By Brian Fung and Clare Duffy, CNN Business
Elon Musk said Tuesday that he would restore former President Donald Trump’s banned account on Twitter if his deal to acquire the company is completed.
Musk’s remarks at Financial Times’ Future of the Car conference mark his first public acknowledgment of what had been widely expected since the billionaire announced plans to buy the social media giant for $44 billion.
Musk has previously said he thinks Twitter should be more “reluctant to delete things” and “very cautious with permanent bans.” On Tuesday, he called Twitter’s decision to ban Trump in January 2021 a “mistake.”
“I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump, I think that was a mistake,” Musk said. “I would reverse the perma-ban. … But my opinion, and Jack Dorsey, I want to be clear, shares this opinion, is that we should not have perma-bans.”
Dorsey, Twitter’s cofounder and former CEO, tweeted Tuesday following Musk’s remarks that he does “agree” there shouldn’t be permanent bans on Twitter users. “There are exceptions … but generally permanent bans are a failure of ours and don’t work,” he said.
Twitter declined to comment on Musk’s remarks.
Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter following the January 6 Capitol Riot for violating the platform’s rules against violence incitement, a decision the company has said was headed by Dorsey. Other social platforms followed in banning or suspending Trump’s account.
Trump, for his part, has said he would not return to Twitter even if his account were restored, instead promoting his own social media venture, Truth Social, which has so far appeared to struggle to get off the ground.
“Banning Trump from Twitter didn’t end Trump’s voice, it will amplify it among the right and this is why it’s morally wrong and flat out stupid,” Musk said at the event on Tuesday.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO acknowledged that his acquisition of Twitter, and Trump’s return, are not yet a done deal. “I will say that I don’t own Twitter yet, so this is not a thing that will definitely happen, because what if I don’t own Twitter?” he said.
There remain some questions about whether Musk will indeed go through with the deal, or whether the decline in Tesla shares over the past month could negatively impact his ability to finance the deal. Twitter stock was trading around $47.70 on Tuesday afternoon, well below Musk’s offer price of $54.20 per share, suggesting some investor skepticism about the likelihood that the deal gets completed.
That hasn’t stopped Musk from continuing to expound on his plans for the platform in recent weeks. Musk has said his goal is to bolster free speech on the platform and to make it clearer to users when the platform takes actions that impact what people see on Twitter.
On Tuesday, he reiterated his desire to rid Twitter of bots promoting spam or scams, and his plan to make Twitter’s algorithm publicly available for anyone to view and comment on.
“I would literally put the Twitter algorithm on GitHub and say like, ‘Hey, anyone want to suggest changes to this? Please go ahead,'” Musk said, adding that he sees such a move as a way to “build transparency and trust.”
He also criticized what he views as Twitter’s political bias, echoing claims from some prominent figures on the right.
“I think Twitter needs to be much more evenhanded. It currently has a strong left bias because it’s based in San Francisco,” he said. “I don’t think the people there necessarily intend, or at least some of them don’t intend, to have a left bias. They just, from their perspective, it seems moderate, but they’re just coming after it from an environment that is very far left.”
(Twitter has previously said its algorithms and employees do not discriminate against any particular political point of view.)
In addition to reversing the Trump ban, Musk said he would make permanent bans “extremely rare,” reserving them for “bots or spam, scam accounts where there’s just no legitimacy to the account at all.”
Musk also expanded on his vision for Twitter’s content moderation. Previously, Musk has said he intends for Twitter to limit its content moderation to that which governments have deemed explicitly illegal — and not to go much further.
But on Tuesday, Musk conceded that there could be a wide range of objectionable content that he would want Twitter to enforce against. In addition to illegal content, Musk identified two other categories of content that could be subject to penalties: speech that is “destructive to the world” and “wrong and bad.”
“If they say something that is illegal or otherwise just destructive to the world, then there should be perhaps a timeout, a temporary suspension, or that particular tweet should be made invisible or have very limited traction,” Musk said. He added: “I think if there are tweets that are wrong and bad, those should be either deleted or made invisible, and a suspension, a temporary suspension is appropriate but not a permanent ban.”
Musk didn’t say what metrics Twitter might use to determine if a tweet may be “wrong and bad” or “destructive to the world,” and when it might opt for one type of penalty over another.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of Trump’s ban from Twitter. It was January 2021.