Elon Musk lifting a Twitter ban on former US president Donald Trump raises activists’ fears of the platform turning toxic. – Copyright AFP Philip FONG
Elon Musk on Tuesday said he would lift Twitter’s ban on former US president Donald Trump if Musk’s deal to buy the global messaging platform is successful.
“I would reverse the permanent ban,” the billionaire said at a Financial Times conference, noting that he doesn’t own Twitter yet, so “this is not like a thing that will definitely happen.”
The Tesla chief’s $44-billion deal to buy Twitter must still get the backing of shareholders and regulators, but he has voiced enthusiasm for less content moderation and “time-outs” instead of bans.
“I do think that it was not correct to ban Donald Trump,” Musk said.
“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.”
Trump was booted from Twitter and other online platforms after supporters fired up by his tweets alleging election fraud attacked the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in a deadly and failed bid to stop Joe Biden from being certified as the victor in the US presidential election.
Musk said he and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey are of similar mind in that permanent bands should be rare, reserved for accounts that are spam, scams or run by software “bots.”
“That doesn’t mean that somebody gets to say whatever they want to say,” Musk said.
“If they say something that is illegal or otherwise just destructive to the world, then there should be a perhaps a timeout, a temporary suspension, or that particular tweet should be made invisible or have very limited attraction.”
Musk was adamant, though, that he feels permanent bans are a “morally bad decision” that undermine trust in Twitter as an online town square where everyone cane be heard.
He noted that Trump has stated publicly that he would not come back to Twitter if permitted, opting instead to stick with his own social network, which has failed to gain traction.
– Ad boycott? –
Activist groups have called on Twitter advertisers to boycott the service if it opens the gates to abusive and misinformative posts with Musk as its owner.
“Your brand risks association with a platform amplifying hate, extremism, health misinformation, and conspiracy theorists,” said an open letter signed by more than two dozen groups including Media Matters, Access Now and Ultraviolet.
“Under Musk’s management, Twitter risks becoming a cesspool of misinformation, with your brand attached.”
Twitter makes most of its revenue from ads, and that could be jeopardized by advertisers’ reaction to content posted on the platform, the San Francisco-based tech firm said in a filing with US regulators.
Ad revenue at Twitter increased 16 percent to $1.2 billion in the recently ended quarter, while revenue from subscriptions and other means decreased to $94.4 million, the company said in the filing.
While Musk has not revealed nitty-gritty details of how he would run the business side of Twitter, he has expressed a preference for making money from subscriptions.
As of the end of March, an average 229 million people used Twitter daily, an increase of nearly 16 percent from the first three months of last year, Twitter said in a recent regulatory filing.
“We believe that our long-term success depends on our ability to improve the health of the public conversation on Twitter,” the company said in the filing.
Efforts toward that goal include fighting abuse, harassment, spam and “malicious automation,” or when software instead of people manages accounts, Twitter told regulators.