Elon Musk says he would reverse Twitter ban on Donald Trump

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SAN FRANCISCO — Elon Musk said he would reverse Twitter’s ban on former president Donald Trump, articulating for the first time his stance on one of the most consequential decisions before him at the social media site he is acquiring.

“I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump. I think that was a mistake,” Musk said at an event hosted by the Financial Times Tuesday. “It alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.”

“I think it was a morally bad decision to be clear and foolish in the extreme,” he said of the ban.

What Elon Musk has said about Twitter

Musk — who himself is a prolific Twitter user with more than 90 million followers — has agreed to purchase the social media company for roughly $44 billion, touting his belief in its benefits for free speech and its ability to act as the “de facto town square .” He has expressed support for temporary bans over permanent ones, but hadn’t yet outlined his views on Trump, who was banned in the wake of the Jan. 6 storming of the US Capitol last year.

A resurrected Trump Twitter account could again unlock an online platform that the former president had used for years to amass a global audience, win attention and pummel his adversaries. Democrats — and some Republicans — have also feared it could prove a powerful campaigning tool for him ahead of the 2022 midterm elections and his likely 2024 presidential run.

Musk acknowledged Tuesday the Twitter deal was not yet complete and there were still issues to be worked out. “I guess the answer is I would reverse the permanent ban,” he said before adding, “I don’t own Twitter yet.”

Even if he does acquire the company, it’s unclear if Trump would rejoin.

Twitter declined to comment. A Trump spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has no plans to rejoin Twitter and has not talked to Musk, although he agrees with Musk’s summary of the episode, said a Trump adviser on Tuesday who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue.

Musk began investing in Twitter earlier this year and spent much of the month of March opining on the necessity of an open forum — unfettered by moderation — on social media, at one point asking whether a new platform was needed. By April as Musk’s investment became public, his interest in Twitter became clear.

He has seized on the platform’s importance to democracy and global debate and criticized what he has described as a left-wing bias in moderation decisions. Twitter has countered that its efforts have been aimed at minimizing harm and improving the user experience by limiting exposure to hate speech and harassment.

Twitter’s top lawyer long weighed safety and free speech. Then Elon Musk called her out.

Trump was once a prolific Twitter user, tweeting an average of 58 times a day during his first impeachment, and during his campaign and presidency he used the tweets to great effect to dominate the American news cycle and political debate.

Shortly after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Twitter banned his account, citing the “risk of further incitement of violence.” A month before the riots, he had tweeted, “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Trump advisers have worried that if Trump did rejoin Twitter, he would instantly depress the value of his company’s recently launched Twitter clone, Truth Social, which he is still eager to reap financial benefits from.

Musk said Trump’s move to Truth Social was evidence of the failure of the permanent ban.

He said the result could be a forum that is “frankly worse,” where debate becomes splintered rather than unified on a platform he has described as a “de facto town square.”

Musk did not go so far as to say bans should not exist, but specified they should be exceptionally rare, and reserved for bots and scam accounts.

Asked whether Trump’s behavior merited action, Musk said, generally, “a temporary suspension is appropriate but not a permanent ban.”

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“Banning Trump from Twitter didn’t end Trump’s voice — it will amplify it from the right,” he said. “This is why it is morally wrong and flat-out stupid.”

Musk’s view on the Trump issue is his clearest shot yet at Twitter’s current approach to moderation, which has been rooted in efforts to eliminate the harms of hate speech and the potential to incite violence on the site. Musk has criticized the moves as heavy-handed and rooted in left-wing bias. Musk is expected to dial back those moves and potentially replace the executives who have ushered them in if the deal closes.

In internal company channels and in conversations with one another, employees said they were worried about his hard-charging management style and his potential to target employees that disagreed with him. People at Twitter who work on issues of Trust and Safety in particularly said that Musk — with his free speech “absolutist” view of content moderation — would dismantle years of work designed to protect users from misinformation and hate speech.

Employees reacted in the channels by saying they weren’t surprised, and were disappointed and disgusted, according to a description of the conversations from a person who requested confidentiality in order to describe them. People agreed that users should have paths to redemption in order to get their accounts reinstated, but that Trump had not signaled any behavior or mindset change.

The decision to finally ban Trump was made by senior executives at the 11th hour after days of deliberation and an employee-circulated petition demanding that Trump be banned for his comments encouraging the mob that stormed the Capitol.

Though Musk claimed Trump’s Twitter ban actually amplified him, online discussion about Trump plunged after his Twitter ban to a five-year low, according to data from the online analytics firms BuzzSumo and Zignal Labs.

Trump was banned just before he exited the White House, limiting his ability to influence current events. But his first attempt to match his online audience after the Twitter ban — a blog he called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” — was so unpopular he ordered his advisers to end it in after 29 days.

Trump has urged people to use Truth Social, which he has actively started posting to in the last week, dispensing more than 50 “truths” and “retruths” — the site’s names for tweets and retweets.

But his engagement there is still small compared to his lost Twitter presence, where many of his tweets often received hundreds of thousands of likes, retweets and responses.

Trump’s Truth Social in trouble as finance, technical woes mount

Trump now has just over 2 million followers on Truth Social — a tiny shred of the 88 million followers he had accumulated on Twitter before the ban.

Elizabeth Dwoskin contributed to this report.

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