Elon Musk restores Donald Trump’s Twitter account

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Elon Musk on Saturday reinstated former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, a crucial move that could help the platform’s once loudest, bluntest force regain online attention just as another presidential election begins.

“The people have spoken,” Musk wrote in a tweet, referring to the results of a Twitter poll that was just completed on whether or not to reinstate the former president.

Trump’s account was repopulated Saturday night with old tweets and followers, even though the former president hadn’t tweeted immediately after he was reinstated. He said on Saturday that he was staying focused on his Twitter clone, Truth Social, indicating he wouldn’t be returning to the site any time soon.

Twitter users voted about 52 percent to 48 percent to reinstate Trump’s account, according to Musk’s unscientific and unrepresentative Twitter poll. Musk has set several crucial decisions to a vote from his Twitter feed, including last year on whether or not to sell 10 percent of his Tesla stock.

Musk had previously said he disagreed with the ban and intended to reinstate Trump. But after buying Twitter for $44 billion late last month, he had also pledged to install a content moderation board to make such decisions — saying the process would likely take weeks.

Trump had more than 88 million followers before Twitter suspended him after Jan. 6, 2021, citing fears of violent incitement in the days after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in riots that left five dead and hundreds injured.

A former Twitter employee who is familiar with the account recovery process and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation said it could take a full day for banned accounts to be restored to their previous state.

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Musk’s move, minutes after his poll ended, reversed one of the most sweeping decisions in Twitter history. A self-described “free speech absolutist,” Musk said permanent bans undermine Twitter’s role as an unrestricted haven for free speech.

The decision drew immediate criticism from the NAACP, which urged advertisers to pause all promotions on the platform Saturday night.

“In Elon Musk’s Twittersphere, you can provoke a riot at the US Capitol, which led to the deaths of several people, and still spew hate speech and violent conspiracies on his platform,” it said in a statement. “If Elon Musk continues to run Twitter like this, using garbage polls that don’t represent the American people and the needs of our democracy, may God help us all.”

In a tweeted a letter the day he completed his $44 billion acquisitionMusk promised not to make Twitter “a free hellscape” and said he bought the platform “because it’s important for the future of civilization to have a common digital city square where a wide range of beliefs can be discussed in on a healthy way, without resorting to violence.”

Right-wing figures — including members of the former Trump administration and political personalities aligned with the former president — celebrated Musk’s decision and welcomed Trump back to the platform Saturday night.

Trump addressed Musk’s poll and the topic of his account during videolink remarks at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference Saturday in Las Vegas.

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He responded coolly to the prospect of rejoining the site, reiterating previous comments that he would rather focus his attention on his clone website, Truth Social.

“I don’t see any reason for it,” Trump said of his return to Twitter, citing the social media network’s reported problems with bots and declining engagement. “Truth Social has replaced a lot of people, and I don’t see them going back to Twitter.”

While Trump took the opportunity to promote his own website, he said he appreciated the poll and welcomed Musk’s purchase.

“I like that he bought it, I’ve always liked him,” Trump said. “He’s a character, but I tend to like characters.”

If he returns, Trump’s recovery at the start of the 2024 presidential race could re-energize the platform as a hyperpolarized political battlefield.

Trump used Twitter to great effect to maintain the news cycle and take down opponents — not only in the years before he ran for president, but also during the campaign trail and later in the White House.

While Trump has said he would stop going on Twitter even if asked, some of his advisers told The Washington Post this spring that they doubted his commitment. Twitter was Trump’s most dominant megaphone, enabling him to reach an audience of tens of millions of followers with dozens of posts a day.

In Trump’s contract with Truth Social, he agreed to make his posts available exclusively on Truth Social for eight hours before sharing them elsewhere, The Post reports. The agreement provided exceptions for “political posts, political fundraising, or voting efforts,” which he could do anytime, anywhere.

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Researchers and activists have argued that Trump’s reinstatement will embolden rule breakers and neutralize Twitter’s most powerful tool for reducing harassment and lies: suspending someone’s account.

This will “open the floodgates for incredibly obnoxious behavior,” said Joan Donovan, a research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy who has studied disinformation.

Trump’s recovery, she said, will not only help the former president boost public conversation and influence the most popular medium for journalists and news junkies. It will also help centralize a movement of political outrage that has spread to smaller right-wing corners of the web.

“This takes us back to 2020, where Trump understands the power that what he says publicly and on Twitter can cause mass hysteria,” she said. “The people he mobilizes have not disappeared. They still feel that something is wrong in the government and that they need a real savior.”

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Trump will rejoin a Twitter that looks very different from when he sent his first tweet, in 2009, urging people to watch his short appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman.”

Unlike his first time on Twitter, his audience will probably know what to expect from him. It remains to be seen if he can recapture his old audience.

After his Twitter ban, Trump began posting to a widely ignored blog that he deleted after 29 days due to its small readership.

Trump later signed on with a small team of co-founders to build a Twitter clone, Truth Social, which launched earlier this year and promised to be a “media powerhouse.”

But Trump only has 4 million followers on the site, and his posts there receive only a small fraction of his previous engagement and response on Twitter. The startup it runs, Trump Media & Technology Group, is also undermined by bitter infighting, federal investigations and growing investor unrest.

Some critics expect Trump’s recovery on Twitter Truth Social, which had counted on Trump’s involvement as the key differentiator in an increasingly crowded market of right-wing social networks, meme pages, and message boards, could kneel further.

Trump had promised to use Truth Social exclusively and received 90 percent ownership of the start-up. Its investment partner, Digital World Acquisition, saw its shares fall to near lows on Thursday amid concerns about Trump’s return to Twitter.

On Truth Social, Trump continued to lie about widespread election fraud and share conspiracy theories related to QAnon, the jumble of false claims that suggest Trump is leading a secret resistance against a global cabal of child-eating satanists.

“He’s been whistling QAnon on Truth Social hoping to get mainstream media attention, sending out all these conspiracy beacons to get momentum and energy around his name,” Donovan said. “But there is nothing new about it. A lot will depend on how far he is willing to go to get attention.”

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