The chaos surrounding Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter deepened over the weekend, as the billionaire reinstated former president Donald Trump.
Musk lifted the ban on Trump — in place since January 2021 — after polling his 116 million-plus Twitter followers on the matter. “The people have spoken,” he tweeted on Saturday. “Trump will be reinstated. Vox Populi, Vox Dei.” The billionaire followed up a day later with a lewd meme celebrating the decision.
The former president has yet to tweet. But Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups assailed the decision as dangerous and questioned Musk’s reasoning — particularly given promises he made about content moderation shortly after taking over Twitter.
Musk had promised to create a content moderation council that would consult on major decisions such as reinstating banned accounts. There is no indication that such a group was ever created. On Friday, Musk tweeted that the “new Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.” He has since deleted his tweet.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, called the decision “a terrible mistake” in an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”: “As we showed in the Jan. 6 hearings, the president used that platform to incite that attack on the Capitol, his comments about the vice president, his own vice president, put Mike Pence’s life in danger.”
Civil rights groups also protested Musk’s actions.
“In less than three weeks Musk has gone back on every promise he made to civil-rights leaders and advertisers. He laid off the majority of Twitter’s workforce in charge of enforcing anti-hate and harassment and election-integrity policies,” said Jessica González, co-CEO of the nonprofit group Free Press, in a statement. “He drastically changed a major policy banning hate speech to a vague rule where hateful tweets can remain on the site, but supposedly won’t be amplified or monetized.”
NAACP President Derrick Johnson was blunter. “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,” he said in a statement.
Waiting for the other shoe to drop
Twitter banned Trump in January 2021 citing “the risk of further incitement of violence” after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Whether Trump, who last week kicked off his 2024 campaign, will return to Twitter is an open question. “Vote now with positivity, but don’t worry, we aren’t going anywhere,” he wrote on Truth Social, his flagging social media site, on Saturday, hours after being reinstated. “Truth Social is special!”
That same day, the former president told the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting that he “doesn’t see any reason” to post on Twitter, despite his much greater reach on that platform.
Trump’s contract with Truth Social stipulates that he wait six hours before posting anything he puts on Truth Social to other social media sites — with one major exception. The requirement does not apply to political messaging.
A decision by Trump to resume posting on Twitter would have far-ranging implications for the beleaguered site, which is running with a skeleton staff after major waves of layoffs and resignations. Trump has continued to spread baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and in recent weeks he has amplified conspiracy theories about the hammer attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) husband Paul.
As Grid reported last week, advertisers are peppering Twitter’s sales team with questions about the site’s current policies on content moderation — including whether Trump would be allowed back on the platform.
“Twitter is forming a content moderation council of widely diverse viewpoints,” reads an internal talking-points document viewed by Grid. “There will be no changes to content moderation policy until this council convenes.”
When asked specifically what changes Twitter has planned and when the company will outline them, the sales team was instructed to tell advertisers, “There will be no changes to content moderation policy until Twitter’s new content moderation council convenes. Advertisers will receive plenty of advance notice before any policy changes take effect.”
It now appears that was not the case.
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.