Elon Musk said on Tuesday he would roll back former President Donald J. Trump’s “permanent ban” on Twitter and let him get back on the social network, in one of the first specific comments from the world’s richest man about how he used the social media service.
Mr. Musk, who signed a deal last month to buy Twitter for $44 billion, said at a Financial Times conference that the company’s decision to ban Mr Trump for tweets about the US Capitol riots last year. US “was a mistake because it alienated much of the country and ultimately did not result in Donald Trump having no voice.” He added that it was “morally wrong and downright stupid” and that “permanent bans just fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter.”
Mr. Musk’s comments were a foretaste of the sweeping changes he could make to Twitter, which he expects to own in the next six months. The billionaire, who also heads electric car maker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, has long been a supporter of free speech and has said he was unhappy with the way Twitter decided what could and couldn’t be posted online.
But until Tuesday, Mr. Musk, 50, had mostly spoken in general terms and hadn’t singled out any Twitter accounts potentially affected by his acquisition. He had called free speech “the foundation of a functioning democracy” and spoke of his desire to give people more control over their own social media feeds. But by specifying that Mr. Trump could return to the platform, Mr. Musk unleashed a political firestorm.
Mr. Trump used Twitter as both a megaphone and a bat for many years, gathering his millions of followers on issues like immigration and chasing opponents. That road was closed in January 2021 when Twitter, along with Facebook and other platforms, banned Mr Trump from posting in the wake of the attack on the US Capitol building. Twitter said at the time that Mr Trump had violated policy and risked inciting violence among his supporters. Facebook banned Mr Trump for similar reasons.
Mr Trump, who has since started a social media platform called Truth Social, did not immediately respond to the request for comment. Last month, Mr. Trump had said that even while Mr. Musk bought Twitter, he had no intention of returning to the platform and “staying on the truth”.
A Twitter spokesperson did not immediately respond.
Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, said free speech online had to come with guardrails.
“Mr. Musk: Freedom of speech is wonderful, hate speech is unacceptable,” he said. “Do not let 45 return to the platform. Don’t allow Twitter to become a petri dish for hate speech or lies that undermine our democracy.”
But Jack Dorsey, a founder and board member of Twitter, said: on Twitter on Tuesday that permanent bans from individual users are “a failure” of the company and largely “not working”. Mr. Dorsey, who was CEO of Twitter when Mr. Trump was banned, had said last year that the former president’s startup was the right decision for the company.
This is a story in development. Come back for updates.