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Elon Musk said on Tuesday that he would “reverse the permanent ban” of former President Donald J. Trump on Twitter and allow him to return to the social network, in one of his first specific comments. Musk, the richest man in the world, on how he will change the social media service.
Mr. Musk, who last month reached an agreement to buy Twitter for $44 billionspeak at a Financial Times Conference that the company’s decision to ban Mr. Trump last year for tweets about the US Capitol riots was “a mistake because it alienated a large portion of the population in the country and ultimately did not lead to Donald Trump has no say.” He added that it was “morally wrong and utterly stupid” and that “permanent bans only fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter.”
Mr Musk’s comments are a preview of the kinds of sweeping changes he could make at Twitter, which he expects to take ownership of over the next six months. The billionaire, who also leads electric car maker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, has called himself a “liberalist” and said he’s unhappy with how Twitter decides what may and may not be posted online.
But until Tuesday, Mr. Musk, 50, had spoken mostly in general terms and did not indicate which Twitter accounts might be affected by his takeover. He has called free speech “the cornerstone of a working democracy” and has spoken of his desire to give people more control over their social media feeds. By determining that Mr. Trump could return to the platform, Mr. Musk has tackled the political firestorm.
Mr. Trump has used Twitter for years as both a megaphone and a newspaper, rallying his 88 million followers on issues like immigration while also going after opponents. That avenue was cut in January 2021 when Twitter, along with Facebook and other platforms, banned Mr. Trump from posting after the attack on the US Capitol. Twitter at the time argued that Mr. Trump had violated policies and was in danger of inciting violence among his supporters. Facebook banned Mr. Trump for similar reasons.
Mr. Trump, who started a social networking site called Social Truth, did not respond to a request for comment. Last month, Mr Trump said that even if Mr Musk buys Twitter, he has no plans to return to the platform and will be “above the Truth”.
Twitter declined to comment.
Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, says that freedom of expression online needs to come with roadblocks.
“Mr. Musk: Freedom of speech is amazing, hate speech is unacceptable,” he said. Hate or falsehood destroys our democracy”.
But Jack Dorsey, founder and board member of Twitter, tweeted that the permanent suspension of individual users “was a failure” for the company and was largely “inactivity.” Mr. Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive officer when Mr. Trump was banned, said last year that launching the presidency was the right decision for the company, but backed off on Tuesday, calling it “a big decision.” intend to do business” and say “shouldn’t ‘not yet. “
Even with Musk’s comments, Mr. Trump’s potential return to Twitter is far from guaranteed. Mr. Musk is shrewd and has a history of saying things he doesn’t follow. In 2018, he famously stated that he planned to let Tesla go private and has enough funding to do so, while he does not. Even his most devoted followers sometimes wonder if his obscene tweets are serious or made for joke.
Investors have also questioned whether Musk’s Twitter deal is complete. Shares of the company closed Tuesday at $47.26, well below the $54.20 Musk agreed to pay them. Musk is also still securing funding for his takeover. While venture capital firms and some large banks lined up to invest, the billionaire is ready to offer up to $21 billion of his own cash. He did not detail where he would get the money.
Mr. Musk mentioned the possibility that the deal doesn’t close on Tuesday and nothing happens to Mr. Trump’s Twitter account. “Obviously I don’t own Twitter yet,” he said at the Financial Times conference. “So this is not a definite thing because what if I didn’t own Twitter.”
Mr. Trump has long rattled social media companies with his speech, sometimes spreading lies and bullying people. But the companies’ moves to block him have drawn accusations, especially from conservatives, that they are engaging in censorship and bias against Republican voices. .
Mr Musk appeared to echo some of those conservative complaints on Tuesday, accusing Twitter of being “strongly biased on the left, because it’s based in San Francisco” and saying “victory would be 10 parts”. 100 percent farthest right and farthest left 10 percent are equally uncomfortable.”
Several companies have since avoided appearing as the last word about who can say what online. Facebook calls Mr. Trump’s case its own Management, a company-appointed panel of academics, journalists, and former government members. The Board of Directors ruled that Facebook was right to ban Mr. Trumpbut it said the company had not thoroughly explained its decision and should reconsider the indefinite suspension.
In June, Facebook said Mr. Trump’s ban would last for at least two years, keeping the former president out of the 2022 midterm elections.
As Mr. Musk began buying shares in Twitter this year, he began voicing his thoughts on the service and freedom of expression, including in conversations with Mr. Dorsey. In Steps areMusk asked his followers if Twitter was not following its free speech guidelines.
“Freedom of speech is essential for a functioning democracy. Do you believe that Twitter strictly adheres to this principle? ” he asks.
At another point, Mr. Musk wondered, “Need a new platform?”
After Mr. Musk signed the deal to acquire Twitter last month, he reiterated his free speech stance and said he would take the company outside to improve the service. He added that he hopes to boost trust by making Twitter’s technology more transparent, defeating bots that spam people on the platform, and “authenticating everyone.” He also said he hopes his worst criticism will remain on Twitter, because “that’s what free speech means.”
On Tuesday, he became 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 absolutely no legitimacy to the account.”
But he also said that “doesn’t mean someone can say whatever they want to say.” Mr. Musk said he’s in favor of suspending accounts “if they say something illegal or otherwise, you know, wreck the world.” He also raised the idea that a particular tweet could be “hidden or have very limited traction.”
In addition to Mr. Trump, others have been indefinitely banned from Twitter for violating its policies including Representative Marjorie Taylor GreeneRepublican Party of Georgia, far-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos, and celebrities like Tila Tequila. Twitter also labels tweets that are inaccurate about fact or likely to incite violence.
Inside Twitter on Tuesday, some employees worried that Mr. Musk’s changes would extend years of work on company policies and unravel millions of dollars invested in content moderation. to prevent abuse on the platform, said four current and former employees. Some said they hoped Musk would lose interest in the site, while others have begun reaching out to recruiters and friends at other tech companies to find new opportunities.
Current and former employees say others are still excited about the prospect of Musk taking over. Mr. Musk has urges investors to double Twitter’s revenue and on the service reach more than 900 million users by 2028, up from 217 million or so today.
Michael C. Bender and Lauren Hirsch contribution report.