After almost two years of absence, former President Donald Trump is able to reclaim his Twitter account — though it’s unclear if he will.
Elon Musk, the social media company’s new owner, announced Saturday night that Trump’s Twitter account would be restored. Minutes later, the former president’s profile was lifted and his blue chin was restored.
The news comes days after Trump announced his 2024 presidential bid. He was banned from Twitter for inciting violence during the January 6 attack on the US capital.
The decision marks both the highest-profile and most controversial figure Musk has welcomed back to the social media platform since his tumultuous takeover of the $44 billion company last month, which has been marked by severe cuts to both its workforce and revenue as many companies shut down to advertise.
“The people have spoken”[ads1]; Musk said on Twitter Saturday night. “Trump will be reinstated.”
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Trump, who announced on Tuesday that he is running for president again, has said he would not return to Twitter even if invited. But the former president hasn’t gotten the same resonance from his Truth Social app, which has a much more limited reach.
On Truth Social, Trump has 4.57 million followers, a fraction of the more than 88 million he had on Twitter.
Before lifting the ban, Musk created a poll on his personal Twitter account on Friday asking users if he should “reinstate former President Trump.” More than 15 million users weighed in, although it was unclear how many of the poll participants were verified users or bots.
After the vote, Musk announced that Trump would be reinstated on the platform. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk said, a Latin phrase meaning the voice of the people is the voice of God.
Trump released a statement on Saturday about the poll and the possibility of being reinstated. – Now vote with positivity, but don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere, Trump said. “Truth Social is special!”
Elaborating in a virtual appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition leadership meeting, he said that while he has “always liked” Musk and was glad he bought Twitter, he sees no reason to return to the platform.
“They have a lot of problems on Twitter,” Trump said. “You see what happens. It might do it, it might not, but the problems are incredible.”
The de-platforming of Trump and other figures on the political right sparked outrage among conservatives who accuse Facebook and other major social media platforms of censorship and liberal bias.
Since Musk took over the company last month, he has reinstated other prominent figures and companiesincluding right-wing Canadian podcaster Jordan Peterson, far-right satire website The Babylon Bee and comedian Kathy Griffin, who was suspended after impersonating Musk on Twitter.
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But while his purchase of the widely used social media app was celebrated by Republicans and the far right, Musk resisted calls to immediately reinstate Trump.
“He should never have been banned,” Jake Denton, a research associate at the Tech Policy Center at The Heritage Foundation, told USA TODAY. “Trump returning objectively sets Twitter on a new path. He’s the ideal guy to rein in the new Elon Musk Twitter. He is the vehicle through which Elon can signal that he is serious about restructuring Twitter.”
Trump’s return poses risks for Twitter and for democracy, Brian Ott, a communications professor at Missouri State University, told USA TODAY.
Trump has continued to falsely claim that the 2020 election was stolen.
“It gave him a public forum to spread his lies, disinformation and hatred,” Ott said. “His return to these platforms will certainly raise the temperature of our politics and significantly increase the likelihood of political violence.”
Trump lost his direct link to supporters when he was booted from the nation’s top social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube — after the Capitol siege.
Trump, who often spreads misinformation online, being allowed to rejoin Twitter comes at a vulnerable time for the company and potentially US politics.
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Musk has already laid off thousands of employees and recently cut content moderation providers that help stop the spread of hate speech and misinformation.
More employees appeared to quit this week after Musk told employees they “need to be extremely hardcore” to build “a cutting-edge Twitter 2.0,” and working long hours in a high-intensity environment would be part of this pressure.
On Friday, Musk tweeted that Twitter’s new policy is “free speech, but not reach.”
“Negative/hate tweets will be maxed out and demonetized, so no ads or other revenue for Twitter,” he tweeted. “You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different than the rest of the Internet.”
Of the platforms, Twitter was Trump’s favorite, and it could provide a central talking point during his 2024 run to regain the White House.
Especially at a time when Twitter is struggling to keep its most active users engaged, Musk has a strong financial incentive to bring back Trump, who is exactly the kind of mega-personality that drives engagement on the platform.
Facebook, meanwhile, will decide whether to lift Trump’s suspension in January.
As for YouTube, CEO Susan Wojcicki said last year that the platform would lift the Trump ban “once we determine that the risk of violence has been reduced.” YouTube declined to comment.
Even before Trump was reinstated, Musk and Twitter had drawn the attention of several Democratic senators, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who on Thursday asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate potential violations of consumer protection laws.
Under a 2011 consent order with the FTC, Twitter is barred from misleading consumers about the privacy and security of confidential user data. “We are concerned that the actions taken by Mr. Musk and others in Twitter management may already represent a violation of the FTC’s consent decree, which prohibits misrepresentation and requires Twitter to maintain a comprehensive information security program,” the senators said in a letter to the FTC- led by Lina Khan.
Contributors: Christal Hayes and Marina Pitofsky