Former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account is being restored under the social media company’s owner, billionaire Elon Musk.
Musk polled Twitter users on Friday and Saturday asking if Trump should be reinstated, and on Saturday night he tweeted, “People have spoken. Trump is reinstated. Vox Populi, Vox Dei.”
Twitter became the first platform Trump banned after his supporters violated the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, saying his tweets violated the rules glorify violence. This move was quickly followed by similar ones from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitch, and other internet companies.
Now, Twitter is the first company to reinstate the former president, giving him back access to the powerful megaphone he’s used for years to attack political enemies, whipped up fans and pushed daily news cycles, reaching an audience of nearly 90 million followers and counting , as his tweets circulated on Twitter and mainstream media.
Musk, who bought Twitter for $44 billion after months of legal wrangling over whether to go through with the deal, has vowed to “unleash” the company’s potential by promoting free speech. Before his purchase, Musk had criticized the platform’s rules against harassment, hate speech and false claims about elections and public health, saying they should allow all legal expressions.
On Friday November 18, Musk started a poll Prompt users to vote yes or no to reinstate Trump. He later tweeted “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” in response to the poll, Latin for “voice of the people, voice of God.”
In the chaotic first few weeks of Musk’s ownership of Twitter, many of the employees and contractors responsible for keeping toxic and illegal content from taking over the platform were either fired or terminated.
Musk has also said he opposes the idea of permanent social media bans, and at a conference in May he described Twitter’s decision to ban Trump as “morally bad” and “extremely stupid.”
“I think that was a mistake because it alienated a large part of the country and didn’t result in Donald Trump having no voice,” he said.
Still, Musk has insisted that the site give less prominence to what he called “negative/hate tweets.” He has already unbanned other controversial accounts, including right-wing author and podcaster Jordan Peterson and conservative satirical website The Babylon Bee.
Trump’s reinstatement on Twitter comes at a moment of growing concern about the potential for political violence, fueled by growing polarization and increasingly aggressive rhetoric from Republicans who continue to deny that Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.
That includes Trump himself, who has taken to his own social media platform, Truth Social, to rail against voter fraud and openly embrace the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. While Trump is reaching a far smaller audience there — 4.5 million followers — screenshots and quotes from his Truth Social posts are still circulating on the platforms that banned him, as well as other alternative social media sites working on the right are popular.
“His rhetoric has really escalated in the period that he has been relegated to his own social media platform and we have no reason to believe he would even tone down or rein it in if he returns to any of these majors Platforms,” said Nicole Gill, chief executive of Accountable Tech, a progressive advocacy group, in an interview ahead of Twitter’s announcement. “He fuels the ‘big lie’ wherever he can.”
Twitter’s move could also have repercussions beyond its own platform, particularly with Trump’s announcement that he will run for president again in 2024.
Facebook is considering lifting its own suspension of the former president when that suspension expires in January 2023, and the company said it is talking to outside experts and considering “signals related to real harm” to make that decision. YouTube has said it will allow Trump to resume posting videos if the risk of violence goes down, but it hasn’t given a timeline.
It’s also unclear what Trump’s return to Twitter would mean for the rival social media network he launched this year.
According to a regulatory filing, Trump has an agreement with Truth Social to post there first and not post the same content on any other social media site for six hours — except for political news, political fundraising, and get-out-the-voting efforts , which he can post anytime, anywhere.
Whether Trump will reclaim his account is another question. In an interview with Fox News after Musk’s purchase was finalized, Trump said, “I’m standing by the truth. I like it better, I like the way it works, I like Elon but I’m sticking to the truth.”
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.