On Tuesday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that he would allow former President Donald Trump to return to Twitter once his purchase of the social media site for nearly $44 billion is finalized.
Trump was banned from Twitter shortly after a mob of his loyalists, incensed by his false claims of election fraud, attacked the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021, to interrupt the certification of President Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
Musk described the ban on Trump as “foolish in the extreme” at a car exposition event hosted by The Financial Times on Tuesday.
“I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump. I think that was a mistake,” Musk said, adding that the company’s decision “alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.”
Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account shortly after the attack on the Capitol due to the incendiary nature of his public statements.
“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” the company said less than a week after the attack occurred.
In one of the last tweets Trump published before his account was suspended, he defended his loyalists’ actions and continued to push lies about the 2020 election being illegitimate.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots,” Trump wrote on the evening of the Capitol attack.
Trump has said that he won’t return to Twitter, opting instead to stick with his own social media site, Truth Social. But those close to the former president say that the temptation to return to his @realDonaldTrump handle on Twitter will be too difficult to overcome.
Musk plans to make drastic changes to Twitter’s rules once he’s in charge; in his words, the site will become a “digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated” without restriction. Of course, in real town hall settings, there are rules of decorum that must be followed — and people can be banned if they continually incite violence or propagate disinformation.
One recently published study suggests that Musk’s plans may decrease free speech on the platform.
“Social media users have in past years become victims of manipulation by ‘astroturf’ causes, trolling and misinformation,” said head researcher of the study Filippo Menczer, professor of Informatics and Computer Science at Indiana University. “Abuse is facilitated by social bots and coordinated networks that create the appearance of human crowds.”
Musk’s likely acquisition of Twitter raises concerns that the social media platform could decrease its content moderation. This body of research shows that stronger, not weaker, moderation of the information ecosystem is called for to combat harmful misinformation.
“The voices of real users would be drowned out by malicious users who manipulate Twitter through inauthentic accounts, bots and echo chambers” if Musk’s laissez-faire policies were enacted, Menczer said, noting that such policies “would ironically hurt free speech.”