Elon Musk restores Donald Trump’s Twitter account

Elon Musk restores Donald Trump’s Twitter account

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Elon Musk restored the Twitter account of former president Donald Trump on Saturday, a pivotal move that could help the platform’s once loudest, bluntest force regain online attention just as a new presidential election begins.

“The people have spoken,” Musk wrote in a tweet, nodding to the results of a Twitter poll that had just completed on whether to reinstate the former president.

Trump’s account was repopulating with old tweets and followers Saturday night, though the former president had not tweeted immediately after being restored. He said Saturday he remained focused on his Twitter clone, Truth Social, signaling he would not return to the site right away.

Twitter users voted roughly 52 percent to 48 percent to restore Trump’s account, according to Musk’s unscientific and non-representative Twitter poll. Musk has put multiple pivotal decisions up to a vote from his Twitter feed, including, last year, on whether to sell 10 percent of his Tesla stock.

Musk had previously said he disagreed with the ban and intended to restore Trump. But after purchasing Twitter for $44 billion late last month, he had also promised to install a content moderation council to make such decisions — saying the process would likely take weeks.

Trump had more than 88 million followers before Twitter suspended him after Jan. 6, 2021, citing fears of violent incitement in the days after his supporters stormed the US Capitol in riots that left five dead and hundreds injured.

A former Twitter employee familiar with the process of account restoration, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said banned accounts can take up to a full day to be restored to their prior state.

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Musk’s move, minutes after the conclusion of his poll, reversed one of the most consequential decisions in Twitter’s history. A self-described “free speech absolutist,” Musk has said permanent bans undermine Twitter’s role as an unrestricted haven for free expression.

The decision drew immediate criticism from the NAACP, which urged advertisers to pause all promotions on the platform Saturday night.

“In Elon Musk’s Twittersphere, you can incite an insurrection at the US Capitol, which led to the deaths of multiple people, and still be allowed to spew hate speech and violent conspiracies on his platform,” it said in a statement. “If Elon Musk continues to run Twitter like this, using garbage polls that do not represent the American people and the needs of our democracy, God help us all.”

In a tweeted letter the day he completed his $44 billion acquisitionMusk pledged not to make Twitter “a free-for-all hellscape” and said he bought the platform “because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.”

Right-wing figures — including members of the former Trump administration and political personalities aligned with the former president — celebrated Musk’s decision, welcoming Trump back to the platform Saturday night.

Trump addressed Musk’s poll and the subject of his account during video-link remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition conference on Saturday in Las Vegas.

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He reacted coolly to the prospect of rejoining the site, reiterating previous remarks that he would rather focus his attention on his clone website, Truth Social.

“I don’t see any reason for it,” Trump said of returning to Twitter, alluding to the social media network’s reported problems with bots and declining engagement. “Truth Social has taken the place for a lot of people, and I don’t see them going back onto Twitter.”

While Trump took the opportunity to promote his own website, he said he appreciated the poll and welcomed Musk’s purchase.

“I like that he bought it, I’ve always liked him,” Trump said. “He’s a character, but I tend to like characters.”

If he returns, Trump’s reinstatement at the dawn of the 2024 presidential race could cement the platform again as a hyperpolarized political battleground.

Trump used Twitter to great effect to grip the news cycle and tear down opponents — not only in the years before running for president but on the campaign trail and, later, in the White House.

Though Trump has said he wouldn’t join Twitter even if he was asked, some of his advisers told The Washington Post this spring that they doubted his commitment. Twitter was Trump’s most dominant megaphone, allowing him to reach an audience of tens of millions of followers with dozens of messages a day.

In Trump’s contract with Truth Social, he agreed he would make his posts exclusively available on Truth Social for eight hours before he could share them elsewhere, The Post has reported. The agreement offered exceptions for “political messaging, political fundraising or get-out-the-vote efforts,” which he could do anywhere at any time.

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Researchers and activists have argued that reinstating Trump will embolden rule-breakers and neutralize Twitter’s most potent tool for reducing harassment and lies: suspending someone’s account.

This will “open up the floodgates to incredibly obnoxious behavior,” said Joan Donovan, a research director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy who has studied disinformation.

Trump’s reinstatement, she said, will not only help the former president drive the public conversation and influence the most popular medium for journalists and news junkies. It will also help centralize a political outrage movement that has scattered across smaller right-wing corners of the web.

“This brings us back to 2020, where Trump understands the power that what he says in public and on Twitter can create mass hysteria,” she said. “The people he’s mobilizing have not gone away. They feel as strongly as ever that something is rotten in the government, and they need an actual savior.”

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Trump will join a Twitter that looks very different than he did when he sent his first tweet, in 2009, to urge people to watch his brief appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman.”

Unlike his first time on Twitter, his audience will likely know what to expect from him. It remains to be seen whether he can recapture his old audience.

After his Twitter ban, Trump began posting messages onto a widely ignored blog that he discarded after 29 days due to his small readership.

Trump later signed on with a small team of co-founders to build a Twitter clone, Truth Social, that launched earlier this year and promised to become a “media powerhouse.”

But Trump has only 4 million followers on the site, and his messages there receive only a tiny fraction of his previous Twitter engagement and response. The start-up running it, Trump Media & Technology Group, has also been undermined by bitter infighting, federal investigations and increasing investor unease.

Some critics expect that Trump’s reinstatement on Twitter could further kneecap Truth Social, which had counted on Trump’s involvement as its key differentiator in an increasingly crowded marketplace of right-wing social networks, meme pages and message boards.

Trump had pledged to use Truth Social exclusively and was given 90 percent ownership in the start-up. Its investment partner, Digital World Acquisition, saw its stock fall to near-record lows on Thursday due to concerns over Trump’s Twitter return.

On Truth Social, Trump has continued to lie about widespread fraud in the election and share conspiracy theories related to QAnon, the jumble of bogus claims suggesting Trump is leading a secret resistance against a global cabal of child-eating Satanists.

“He’s been dog-whistling QAnon on Truth Social hoping to get mainstream media attention, just sending out all these conspiracy beacons to get momentum and energy around his name,” Donovan said. “But there’s nothing new about it. A lot will depend on the lengths he will be willing to go to … get attention.”

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