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Elon Musk says he'll reverse Donald Trump Twitter ban

Left to right: Elon Musk and Donald Trump
Jamie Squire/Getty Images;Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
Left to right: Elon Musk and Donald Trump

Elon Musk says he would reverse former President Donald Trump's permanent ban from Twitter if his deal to buy the social network goes through.

Banning Trump "was a morally bad decision, to be clear, and foolish in the extreme," the billionaire said at a Financial Times conference on Tuesday.

Twitter kicked Trump off after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The social network said Trump had broken its rules against inciting violence and that it decided to remove him "due to the risk of further incitement of violence." It was the first major platform to ban the then-president, a move quickly followed by Facebook and YouTube.

"I do think that it was not correct to ban Donald Trump," Musk said on Tuesday. "I think that was a mistake because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice," he added, pointing out that the former president has said he will start posting on his own social media app, Truth Social. (Trump has said he will not return to Twitter even if the ban is lifted.)

Musk, who has said he wants to buy Twitter to encourage more free speech, said he thinks the platform should only ban accounts in rare cases to remove bots, spammers and scammers, "where there's just no legitimacy to the account at all." Otherwise, he said, permanent bans "undermine trust."

He said Twitter co-founder and former chief executive Jack Dorsey shares his opinion that Twitter should not have permanent bans. Twitter has said Dorsey made the call to ban Trump last year, and the former CEO previously said it was "the right decision."

Shortly after Musk's comments, Dorsey confirmed that he agrees. "Generally permanent bans are a failure of ours and don't work," he tweeted.

Musk acknowledged that he does not yet own Twitter and so any plans to reinstate Trump's account are still theoretical. "This is not like a thing that will definitely happen," he said.

But his comments answer a question that has been hanging over the company since Musk made his surprise offer to buy it last month, saying he wanted to "unlock" its potential by loosening what he sees as unfair restrictions on free speech.

Musk has given few details on how he would overhaul Twitter beyond saying he believes it should be a town square where everyone can be heard, and that the company should only restrict speech when required by law.

Reinstating Trump, who was one of Twitter's most divisive and successful users, would add fuel to a heated discourse over the role of social networks in fostering open debate while not allowing their platforms to be abused by the loudest voices.

"What Musk proposes to do with the platform would represent a severe backslide in favor of allowing hate and misinformation that would put our communities in even more danger," said Sumayyah Waheed of the civil rights group Muslim Advocates. The group is a member of Twitter's Trust and Safety Council, which advises the company on its policies and products.

"Trump used that platform to encourage obviously false conspiracies about the election, all to undermine democracy and ensure that he could remain in office," Waheed said. "As part of that effort, he encouraged a violent mob to storm the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in multiple deaths. During and after the insurrection, he used his Twitter account to downplay the insurrectionists' actions."

She continued: "If this does not merit being banned from the platform, then I'm terrified of what else would be allowed under Musk's watch."

Allowing Trump to return could also exacerbate concerns among some Twitter employees who worry that Musk will undo years of work to curb abuse and harassment.

Since Musk first revealed he had become Twitter's largest individual shareholder in early April, he has been publicly critical of the company and its employees. He continued to lob criticism even after reaching an agreement to buy the company for $44 billion, and has amplified attacks on Twitter's top lawyer and head of policy.

"Twitter needs to be much more even-handed. It currently has a strong left bias because it's based in San Francisco," Musk said on Tuesday. Conservatives have long accused tech companies of bias and censorship, even though there is no evidence for these allegations.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shannon Bond
Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.