Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey confirmed to HuffPost that he privately sought business advice from right-wing political commentator Ali Akbar, a fringe figure with a history of tweeting hateful content, arguing that Akbar makes “interesting points.”
Akbar, who now goes by Ali Alexander, is known for producing videos with prominent alt-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, has hosted figures such as Matt Colligan, a participant in the 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on his podcast and Periscope videos, according to Right Wing Watch and Media Matters. He has described Colligan, who waved a flag with a Nazi swastika on one of Akbar’s livestream videos, as “a little bit racist” but “so funny.”
Akbar was also suspended from Twitter earlier this year for a brief time before his account was restored the same day. He told far-right website Breitbart News the suspension came in response to his tweet directed at a fan of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), in which he reportedly wrote: “I would *literally* put you down if you came near me, Marxist. I would call 911 to come retrieve your body. Have a Good Friday!”
Akbar said Dorsey consulted with him last year as Twitter debated whether it should permanently ban conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from its platform, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.
Akbar told the Journal he advised Dorsey against banning Jones, who has used his reach on Twitter and other platforms to provoke and harass mass shooting survivors and victims’ families. After initially declining to do so, Twitter banned Jones in September, weeks after other tech companies such as iTunes, YouTube, Spotify and Facebook booted him from their sites.
“I don’t think it’s productive to meet with people like Ali Akbar who have very clear political motives going into meetings like that,” said Jared Holt of Right Wing Watch. “If you’re seeking advice on fixing these fundamental problems, you wouldn’t go to a political activist who, between him and his network of influencers, would seek to exploit those problems for their own political gain.”
In an interview at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco last week, Dorsey told HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg he sought advice from people with varying opinions on the issue before coming to a decision on Jones’ account.
“You want to get as many thoughts as possible,” he said. “I want to make sure that I’m seeing the entire spectrum.”
Feinberg noted that Akbar has repeatedly sent tweets identifying which members of the media are Jewish — a common anti-Semitic trope — and asked Dorsey if he was aware of Akbar’s past remarks.
“I don’t act on all of his comments. I listen, and I think that’s the most important thing. I was introduced to him by a friend, and you know, he’s got interesting points,” Dorsey replied. “I don’t obviously agree with most. But, I think the perspective is interesting.” Dorsey did not elaborate on which of Akbar’s points he was referring to.
Akbar responded to Feinberg’s published interview by ranting on Twitter and demanding a retraction.
He and Dorsey had been in talks for several months dating back to at least early 2018, according to a post on Akbar’s Instagram featuring the two men embracing.
“It’s important that Jack sought a right-of-center perspective which cannot be found at Twitter,” Akbar told the Journal. “Jack was brave.”