Former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account has been restored under the social media company’s owner, billionaire Elon Musk.
Musk polled Twitter users on Friday and Saturday asking them if Trump should be reinstated and a narrow majority voted for Trump. On Saturday night, Musk tweeted: “The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated. Vox Populi, Vox Dei.” The Latin phrase means, “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”
Musk had previously said he wouldn’t make any “major content decisions or account reinstatements” before convening a “content moderation board with widely divergent views.”
Twitter was the first platform to ban Trump after his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, saying his tweets violated its rules against glorifying violence. That move was quickly followed by similar ones from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitch and other internet companies.
Now Twitter has become the first to reinstate the former president’s account, giving him access to the powerful megaphone he used for years to attack political enemies, whip up fans and run daily news cycles, reaching an audience of nearly 90 million followers and even more as his tweets were amplified across Twitter and into mainstream media.
Trump’s last tweet was from January 8, 2021. Whether Trump will accept the invitation to return to Twitter is another matter. During a Saturday speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Trump poured cold water on the idea of returning to Twitter, saying “I don’t see any reason to,” according to Bloomberg News. After his exile from mainstream social media, Trump and some of his allies launched a rival social media site called Truth Social.
Musk, who bought Twitter for $44 billion after months of legal wrangling over whether to go through with the deal, has vowed to “unlock” the company’s potential by promoting free speech. Before his purchase, Musk had criticized the platform’s rules against harassment, hate speech and false claims about elections and public health, saying it should allow all legal speech.
During the first chaotic weeks of Musk’s ownership of Twitter, many of the employees and contractors responsible for ensuring that toxic and illegal content does not take over the platform were either laid off or quit.
Musk has also said he opposes the idea of permanent social media bans, and at a conference in May he described Twitter’s decision to ban Trump as “morally bad” and “bad in the extreme.”
“I think it was a mistake because it alienated a large part of the country and didn’t ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a vote,” he said.
Still, Musk has insisted the site will highlight what he called “negative/hate tweets.” He has already unbanned other controversial accounts, including right-wing author and podcaster Jordan Peterson and conservative satire website The Babylon Bee.
Trump’s reintroduction to Twitter comes at a moment of heightened concern about the potential for political violence due to growing polarization and increasingly aggressive rhetoric from Republicans who continue to deny that Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.
That includes Trump himself, who has turned to Truth Social to talk about election fraud and openly embrace the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. While Trump reaches a much smaller audience there — 4.5 million followers — screenshots and quotes of his Truth Social posts are still circulating on the platforms that have banned him as well as other alternative social media popular with the right.
“His rhetoric has certainly escalated over the time that he’s been relegated to his own social media platform, and we have no reason to believe that he would tone it down at all or rein it in at all if he comes back to one of these major platforms,” said Nicole Gill, executive director of Accountable Tech, a progressive advocacy group, in an interview ahead of Twitter’s announcement. “He fuels the ‘big lie’ wherever he can.”
Twitter’s move could also have an impact beyond its own platform, especially with Trump’s announcement that he’s running for president again in 2024.
Facebook is considering whether to lift its own suspension of the former president when that suspension expires in January 2023, and the company has said it is talking to outside experts and considering “signals related to real harm” when making the decision. YouTube has said it will allow Trump to repost videos once the risk of violence recedes, but has not provided a timeline.
It’s also unclear what a return of Trump to Twitter would mean for Truth Social.
According to a regulatory filing, Trump has an agreement with Truth Social to post there first and refrain from posting the same content on other social media sites for six hours — except for political messages, political fundraisers and get-out-the-vote efforts, which he can post anywhere anytime.
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