Elon Musk said he would allow President Trump to return to Twitter if the Tesla boss took over the company and the suspension of the former president in January 2021 over his inflammatory tweets surrounding the 6/19 attack on the US Capitol.
During a virtual appearance at the Financial Times’ Future of the Car conference on Tuesday, Musk said, “A temporary suspension is appropriate, but not a permanent ban.” He added that the decision to suspend Trump was “morally wrong.” and led to conservatives moving to more out-of-the-way spaces.
“Trump’s ban from Twitter did not end Trump’s voice; it will reinforce it among the right,” he said.
Twitter declined to comment on Musk’s statement, including whether the company’s current leadership has plans to ratify or pre-emptively counter Musk’s decision.
Musk’s comments come as Twitter users have expressed concern that Musk, who is trying to buy the company for $44 billion, sees some content moderation efforts aimed at keeping harmful content off the platform as censorship would. Allowing Trump to return to the platform would fit Musk’s ongoing criticism of the app’s handling of free speech.
Two days after the attack on the Capitol, Twitter announced that it would permanently suspend Trump “due to the risk of further inciting violence.” Since his ban, Trump has used press releases and rally appearances to communicate with his supporters, often repeating the false and unsubstantiated claim that there was widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election.
Trump told Fox News late last month that he would not rejoin Twitter if given the chance but would continue to promote Truth Social, the so-called free-speech-focused Twitter competitor Trump launched after appearing on various Social media platforms had been blocked. The app has been struggling with technical issues, a shrinking user base and high-profile layoffs — Trump’s use of the site appears to be far less frequent than his Twitter usage.
Other apps that at one point seemed primed to displace a sizable conservative user base from Twitter — like Parler and Gab — have also failed to make it to the mainstream.
But the impact isn’t limited to Twitter. The platform has historically served as a sort of social media weather vane, indicating the direction the industry is heading. His content moderation decisions often preceded similar calls from Facebook.
While Twitter flagged Trump within two days of Feb. 1, Facebook decided to indefinitely suspend Trump’s account on Feb. 6, forwarding the details of that schedule to the company’s external oversight board — which in turn sent the decision back directly to Facebook. Forced to make the call itself, Facebook extended the former president’s ban through January. 7th, 2023.
If Musk reverses the Twitter ban, it could provide cover or pressure for Facebook to do the same. Officials from Facebook — whose parent company was recently renamed Meta Platforms — didn’t say if or how lifting Trump’s Twitter ban would affect the former president’s parallel ban from his platform, but referred The Times to mid-2021 statements by the oversight board and Facebook, which set Trump’s two-year ban.
If Trump were to return to Twitter, it’s unclear whether returning to the platform would help him or the Republican Party.
For four years, Trump’s Twitter feed provided a real-time narrative of his presidency with messages that would set the daily news cycle. But despite its massive reach — the account had around 88 million followers at the time it was blocked — it wasn’t necessarily a hit with voters.
A 2017 Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll found that two-thirds of Americans disapproved of Trump’s Twitter presence. And in February 2020, an Economist/YouGov poll found that a majority of voters said Trump’s Twitter was inappropriate, and 65% said he tweeted too much.
“I think there are a lot of people in his world who would encourage him not to go on Twitter,” said Rob Stutzman, a California-based Republican strategist who has criticized Trump.
Trump’s Twitter presence could also be detrimental to the GOP’s mid-term campaigns. Republicans hope their messages on inflation, gas prices, crime and immigration will help them overturn one or both houses of Congress where Democrats hold razor-thin majorities.
Although Trump’s endorsement has helped candidates in crowded Republican primaries, most recently Ohio Senate primary winner JD Vance, his tweets have historically dominated the news cycle at the party’s expense.
“I don’t think Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell are at all excited that this election is a referendum on Donald Trump,” said Kurt Bardella, a former GOP communications expert who now advises the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to the Republican minority leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
After Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race in 2021, Bardella said, “There was a lot of talk on both sides of the spectrum about how Youngkin was able to run a ‘Keep Trump at Arms Length’ campaign.” That blueprint would be much harder for other Republicans to follow as Trump regains his social media bullhorn.
“He ultimately does everything for himself,” said Bardella. “If he’s able to get back on Twitter, every candidate running on the Republican list has to respond for how his party’s leader is reacting to things. You won’t be able to avoid it.”
But Trump’s allies, many of whom have criticized what they see as anti-conservative bias in the way the platform moderates content, hailed the news that Musk would allow Trump to return.
“Twitter’s days of quitting conservatives are over,” tweeted Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, a conservative watch group.