Tech billionaire Elon Musk said Tuesday that he would allow former President Donald Trump back on Twitter after Musk completes his plan to buy the company, giving the most concrete example yet of how his vision of social media would play out in reality.
Musk said at an event sponsored by The Financial Times that it was "morally bad" and "foolish in the extreme" for Twitter to "permanently suspend" Trump in January 2021 after Trump's supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, according to a video of the event posted online.
"I do think that it was not correct to ban Donald Trump," Musk, the CEO of Tesla, said at the newspaper's Future of the Car event by remote video.
"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," he said, citing Trump's newly launched tech platform, Truth Social.
"I would reverse the permanent ban," Musk said.
Musk, the wealthiest person in the world, according to Bloomberg News, has said he's buying Twitter in part to ensure that online speech is as free as possible within the laws of each country. That may mean, however, that rules against harassment or hateful images get repealed or go unenforced, potentially alienating some users and advertisers.
Musk's purchase of Twitter isn't yet final. It's expected to be completed by the end of the year, subject to the approval of Twitter shareholders.
Trump's spokespeople didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Musk's statements. A spokesperson for current Twitter management declined to comment.
Twitter's CEO at the time Trump was banned, Jack Dorsey, defended the ban as protecting against offline harm "based on threats to physical safety both on and off Twitter."
Trump said last month that he wouldn't return to Twitter even if he were allowed to do so, telling Fox News that he was committed to Truth Social. It's not clear whether Trump would change his mind.
Musk said he feared that political discussions would become too fractured if conservatives weren't welcome on Twitter.
"I think this could end up being, frankly, worse than having a single forum where everyone could debate," he said.
People who support moderating social media to block harassment and hate speech said they feared what else Musk would allow back on Twitter.
"It won't just be Trump that Musk will restore," Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal advocacy group, said in a statement.
"There are scores of people, from Alex Jones to Roger Stone to active white nationalists, who will also have their accounts restored."
Before and during his four years in office, Trump used Twitter as a key channel to communicate with supporters, opponents and the media. He sometimes used the service to inform subordinates — and the world — that he had fired them, including Mark Esper, his defense secretary.
In 2018, Trump used the service to taunt North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, tweeting that his "Nuclear Button" is "much bigger & more powerful" than Kim's — "and my Button works!"
The taunt prompted a debate about whether Trump had violated Twitter's rules, and days later, rather than ban Trump, Twitter executives chose to rewrite part of their terms of service to mostly allow world leaders to break the rules without losing their accounts.
But that changed after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. As Trump's supporters stormed the building in Washington and disrupted the counting of Electoral College votes showing Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election, Trump used his Twitter account to repeat unfounded claims that the election had been taken from him.
Facebook's parent company, Meta, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Musk's statements.
A spokesperson for YouTube's parent company, Google, said the company had no updates beyond a March 2021 statement from YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, who said then that the platform would lift its suspension of Trump once the risk of incitement to violence had decreased.
Musk said he had spoken to Dorsey about permanent bans, a subject about which Dorsey has been ambivalent, and that he believes they undermine trust in Twitter as a service.
"Now, that doesn't mean that somebody gets to say whatever they want to say," Musk said at the Financial Times event.
"If they say something that is illegal or otherwise destructive to the world, then there should perhaps be a timeout, a temporary suspension, or that particular tweet should be made invisible or have very limited traction," he said.