”, which were replaced with “distorted narratives” on major political issues.

“That’s why Musk stepped in to restore freedom of speech. Now we can say what we want,” he told Euronews.

Yet Golding has been repeatedly called out for sharing outright fake or wildly misrepresented information, especially surrounding the recent unrest in France.

On 2 July, he shared a video of a group of armed and masked men, claiming rioters in France were “show[ing] off” their arsenal of weapons”.

Scrutiny by BBC verify journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh revealed the footage in the tweet - which was viewed more than a million times - showed men in Dijon from 2020 defending their neighbourhood after a teen was assaulted by a rival gang.

It remains on his page despite being flagged as false.

Even Golding himself recognised that not everything he posts 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 will share it," he said.

“Sometimes we get stung with inaccurate videos.”

But, according to Hood, this does not mean the group is simply inept.

“If you look at the content Golding produces that has been quite successful on social media it is toxic, dangerous, rubbish,” he said.

“They [Britain First] know exactly what they're doing. They create controversial content, with a complete disregard for the facts, that whips up hatred of minorities.”

“Fortunately, on today's Twitter, that is a recipe for success,” he added.

‘This stuff causes harm’

Golding may have a blasé attitude towards the truth, but digital hate and misinformation have real – and deadly – real-world consequences.

Dangerous protests outside asylum centres have broken out in the UK, at times on the basis of completely fabricated stories, and online content can help agitate violence against many different groups in society.

At the same time, as social media grows more vitriol-ridden, it is actually stifling freedom of speech online, with many groups increasingly driven off the platform by abuse, Hood told Euronews.

He claims the boundaries of acceptable speech on Twitter are now largely dependent on the “whims of Elon Musk by diktat”.

“That is clearly a worse situation for freedom of speech,” he adds.

Musk has repeatedly deleted accounts that are critical of him, including one which tracked all of his private jet flights.

Back on Twitter, Golding believed Britain First had a “very promising future”.

“Musk has put all political parties not just Britain and first of all political parties in Britain on an equal and level playing field. Five years down the line, we will see who's popular and who isn't.”