May 10 (Reuters) – Billionaire Elon Musk said on Tuesday he would reverse the ban on Twitter imposed on former U.S. President Donald Trump when he buys the social media platform, the clearest signal yet. day of Musk’s intention to cut site moderation.
Musk, the world’s richest person and chief executive of electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), has signed a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter Inc (TWTR.N). He called himself a “free speech absolutist”, but gave few specific details about his plans.
Musk is expected to become Twitter’s temporary CEO after the deal closes, Reuters previously reported, citing a source familiar with the matter. Read more
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The issue of Trump’s reinstatement has been seen as a litmus test of how far Musk will go with his changes, even though Trump himself has said he will not return.
Twitter, like other US-based social media platforms, has banned various people for violating its policies on misinformation and glorification of violence.
Musk, speaking at a Financial Times conference, added that he and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey believe permanent bans should be “extremely rare” and reserved for accounts that operate bots or broadcast spam.
“False and bad” tweets should be deleted or made invisible and a temporary account suspension might be appropriate, Musk said. “I think permabans fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter as a public place where everyone can voice their opinion.”
Musk said the decision to ban Trump boosted views of Trump among people on the political right, and he called the ban “morally wrong and downright stupid.”
The suspension of Trump’s account, which has more than 88 million followers, silenced his main megaphone days before the end of his term and followed years of debate over how social media companies should moderate the accounts of powerful world leaders.
Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter shortly after the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. Twitter cited “the risk of further incitement to violence” in its decision.
Megan Squire, senior data analytics researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said a permanent ban on consumer networks, or de-platforming, has been an effective tactic to reduce the reach of abusive messages and behavior.
Musk endorsed some limits, telling a European Union official on Monday that EU policy was “exactly aligned” with his own thinking on controlling illegal content. Read more
“SHOULD BE EVERYWHERE”
Conservatives, who have accused San Francisco-based Twitter of bias against right-wing views, cheered the prospect of Trump’s return to the platform.
Trump “should be wherever he can,” Republican Senator Rick Scott told reporters when asked about Musk’s comments. “We shouldn’t have social media companies that limit people’s ability to get their message across.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, a retiring establishment Republican, was one of many Republicans who said he had no opinion on the possibility of a Trump comeback on Twitter.
“But I suspect it’s a good business decision on (Musk’s) part,” Blount said with a smile.
Democrats have said Trump’s potential reinstatement could pose a threat to democracy, though some hope Trump could upend their base and boost turnout in November’s midterm elections as Democrats face tough challenges to retain their majority in both houses of Congress.
Twitter declined to comment.
Trump had previously told Fox News that he would not return to Twitter if allowed. read more His own social media app, Truth Social, was launched on the Apple App Store in late February.
Trump has ramped up his messaging on the new platform after a slow start, posting about 50 times, mostly in the past week, to his 2.7 million followers. He sent an average of 18 tweets a day when he was president.
There was no immediate comment from a Trump spokesperson.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that banning Trump from Twitter was a matter for the company to decide. The Biden administration wants online platforms to protect free speech, but also ensure they are not forums for disinformation, she said.
At the conference, Musk said the deal to acquire Twitter could be completed in two to three months in the “best case scenario.”
Earlier Tuesday, shares of Twitter fell to a level that signaled the stock market believed Musk was unlikely to make the $44 billion acquisition, as he had originally agreed. Read more
Musk’s decision to buy Twitter worried some Tesla investors and put pressure on Tesla shares. Musk added on Tuesday that he would stay at Tesla “as long as I can be of service.”
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Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas; Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, David Morgan, Eva Mathews, Jeff Mason, Nandita Bose, Greg Roumeliotis, Katie Paul and Peter Henderson Editing by Nick Zieminski and Leslie Adler
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