Elon Musk reinstates Donald Trump’s Twitter account after taking poll

‘The people have spoken,’ says site’s owner, having acknowledged during online poll that automated bots were voting too

Elon Musk has reinstated Donald Trump’s Twitter account after users on the social media platform voted by a slim majority to lift a ban on the former US president.

Trump’s account was suspended in 2021 after the January 6 Capitol riot, for violating Twitter guidelines and because of the risk of “further incitement of violence”.

The account appeared to be live on Sunday, although the former president had yet to post to the more than 80 million users following him. His last tweet was on 8 January 2021, in which he declared he would not attend Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president of the US.

Trump did not appear keen to return to Twitter when discussing the issue on Saturday. “I don’t see any reason for it,” the former president said via video when asked about it by a panel at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting.

He said he would stick with his new platform Truth Social, developed by his Trump Media and Technology Group startup.

Last week, Trump announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and praised Musk, saying he had always liked him. Nevertheless, Trump also said Twitter suffered from bots and fake accounts, and that the problems it faced were “incredible”.

Musk, Twitter’s new owner, announced the move after a poll on his own account in which more than 15m votes were cast, with 51.8% in favour of reinstatement.

Shortly after taking over Twitter last month, the Tesla CEO had said no decisions would be taken on reinstatement until a newly announced “content moderation council” had met, later adding that no bans would be lifted until there was a “clear process for doing so”.

The people have spoken.

Trump will be reinstated.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei. https://t.co/jmkhFuyfkv

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2022

During the poll, Musk acknowledged that the vote numbers were being affected by automated bots, which are not operated by people, and suggested there was a need to clean up Twitter polls from being influenced by “bot and troll armies”.

Bot & troll armies might be running out of steam soon. Some interesting lessons to clean up future polls.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 19, 2022

Twitter banned Trump after the January 6 attack last year, saying his posts were “highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the US Capitol”. Trump was also banned from Facebook, Instagram and YouTube after the riot.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a leading US civil rights organisation, urged all advertisers still funding Twitter to immediately pause their spending after Trump’s reinstatement.

The accounts used by the US rapper Ye – formerly Kanye West – and the British-American former kickboxer Andrew Tate have also been reinstated.

Ye’s account was suspended in recent weeks after a series of antisemitic comments prompted Adidas and other companies to cut financial ties with him, costing him his status as a billionaire. He tweeted on Sunday: “Testing Testing Seeing if my Twitter is unblocked.”

Tate was banned in 2017 for breaching Twitter’s guidelines with extreme misogynistic views, including saying women should “bear some responsibility” for being raped.

“Any advertiser still funding Twitter should immediately pause all advertising,” said the NAACP’s president, Derrick Johnson. “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.”

A Republican member of the congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack said he expected Trump to be as troublesome on Twitter as he was previously if he returns to the platform.

“This idea that he’s going to come on and be reformed, everybody knows he won’t,” the committee member, Adam Kinzinger, said.

Musk admitted this month that Twitter, which relies on ads for 90% of its revenue, had recorded a “massive drop in revenue” after advertisers stopped booking space on the platform because of concerns that content guidelines would be relaxed.

Advertisers were also concerned by the botched relaunch of Twitter’s subscription service, Twitter Blue, after impersonators jumped on the offer to be verified by simply paying $7.99 (£7) a month. Omnicom, a media agency whose clients include McDonald’s, Apple and Pepsi, has told companies to pause their Twitter spending because of concerns over brand safety.

Yoel Roth, a former head of trust and safety at Twitter who resigned after Musk’s takeover, said in a New York Times op-ed that he quit because it was clear Musk would have unilateral control of content policies. “A Twitter whose policies are defined by unilateral edict has little need for a trust and safety function dedicated to its principled development,” Roth wrote.

Musk, a self-described “free-speech absolutist”, first mooted the reinstatement of Trump in May after agreeing a $44bn deal to buy Twitter. He said: “I would reverse the permanent ban,” claiming that Twitter was “left-biased”.

This week, Musk reinstated the comedian Kathy Griffin, who had been banned for changing her profile name to “Elon Musk”, which violated his new rule against impersonation without indicating it was a parody account. He has also reinstated Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist and author, who was suspended from Twitter after violating the platform’s content policies with a tweet about the transgender actor Elliot Page.

Imran Ahmed, CEO of Center for Countering Digital Hate, a campaign group, said the reinstatements had made Musk’s intent for Twitter “crystal clear”.

“He is sending a clear message to users and to advertisers that brand safety and an inclusive space for all users is no longer the aim for Twitter. Instead he is turning Twitter into the home for extreme and fringe voices who have been rightly shunned by other platforms,” said Ahmed.

On Friday, Musk announced a new content policy of “freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach”, stating that “negative/hate” tweets would be “deboosted” and no adverts would appear near them.

New Twitter policy is freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach.

Negative/hate tweets will be max deboosted & demonetized, so no ads or other revenue to Twitter.

You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of Internet.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2022

Also on Friday, Twitter temporarily closed its offices after an unspecified number of staff quit the company after an ultimatum from Musk that they should commit to “being hardcore” or leave. According to the New York Times, 1,200 of Twitter’s remaining 3,750 workers – a workforce that had already been halved in size after Musk’s takeover – left the business last week.


Dan Milmo Global technology editor

The GuardianTramp

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