AFP, posted on Tuesday, May 10, 2022 at 11:32 pm.
Elon Musk said on Tuesday he was ready to lift a permanent ban on Donald Trump’s Twitter account following the attack on the Capitol, prompting controversy between outspoken free speech advocates and activists fearful of a surge in haters on the platform.
“I think[removing the former president]was a mistake because it alienated most of the country and ultimately didn’t stop Donald Trump from being heard,” as he is now on his own social network, the entrepreneur emphasized during a conference organized by “Financial Times”.
Twitter’s decision was “morally wrong” and permanent bans should be “extremely rare” and apply to fake accounts, for example, he said during his video speech.
The multi-billionaire offered to buy Twitter for $44 billion in April, while saying he wants to make it a stronghold of free speech, which he sees as being trampled on by overly strict content moderation.
But he has so far refrained from mentioning the fate that he intends to prepare at the expense of the former president in the event of a successful completion of the operation.
Prior to his firing on January 8, 2021, Donald Trump used Twitter as his primary means of communication and had over 88 million followers.
The platform decided to ostracize him days after the violent attack on Capitol Hill to contest the election of Joe Biden, believing that his tweets could provoke violence.
– “Race to the Survival” –
If he allows Donald Trump to return, “Elon Musk will open the floodgates for hate speech and misinformation on Twitter,” fears Angelo Carusone, director of the NGO Media Matters for America.
Worse, other figures, including those on the far right, will be allowed to return to Twitter. And it will create “perverse pressure” on other social networks like Facebook, “virtually provoking a race to the bottom,” he fears.
For the civil rights association ACLU, by contrast, allowing the former president to return to Twitter would be “the right thing to do.”
“Whether we like it or not, (Donald) Trump is one of the most important political figures in the country,” and therefore needs to be heard, said its director, Anthony Romero.
Trump himself ruled out a return to the social network, saying he wants to stay on the Truth Social platform he launched in February. However, he is struggling to gain momentum.
Lifting the former president’s ban “doesn’t mean someone can say whatever they want as long as they say something illegal or disruptive to the world,” Musk said.
“But I think permanent bans fundamentally undermine the credibility of Twitter as a public place where everyone can have their say,” he said, citing his preference for temporarily pausing or deleting top tweets as problematic.
Mr Musk also felt that Twitter was “politically biased to the left” because it was based in San Francisco and should be “more impartial”.
– Explanations –
According to a survey released in January by the Knight Foundation and Ipsos, only 41% of 4,000 Americans surveyed believe that social media has taken away Donald Trump’s right to freedom of expression by deleting his accounts. However, opinions vary greatly by political affiliation, as the proportion was 77% among Republicans, versus 40% among Independents and 12% among Democrats.
On Monday, after an interview with European Commissioner Thierry Breton in Texas, Musk said he was in full agreement with new European social media regulations that would force major platforms to better deal with illegal content.
For Suzanne Nossel, director of free speech organization PEN America, the businessman needs to clarify his message.
“Is he saying that nothing Trump or anyone else might tweet will be grounds for permanent dismissal? (…) Does he say that an incumbent inciting his supporters to violence or rebellion is acceptable practice on Twitter?” she asked.
In a letter last week to advertisers on the social network, a coalition led by Media Matters for America, Access Now and Ultraviolet told them: “Under Musk’s control, Twitter risks becoming a cesspool of misinformation.”
“Your brand will be associated with it,” they added, calling for a boycott of the platform if certain criteria were not met.