Investor says decision to permanently suspend former president alienated parts of US but did not ‘end Trump’s voice’.
Billionaire Elon Musk has said he would reverse Donald Trump’s Twitter ban should he succeed in taking ownership of the social media company.
Speaking at the Financial Times Future of the Car conference on Tuesday, the Tesla chief executive called the decision to indefinitely block the former US president’s account “morally wrong and flat-out stupid”.
“Banning Trump from Twitter didn’t end Trump’s voice; it will amplify it among the right. And that’s why it’s morally wrong and flat-out stupid,” he said.
While noting that he does not own Twitter yet, Musk – who describes himself as a free speech absolutist – said he “would reverse the permanent ban” on Trump. He also criticised indefinite suspensions on the platform generally.
Last month, the Twitter board unanimously agreed to sell the platform to Musk for $44bn, but the deal still requires the approval of shareholders.
The likely acquisition immediately stirred a debate around freedom of speech and the role of social media platforms in regulating the flow of information.
Many US conservatives cheered the prospect of a less regulated Twitterverse, with leading Republicans urging Musk to reinstate Trump’s account, which was indefinitely suspended after the January 6, 2021, US Capitol riot.
“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said in a statement at that time.
Trump’s supporters had breached and ransacked the Capitol building to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory, as the former president and some Republicans falsely claimed that there was widespread voter fraud in the race.
On Tuesday, Musk called banning the former president from Twitter “foolish in the extreme”, saying that the decision “alienated large parts of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice”.
Trump’s posts while he was in the White House constantly stirred controversy – and at times caused international diplomatic crises.
Musk noted that Trump had previously said he would refuse to return to Twitter even if the ban is lifted and would instead remain on his own Truth Social platform.
“I think this could end up being frankly worse than having a single forum where everyone can debate,” Musk said.
Despite his advocacy for unregulated speech, Musk suggested that he backs some moderation measures against “destructive” posts, including temporary suspensions and making tweets invisible to other users. He did not specify exactly what “destructive” posts referred to.
Asked about Trump’s possible return to Twitter, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki voiced a general concern about disinformation on social media websites.
“I would say it’s the decision by a private sector company to make on who will or will not be allowed on their platforms,” she said on Tuesday.
“What I will say broadly speaking is that our effort is to, of course, make sure that freedom of speech is protected across the country, but that also, these platforms are not used [as] forums for disinformation.”
After Musk’s Twitter deal was approved in April, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a US civil rights advocacy group, warned the billionaire against permitting Trump back on the platform.
“Mr. Musk: free speech is wonderful, hate speech is unacceptable. Disinformation, misinformation and hate speech have NO PLACE on Twitter,” the NAACP said in a statement.