Elon Musk said Tuesday that he would “reverse the permanent ban” on former President Donald J. Trump on Twitter and let him back on the social network, in one of the first specific comments by Musk, the world’s richest man, on how he would change the social networking service.
Musk, who struck a deal last month to buy Twitter for $44 billion, told a Financial Times conference that the company’s decision to ban Trump last year over tweets about unrest at the US Capitol. a large part of the country and it ultimately didn’t result in Donald Trump having no voice.” He added that it was “morally wrong and completely stupid” and that “permanent bans just fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter.”
Musk’s comments were a preview of the kind of sweeping changes he could make to Twitter, which he is expected to take over in the next six months. The billionaire, who also runs electric carmaker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, has called himself a “free speech absolutist” and has said he’s not happy with the way Twitter decides what’s going on. can and cannot be published online.
But until Tuesday, Musk, 50, had been mostly speaking in general terms and had not mentioned the Twitter accounts that could be affected by his acquisition. He called freedom of expression “the foundation of a functioning democracy” and spoke of his desire to give people more control over their own social networks. By specifying that Trump could return to the platform, Musk set off a political firestorm.
Trump used Twitter for many years as a megaphone and a cudgel, rallying his 88 million followers on issues like immigration and going after his opponents. That avenue was severed in January 2021 when Twitter, along with Facebook and other platforms, banned Trump from posting following the attack on the US Capitol building. Twitter said at the time that Trump had violated policies and risked incite violence among his followers. Facebook banned Trump for similar reasons.
Trump, who has since started a social networking site called Truth Social, did not respond to a request for comment. Last month, Trump said that even with Musk’s purchase of Twitter, he did not plan to return to the platform and that he would “stay in Truth.”
Twitter declined to comment.
Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, said that free speech online had to come with protective barriers.
Musk: Free speech is wonderful, hate speech is unacceptable,” he said. “Do not let 45 return to the platform. Do not let Twitter become a petri dish for hate speech or untruths that They subvert our democracy.”
But Jack Dorsey, founder and board member of Twitter, tweeted that permanent suspensions of individual users “are a failure” of the company and largely “don’t work”. Dorsey, who was chief executive of Twitter when Trump was banished, had said last year that firing the president was the right move for the company, but backed off Tuesday, calling it “a business decision” and saying “it shouldn’t have been.” been.
Even with Musk’s comments, Trump’s possible return to Twitter is far from assured. Mr. Musk is fickle and has a history of saying things that he doesn’t follow through on. In 2018, he stated that he planned to take Tesla private and that he had the funds to do so, when he did not. Even his most devoted followers sometimes wonder if his obscurantist tweets are serious or a joke.
Investors have also questioned whether Musk’s Twitter deal will go through. Shares of the company closed Tuesday at $47.26, well below the $54.20 Musk agreed to pay for them. Musk is also continuing to secure financing for its acquisition. While venture capital firms and some big banks have lined up to invest, the billionaire is willing to provide up to $21 billion of his own cash. He has not detailed where he will get that money from.
Musk touched on the possibility that the deal might not close on Tuesday and that nothing will happen to Trump’s Twitter account. “Obviously, I don’t own Twitter yet,” he told the Financial Times conference. “So this is definitely not something that will happen because what if I don’t own Twitter?”
Trump has long railed against social media companies for the way they exaggerated speech, sometimes spreading lies and intimidating people. But the companies’ moves to ban it prompted accusations, especially from conservatives, that they were practicing censorship and were biased against Republican voices.
Musk appeared to echo some of those conservative complaints on Tuesday, accusing Twitter of “a strong left bias, because it’s based in San Francisco” and saying “victory would be the 10 percent plus far right and the more than 10 percent of the left is equally upset”.
Since then, some of the companies have avoided appearing as the final say on who can say what online. Facebook referred Trump’s case to its Oversight Board, a company-appointed panel of academics, journalists and former government officials. The board ruled that Facebook was correct in banning Trump, but said the company had not fully explained his decision and should review an indefinite ban.
In June, Facebook said Trump’s ban would last at least two years, keeping the former president off the site until the 2022 midterm elections.
When Musk started buying shares of Twitter this year, he began to express his thoughts about the service and free speech more, including in exchanges with Dorsey. In MarchMusk asked his followers if Twitter was not abiding by the principles of freedom of expression.
“Freedom of expression is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you think Twitter strictly adheres to this principle? she asked.
At another point, Musk wondered, “Is a new platform needed?”
After Musk signed the deal to buy Twitter last month, he reiterated his stance on free speech and said he would take the company private to improve the service. He added that he hoped to increase trust by making Twitter’s technology more transparent, defeating bots that spam people on the platform, and “authenticating all humans.” He also said that he hoped his worst critics would stay on Twitter, because “that’s what free speech means.”
On Tuesday, he got more specific. “Permanent bans should be extremely rare,” Musk said, adding that they should be reserved “for accounts that are bots or spam” and “where there is simply no legitimacy to the account.”
But he also said that “it doesn’t mean that someone can say what they want to say.” Musk said he was in favor of temporary account suspensions “if they say something that is illegal or just, you know, destructive to the world.” He also floated the idea that a particular tweet could “become invisible or have very limited traction.”
In addition to Trump, others who have been banned indefinitely from Twitter for violating his policies include Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, far-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos, and celebrities like Tila Tequila. Twitter also labels tweets that are factually inaccurate or could incite violence.
Inside Twitter on Tuesday, some employees worried that Musk’s changes would undo years of work on company policies and unravel millions of dollars of investment in content moderation to stop abuse on the platform, four current and former employees said. previous. Some said they hoped Musk would lose interest in the site, while others began reaching out to recruiters and friends at other tech companies looking for new opportunities.
Others were excited about the prospect of Musk being in charge, current and former employees said. Musk has proposed to investors to quintuple Twitter’s revenue and for the service to exceed 900 million users by 2028, up from 217 million today.
Michael C. Bender Y Lauren Hirsch contributed report.