On March 7, Antonio Attolini Murra, a member of Mexico’s ruling party, quote-tweeted a post that he hated: “These idiots think that wearing a brand labeled as ‘fascist’ is something to be proud of. They’re brain-dead.” His tweet referred to an apparel brand, Fachos.mx, named after the Spanish-language slang term for “fascist.” On its e-commerce platform, Fachos sells T-shirts brandishing controversial slogans like “It’s a beautiful day to smash feminazism” or “No to gender ideology.” Among its assortment of headwear, browsers can also find a red “Make Mexico Great Again” cap, reminiscent of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign hat.

Far from being cowed by criticism, Attolini’s angry post was just what Fachos wanted. The site has found an unusual but effective marketing strategy: posting sexist and nationalist content with the intention to goad high-profile social media users like Attolini into quoting them with criticism, consequently amplifying Fachos’ message. The company counts on users’ tendency to unintentionally promote a brand to which they’re viscerally opposed.

Within 24 hours of quote-tweeting, Attolini’s post had been seen by over 100,000 people and had received over 500 replies, most of them thanking him for introducing users to the brand. “Thanks for sharing! I’ll buy tens of these,” one reply said. “I know I’m part of Twitter’s algorithm,” Attolini, who has over 280,000 followers on the platform, told Rest of World. “So, whenever I criticize an opposing party’s policy, I always get the same reaction: ‘Thanks for the free publicity!’” 

Carlos Leal, a right-wing local politician and the founder and CEO of Fachos, told Rest of World Attolini’s post had increased visits to his site by 300%, with sales increasing by 20%.

Pepe Galaviz, a political communications consultant, told Rest of World the incident underlines a well-known rule of marketing: “The only thing that matters is that people are talking about you, no matter if it is good or bad.”

The success of this strategy has coincided with a decrease in the moderation of hate speech on Twitter. Following its acquisition by Elon Musk last October, the platform has become a particularly effective marketing channel, said Leal. Twitter’s apparent leniency to Fachos’ explicit right-wing messaging stands in stark contrast to other platforms like Facebook and Instagram, where Leal claims to have been censored for using terms like “abortion” or “gender ideology.” 

A Meta spokesperson told Rest of World the company does not censor or ban accounts based on the use of individual terms, but rather only if such use goes against its community guidelines. 

Globally, Twitter has come under scrutiny for laying off a large portion of its moderation staff, as the effects of this decision have come to the fore. One consequence, witnessed across Latin America, has been the creation of an apparent boosting effect for right-wing political accounts versus left-wing and liberal accounts.

“When you say you hate hate-speech, you become a magnifier of the thing you hate.”

What makes the Fachos campaign stand out, however, is how it differs from similar right-wing marketing. Right-wing ideologues have often used merch to promote their own agendas through a brand. In the U.S., Black Rifle Coffee, a coffee company, publicly praised some of Donald Trump’s policies, and became the unofficial coffee of choice for his supporters. Fachos is different because it seeks engagement on social media not so much from potential supporters as from those who hate the brand’s ideology. The company succeeds at enraging ideological opponents, like Attolini, with deliberately offensive messaging that Twitter allows.

Fachos also reaches right-wingers by speaking their language on social media, but the use of rage-bait spreads that message much further. Leal himself realized the magnifying effect that enraging his opponents had on his outreach — to the extent that he began a paid campaign on Twitter focused on provocative messages. These deliberately offensive posts don’t tiptoe around dog-whistle references that like-minded supporters might recognize, but rather, look to anger opponents.

One example is a Fachos tweet announcing, “Your shirt for 8M [March 8, International Women’s Day] is ready!” The post was accompanied by a picture of a model wearing a shirt that read, “Long live the patriarchy.”

Being a private company allows Fachos to skirt Mexican online regulation. “If Leal were a political candidate, moderating his content would be more up for debate — the Mexican government is in ongoing discussions about restrictions around campaigning on social media,” Karla Prudencio, a lawyer and member of R3D, a Mexican nongovernmental organization that protects digital rights, told Rest of World. “But right now, he’s just being a bigoted businessman. We may not like what [his brand] is saying, but he’s entitled to say it on the grounds of free speech.”

Leal said he’s been experimenting with different marketing strategies, since he believes Meta and Google’s ad services block his messaging. “On my personal Facebook and Instagram pages, I get shadow bans if I use certain terms, like ‘abortion’ or ‘gender ideology,’” he claimed.

But, despite Leal’s discovery of the most effective workarounds for social media regulations and local laws, he said the best thing about Twitter is that the platform allows him to reach and keep his ultimate target audience of “right-wing, conservative, libertarian people.” Before Musk’s acquisition, he only got about 50 to 100 new followers a month. “This past month, I added about 800 new followers,” he said. 

“Elon Musk’s arrival has meant changes that have rehabilitated polarizing, insidious and hate-spreading discourses [on Twitter],” Rafael Morales, associate researcher at UNAM Civic Innovation Lab, a public policy research laboratory in the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Rest of World. He worries that, as Twitter becomes more permissive of hate speech, the increased criticism against it has ended up inadvertently amplifying it. 

“There’s always a risk that when you say you hate hate-speech, you become a magnifier of the thing you hate,” said Prudencio.