Billionaire Elon Musk said he will reverse Twitter’s ban on former U.S President Donald Trump when he buys the social media platform, the clearest signal yet of Musk’s intention to cut moderation of the site.
Musk, the world’s richest person and CEO of electric vehicle maker Tesla, has inked a US$44-billion deal to buy Twitter. He has called himself a “free speech absolutist”, but given few specific details of his plans. Musk is expected to become Twitter’s temporary CEO after closing the deal.
The question of reinstating Trump has been seen as a litmus test of how far Musk will go in making changes, even though Trump himself has said he would not return.
Twitter, like other US-based social media platforms, has banned various individuals for violating its policies on misinformation and glorification of violence.
Musk, speaking to a Financial Times conference on Tuesday, added that he and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey believe permanent bans should be “extremely rare” and reserved for accounts that operate bots or spread spam.
“Wrong and bad” tweets should be deleted or made invisible and a temporary account suspension could be appropriate, Musk said. “I think permabans just fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter as a town square where everyone can voice their opinion.”
Musk said the decision to ban Trump amplified Trump’s views among people on the political right, and he called the ban “morally wrong and flat-out stupid”.
The suspension of Trump’s account, which had more than 88 million followers, silenced his primary megaphone days before the end of his term and followed years of debate about how social media companies should moderate the accounts of powerful global leaders.
Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter shortly after the 6 January 2021 attack on the US Capitol. Twitter cited “the risk of further incitement of violence” in its decision.
Megan Squire, a senior fellow for data analytics at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said a permanent ban from mainstream networks, or de-platforming, has been a successful tactic in reducing the reach of abusive messaging and behaviour.
Musk has endorsed some limits, telling a European Union official on Monday that EU policy was “exactly aligned” with his own thinking on controlling illegal content.
Trump has revved up his messaging on Truth Social after a slow start, posting about 50 times
Conservatives, who have accused San Francisco-based Twitter of bias against right-leaning views, have cheered the prospect of Trump’s return to the platform.
Trump previously told Fox News that he would not return to Twitter if allowed. His own social media app, Truth Social, launched on the Apple app store in late February.
Trump has revved up his messaging on the new platform after a slow start, posting about 50 times, mostly in the last week, to his 2.7 million followers. He averaged 18 tweets a day when he was president. — Sheila Dang, with Alexandra Ulmer, David Morgan, Eva Mathews, Jeff Mason, Nandita Bose, Greg Roumeliotis, Katie Paul and Peter Henderson, (c) 2022 Reuters