Twitter confirmed Monday it had reached a deal to sell itself to billionaire and self-described “free-speech absolutist” Elon Musk for roughly $44 billion – but what will that mean for previously banned accounts, notably that of former President Donald J. Trump?
Twitter banned Trump’s account in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, saying Jan. 8 the decision was taken “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
The CEO of Tesla has criticized Twitter in the past over such decisions, saying at a recent TED interview that he would be “very reluctant” to take down tweets and very cautious with permanent bans.” He did however, recognize legal restrictions to his views on Twitter, saying he promotes free speech “within the bounds of the law.”
Musk has also said that free speech, not money, is the motivation behind his takeover of what he has called the “de-facto town square.” Whether or not he will allow the former president back into that arena remains to be seen.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” Musk said in a statement on Monday. “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential — I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”
Musk’s relationship with Trump
The relationship between the two men has, on the surface, appeared convivial in recent years.
Musk attended Trump’s business council meetings in 2017 and, in May of 2020, the president met up with Musk in Florida to watch the launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 at the Kennedy Space Center.
While Musk tweeted in 2017 that he directed a critical light at the Trump administration’s climate change and travel ban policies, the world’s richest man has found common ground with Trump in recent years.
Musk has aligned with the former president on Twitter when it comes to his battles with California health officials, his criticism of CNN and his advocacy for hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.
In 2020, Trump applauded Musk for his decision to build a Tesla plant in Texas, not California, telling Fox News host Sean Hannity, “He got it done, but I was pushing that job very hard for Elon because we work with him and we do a lot for him.”
Will Trump return to Twitter?
Another question mark after the bombshell sale of Twitter, however, is whether or not Trump even wants to revive his Twitter profile and its millions of followers.
Trump said Monday that he applauds the acquisition but that he has no plans to divert attention from his own platform, “Truth Social.”
“I am not going on Twitter, I am going to stay on TRUTH,” Trump told Fox News. “I hope Elon buys Twitter because he’ll make improvements to it and he is a good man, but I am going to be staying on TRUTH.”
Shares of Truth social fell sharply Monday on the news, dropping more than 12% on the day. The would-be social media competitor has seen its stock value nearly halved since Musk announced his intentions to take over Twitter.