Elon Musk has said he will reinstate Donald Trump’s account on Twitter, in a move that will shake up the social media platform and potentially return a megaphone to the former US president after he launched his 2024 White House bid.
The billionaire entrepreneur, who bought the social media platform for $44bn last month, launched a Twitter poll on Friday asking his followers to vote on whether or not the former US leader should be reinstated. Trump was banned for life on the platform soon after a mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6 last year.
“The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated,” Musk wrote on Saturday, linking to the poll’s results, which showed that 52 per cent of the 15mn votes were in favour of his return, while 48 per cent of the votes were against.
“Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk added, referring to a Latin phrase that loosely means “the voice of the people is the voice of God”.
It is unclear whether Trump, who has launched his own fledgling rival social media platform, Truth Social, will actually take up using the platform again. Trump on Tuesday launched his bid to regain the White House in 2024.
Trump told a conference on Saturday that he did not see “any reason” to return to the platform, arguing that Truth Social had better user engagement than Twitter, according to Reuters.
While Musk’s Twitter poll was under way, Trump put out a statement reading: “Vote now with positivity, but don’t worry, we aren’t going anywhere. Truth Social is special!”
Trump’s reinstatement is expected to be welcomed by Republicans, some of whom have complained about censorship of conservative voices on social media platforms, allegations the platforms deny.
However, it will also unnerve advertisers, who account for the majority of Twitter’s revenues and have been concerned about the possibility of their adverts being placed next to hate speech and misinformation on the platform. Even before the decision, several major advertisers, including General Motors and General Mills, pulled digital advertising spending from the platform.
The decision marks just the latest upheaval for Twitter since Musk took the reins. In a matter of weeks, the Tesla and SpaceX chief executive has fired half the company’s workforce and prompted the departure this week of hundreds more by urging them to commit formally to “hardcore” work conditions or take three months severance pay.
Ahead of closing the deal to buy Twitter, Musk, a self-declared “free-speech absolutist”, promised that he would loosen content moderation rules and undo permanent bans on the platform.
However, once at the helm he initially appeared to soften his stance, announcing that he would convene a content moderation council with people of diverse backgrounds before making the decision on Trump’s fate on the platform.
On Friday, Musk reinstated some previously suspended accounts, including those of comedian Kathy Griffin and controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson.
He also wrote on Friday that he was bringing in a new policy of “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach”, meaning that negative and hateful tweets would be “deboosted”. Hate speech would also be “demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter”, he added.
Twitter’s policies have historically prohibited users from sharing violent threats and promoting terrorism, harassment and hate speech. For areas such as Covid-19 misinformation, the company has a clear “strike” policy whereby five violations, or strikes, will result in a permanent ban.
Many leftwing politicians and human rights activists have called for platforms to clamp down more fiercely on the worst offenders. On Saturday, some activist groups urged advertisers to pull their spending from the platform given the news.
Twitter was an outlier in its total ban of Trump. Rival Meta, the owner of Facebook, has said it will lift its ban on Trump from January if and when the risk of violence has decreased, while YouTube has made similar statements.