Elon Musk today said Twitter’s decision to ban Donald Trump was “morally wrong,” and that he would reverse the ban if he completes his pending acquisition of Twitter.
Financial Times reporter Peter Campbell asked Musk if he would reverse the Trump ban during a keynote session at an FT conference on Tuesday. “This is really the toupeed elephant in the room: Are you planning to let Donald Trump back on?” Campbell asked in an interview that otherwise focused mostly on the car industry.
“The answer is I would reverse the permanent ban,” Musk said, adding that his deal to buy Twitter is not guaranteed to be completed.
“I think it was a morally bad decision, to be clear, and foolish in the extreme,” Musk also said. Campbell pointed out that Trump was banned for inciting violence. “Even after he egged on the crowd who went to the US Capitol, some of them carrying nooses, you still think it was a mistake to remove him?” Campbell asked.
Musk responded, “if there are tweets that are wrong, those should be either deleted or made invisible, and a temporary suspension is appropriate, but not a permanent ban.”
Noting that Trump “has publicly stated that he will not be coming back to Twitter and he will only be on Truth Social,” Musk said that “banning trump from Twitter didn’t end Trump’s voice. It will amplify it among the right and this is why it is morally wrong and flat-out stupid.”
Musk: Trump ban “alienated a large part of the country”
Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, also said he has spoken with Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey about permanent bans:
I’ve talked to Jack Dorsey about this and he and I are of the same mind, which is that permanent bans should be extremely rare and really reserved for accounts that are bots or spam, scam accounts, where there’s no legitimacy to the account at all. I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump.
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 is now going to be on Truth Social as will a large part of the right in the United States, and so I think this could end up being frankly worse than having a single forum where everyone can debate.
Musk said his opposition to permanent bans doesn’t mean that Twitter under his ownership would never issue suspensions or delete tweets. “That doesn’t mean they get to say whatever they want to say,” Musk said. “If they say something that is illegal or otherwise just destructive to the world, there should be perhaps a timeout, a temporary suspension, or that particular tweet should be made invisible or have very limited traction. But I think permanent bans just fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter as a town square where everyone can voice their opinion.”
When Twitter banned Trump in January 2021, the company said, “we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Twitter explained that elected officials and world leaders are given some leeway, but “these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things.”
Musk’s $44 billion offer to buy Twitter was accepted by the company’s board of directors on April 25. The deal is pending shareholder and regulatory approvals and is expected to close this year.
Musk “against censorship that goes far beyond the law”
Musk has said he’s buying Twitter to protect free speech on the platform. Musk’s definition of free speech suggests that he’s willing to comply with any government-imposed restrictions on speech but wouldn’t remove any content unless it’s specifically banned by law.
“By ‘free speech,’ I simply mean that which matches the law,” Musk wrote on April 26. “I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”
Twitter has historically banned or suspended accounts and removed tweets for violating the company’s rules, relying on its own First Amendment right to moderate the platform. On Friday, a federal judge in California dismissed the Trump lawsuit in which the former president challenged his removal from Twitter.