Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said if his deal to acquire Twitter goes through, he would let former president Donald Trump return to the platform.
“I would reverse the permanent ban” on Trump, Musk said during a Tuesday interview with The Financial Times, though he pointed out that because the purchase hasn’t gone through yet, Trump’s return is not a fait accompli.
He mentioned his talks with Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey and noted they agree Twitter should not support permanent bans on accounts unless they involve bots or spams and scams.
“Permanent bans fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter as a town square where everyone can voice their opinion,” said Musk of Trump’s ban during the interview. “I think it was a morally bad decision.”
Trump was kicked off Twitter for good following the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. Twitter cited “the risk of further incitement of violence” in its decision to bar him from the social media platform.
Two answers in Wordle?:These are the times it has happened
Online privacy:Should you delete your period-tracking app? Experts explain the privacy risks
Last month, Trump told Fox News he would not return to Twitter even if Musk owned it, opting for his own TRUTH Social app.
But Jennifer Grygiel, a professor at Syracuse University who studies social media extensively, isn’t so sure he’ll stay away.
“I know (Trump) said he won’t join again, but that remains to be seen. I’m sure he would not like to be banned,” Grygiel tells USA TODAY.
Musk said that any wrong or bad tweets “should be deleted or made invisible” and come with a temporary suspension, but nothing permanent should be done.
He added that excluding Trump from Twitter ultimately backfired because it “alienated a large part of the country” and drove the former president to form his own competing app, potentially taking his followers with him.
“Banning Trump from Twitter didn’t end Trump’s voice,” Musk said, predicting the move would ultimately “amplify it among the right. … This is why it’s morally wrong and flat-out stupid.”
Musk said his preference would be to have a “single forum where everyone can debate.”
Following Musk’s comments, Dorsey reiterated his shared belief that Twitter shouldn’t impose permanent bans on users.
“There are exceptions … but generally permanent bans are a failure of ours and don’t work,” he tweeted Tuesday, referencing a lengthy thread of January 2021 tweets he posted after Twitter banned Trump.
“I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter, or how we got here,” Dorsey wrote at the time.
Twitter declined to comment on Musk’s remarks.
When asked about Musk’s comments, White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that Twitter is a private-sector company that will decide who will and won’t be allowed on its platforms.
Freedom of speech should be protected, she said, but social media platforms should not be used as forums to spread disinformation. “We have seen a history of that, not just on Twitter but also on Facebook,” she said.
President Biden believes more needs to be done to reform Section 230, which protects tech companies from being sued for the content users post on their sites, Psaki said. Musk’s remarks “may be a reminder of the urgency of doing that,” she said.
Grygiel, the Syracuse professor, believes that letting Trump back on Twitter isn’t so much about free speech as it is about Musk’s controlling behavior.
“It’s his prerogative. He can set his policies the way he wants to,” Grygiel notes. “I said when Trump was first de-platformed it would be that way as long as the owners of Twitter wanted [it] to, and if Musk owns Twitter, it means everything can be renegotiated.”
Another social media expert, Karen North, a professor at the University of Southern California, says she agrees with Musk’s perspective about Trump.
“There are two sides to it. When Trump was banned, it suggested to people that what he says is so meaningful and important that we must become protected from it,” she tells USA TODAY. “Musk believes it’s better to have the voices heard than to give them more power by silencing them.
But she acknowledges returning a megaphone to someone accused of inciting insurrection comes with risks of its own.
“The other edge of that sword is the voice is there for the broader public and what harms that may happen,” North says.
More on Elon Musk and Twitter:
Contributing: Terry Collins, Michael Collins, Jessica Guynn and Will Carless
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.