“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 U.S. 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, though 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 U.S. 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 D.C. 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.”
Elon Musk wants free speech on Twitter. But for whom?
“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.”
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 financial, 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.
Musk has previously criticized Twitter’s content moderation as heavy-handed and rooted in left-wing bias. Musk is expected to dial back the site’s policing and potentially replace the executives who have ushered them in if the deal closes.
Elizabeth Dwoskin contributed to this report.