Elon Musk said Twitter would reverse its ban of former President Donald Trump if his purchase of the social media company goes through, signalling just how permissive the platform could become toward free speech under his ownership.
Speaking virtually at an auto conference, the Tesla CEO said Tuesday that Twitter's ban of Trump following the Jan 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol was a “morally bad decision” and “foolish in the extreme”.
“I think that was a mistake because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice,” said Musk, adding that he preferred temporary suspensions and other narrowly tailored punishments for content that is illegal or otherwise “destructive to the world."
Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey voiced his agreement in a Tuesday tweet in which he said “generally permanent bans are a failure of ours and don’t work.”
Shares of Twitter dropped 1.5% Tuesday to $47.24 per share. That's 13 percent below the offer of $54.20 per share — or $44 billion — that Musk made on April 14, a reflection of Wall Street's concerns that the deal could still fall through. Musk emphasised Tuesday that it is “certainly not a done deal."
Musk has repeatedly criticised Twitter’s content moderation decisions, including banning Trump for “incitement of violence,” but had mostly avoided saying what he would do about Trump’s account. He was pressed for more details Tuesday by Peter Campbell, an automotive correspondent for the Financial Times, which hosted the auto conference.
“If Musk is concerned that many people were upset that Trump was banned, he should see how many more people would be upset if Trump was not banned,” said Kirsten Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. “Musk only appears to be worried about the opinion of a small group of individuals who incite violence or perpetuate hate speech.”
Trump has previously said that he had no intention of rejoining Twitter even if his account was reinstated, telling Fox News last month that he would instead focus on his own platform, Truth Social, which has been mired in problems since its launch earlier this year.
Musk appeared to take those claims at face value, saying Tuesday that Trump will be going to Truth Social along with a “large part” of the US political right, creating a situation that’s “frankly worse than having a single forum where everyone can debate.”
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment in response to Musk’s remarks.
While Trump was president, his Twitter persona functioned as a mix of policy announcements, often out of the blue; complaints about the media; disparagement of women, minorities and his perceived enemies; and praise for his supporters, replete with exclamation marks, all-caps, and one-word declarations such as “Sad!”
He fired numerous officials on Twitter and his posts, like his speeches at rallies, were a torrent of misinformation.
In announcing its ban of Trump in 2021, Twitter said his tweets amounted to glorification of violence when read in the context of the Capitol riot and plans circulating online for future armed protests around the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Musk’s remarks Tuesday raise questions about whether those banned besides Trump could also return. The long list of people banned from Twitter includes QAnon loyalists, COVID deniers, neo-Nazis and former reality star Tila Tequila, who was suspended for hate speech.
Other Trump allies kicked off Twitter include Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, Lin Wood and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was permanently banned in January for repeatedly spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccine safety.
White supremacist David Duke and the often violent Proud Boys organisation have been banned, along with far-right trolls like one who goes by the name Baked Alaska, who promoted anti-Semitic tropes and faces charges stemming from his involvement in the Jan 6 attack.
Alex Jones, the creator of Infowars, was permanently banned in 2018 for abusive behaviour. Last year, Jones lost a defamation case filed by the parents of children killed in the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting over Jones’ repeated claims that the shooting was fake.
Twitter, Musk said Tuesday, currently has a strong bias to the left, largely because it is located in San Francisco. This alleged bias prevents it from building trust in the rest of the US and the world, he said: “It’s far too random and I think Twitter needs to be much more even handed.”
Twitter declined to comment on Musk's remarks.
Earlier on Tuesday, Musk said he supported a new European Union law aimed at protecting social media users from harmful content after he met with the bloc's single market chief.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he outlined to Musk how the bloc’s online regulations aim to uphold free speech while also making sure whatever is illegal “will be forbidden in the digital space,” which Musk “fully agreed with.”
In a video Breton tweeted late Monday, Musk said the two had a “great discussion" and that he agrees with the Digital Services Act, which is expected to get final approval later this year. It will make big tech companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook parent Meta police their platforms more strictly for illegal or harmful content like hate speech and disinformation or face billions in fines.