May 10, 2022
Critics responded with alarm to tech billionaire Elon Musk's confirmation Tuesday he will end former President Donald Trump's permanent suspension from Twitter if his purchase of the company is finalized.
"Giving someone who tried to overturn an election and helped incite an insurrection a major forum to continue undermining democracy is dangerous," declared Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). "Neither Elon Musk nor anyone else should reverse Donald Trump's Twitter ban."
Public Citizen executive vice president Lisa Gilbert similarly said that Trump's reinstatement is "a categorically bad idea" and "the ban should stand."
\u201cIronically taking to twitter to say that this is a categorically bad idea. Trump was inciting violence and spreading misinformation to an immense audience. The ban should stand. @public_citizen\n\n"Elon Musk says he would reverse Twitter ban on Donald Trump" https://t.co/yIXeW8jlbW\u201d— Lisa Gilbert (@Lisa Gilbert) 1652205060
Robert Weissman, Public Citizen's president, also warned against allowing the former president back on Twitter after his lies about the 2020 election results and incitement of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol--which led to Trump's historic second impeachment and bans on multiple online platforms.
"Elon Musk is wrong to believe Twitter can turn a blind eye to this danger--and not acknowledge the ways Trump has used the platform to facilitate his authoritarian crusade. And he is wrong to believe that it is sufficient to remove specifically abusive tweets or impose temporary suspensions on Trump for future wrongdoing," he said.
During a Financial Times conference on Tuesday, Musk said that "I don't own Twitter yet" but "I would reverse" Trump's permanent ban, which he described as "a morally bad decision... and foolish in the extreme."
The Twitter ban was "a mistake because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice," Musk argued, noting that the former president has signaled he won't return to the platform.
"I am not going on Twitter, I am going to stay on TRUTH," Trump--who is expected to run for president in 2024--toldFox News last month, referring to his own recently launched platform. "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."
Musk--citing his conversations with Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey--also made a broader case on Tuesday that permanent bans "should be extremely rare" and reserved for issues like bots and spam accounts. He suggested problematic tweets could be handled on a case-by-case basis with possible temporary account suspensions.
Dorsey confirmed in a tweet that he agrees with Musk on permanent bans.
ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement Tuesday that "you'd be hard-pressed to find a more steadfast opponent of Trump and his policies than the ACLU, but Elon Musk's decision to replatform President Trump is the right call."
"When a handful of individuals possess so much power over the most important forums for political speech, they should exercise that power with restraint," Romero continued. "If Trump violates the platform rules again, Twitter should first employ lesser penalties like removing the offending post--rather than banning a political figure.
"Like it or not, President Trump is one of the most important political figures in this country, and the public has a strong interest in hearing his speech," he added. "Indeed, some of Trump's most offensive tweets ended up being critical evidence in lawsuits filed against him and his administration. And we should know--we filed over 400 legal actions against him."
According to Weissman at Public Citizen:
The Trump problem is not about individual tweets but the steady narrative of anti-democratic lies.
Platform moderation decisions are hard. Permanent bans on individuals are, all things equal, undesirable. Platforms should appropriately give more leeway to political figures, all things equal. With all that said, the moderation decision around Trump really isn't that hard. He should remain permanently banned.
American democracy is in peril, and Twitter and social media are part of the problem. It is incumbent on Twitter and other social media corporations to recognize the threat, their complicity, and their obligation to act affirmatively to protect democracy--including by denying Trump a platform for hate, lies, demagoguery, and authoritarianism.
Weissman has also expressed alarm about Musk--the richest person on the planet--striking a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter.
"It's less than great when billionaires own sports teams--which bind communities together--as their playthings," he said last month. "Having a billionaire own Twitter--a vital platform for communication and community--as his plaything is far more serious. It's a real threat to democracy."
This post has been updated with comment from the ACLU and Jack Dorsey.
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