By Matt O’brien, Kelvin Chan And Tom Krisher, The Associated Press
Elon Musk said he will reverse Twitter’s permanent ban of former President Donald Trump should the Tesla CEO conclude his deal to acquire the social media company for $44 billion.
Musk, speaking virtually at a Future of the Car summit hosted by the Financial Times, said Twitter’s Trump ban was a “morally bad decision” and “foolish in the extreme.” He said permanent bans of Twitter accounts should be rare and reserved for accounts that are scams or automated bots.
“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,” Musk said. “So I think this may end up being frankly worse than having a single forum where everyone can debate. I guess the answer is that I would reverse the permanent ban.”
Musk added that his distaste for permanent bans is shared by Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who 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. It’s been nearly a month since Musk on April 14 announced an offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share. The low trading price was seen as reflecting Wall Street concerns that the deal could still fall through.
Musk has repeatedly criticized Twitter’s content moderation decisions, including the Trump ban, but had mostly avoided saying what he would do about Trump’s account until he was pressed for more details Tuesday by Peter Campbell, a Financial Times automotive correspondent. Twitter banned Trump’s account in January 2021 for “incitement of violence” following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“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.
“I am not going on Twitter. I am going to stay on Truth,” Trump told the network. “I hope Elon buys Twitter because he’ll make improvements to it and he is a good man, but I am going to be staying on Truth.”
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 Trump’s ban, Twitter said Trump 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 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 organization 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.
Conspiracy theorists also have been eliminated. David Icke was kicked off the platform two years ago for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, including claims that Jews and 5G towers were behind the pandemic. Icke is a prominent advocate of the belief that a race of lizard people have taken over the Earth by posing as human leaders.
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 U.S. and the world, he said: “It’s far too random and I think Twitter needs to be much more even-handed.” Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Musk’s comments.
Earlier, 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.
O’Brien reported from Providence, R.I.; Krisher reported from Detroit. Associated Press writer David Klepper contributed from Providence, R.I.
Feature image – Elon Musk attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” exhibition on Monday, May 2, 2022, in New York. Elon Musk, who’s offering to buy Twitter, has given his support to a new European Union law aimed at protecting social media users from harmful content after he met with the bloc’s single market chief. In a video tweeted late Monday, May 9 by EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, Musk said the two had a “great discussion” and he agrees with the bloc’s online regulations. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, file)