After a nearly two-year absence, former President Donald Trump is able to reclaim his Twitter account — though it’s unclear whether he’ll be back.
Elon Musk, the social media company’s new owner, announced Saturday evening Trump’s Twitter account would be reinstated. Minutes later, the former president’s profile was unbanned and his blue check mark was restored.
The decision marks both the highest profile and most controversial figure Musk has welcomed back to the social media platform since his turbulent $44 billion takeover of the company last month, which has been marked by severe cuts to both its workforce and revenue as many companies stopped advertising.
“The people have spoken,” Musk said on Twitter Saturday evening. “Trump will be reinstated.”
Trump, who announced Tuesday he was running for president again, has said he would not return to Twitter even if invited. But the former president has not gotten the same resonance from his Truth Social app, which has a much more limited reach.
On Truth Social, Trump has 4.57 million followers, a fraction of the more than 88 million he had on Twitter.
Before lifting the ban, Musk on Friday created a poll on his personal Twitter account asking users if he should “reinstate former President Trump.” More than 15 million users weighed in, though it was unclear how many of the poll participants were verified users or bots.
After the poll, Musk announced Trump would be reinstated on the platform. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk said, a Latin phrase meaning, the voice of the people is the voice of God.
Trump on Saturday issued a statement about the poll and the possibility of being reinstated. “Vote now with positivity, but don’t worry, we aren’t going anywhere,” Trump said. “Truth Social is special!”
He elaborated in a virtual appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s leadership meeting, saying that, while he’s “always liked” Musk and was happy that he purchased Twitter, he doesn’t “see any reason” to go back to the platform.
“They have a lot of problems at Twitter,” Trump said. “You see what’s going on. It may make it, it may not make it, but the problems are incredible.”
The de-platforming of Trump and other figures on the political right sparked outrage among conservatives who accuse Facebook and other major social media platforms of censorship and liberal biases.
Since Musk took over the company last month, he has reinstated other prominent figures and companies, including right-wing Canadian podcaster Jordan Peterson, the far-right satire website The Babylon Bee and comedian Kathy Griffin, who was suspended after impersonating Musk on Twitter.
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But while his purchase of the widely used social media app was celebrated by Republicans and the far-right, Musk resisted calls to immediately reinstate Trump.
“He should never have been banned,” Jake Denton, a research associate in the Tech Policy Center at The Heritage Foundation, told USA TODAY. “Trump returning objectively shifts Twitter toward a new path. He’s the ideal guy to rein in the new Elon Musk Twitter. He is the vehicle by which Elon can signal that he is serious about restructuring Twitter.”
Trump’s return carries risks for Twitter and for democracy, Brian Ott, a communications professor at Missouri State University, told USA TODAY.
Trump has continued to falsely claim the 2020 election was stolen.
“It provided him a public forum to widely disseminate his lies, disinformation and hatred,” Ott said. “His return to these platforms would surely raise the temperature of our politics and significantly increase the likelihood of political violence.”
Trump lost his direct link to supporters when he was booted from the nation’s top social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube – after the Capitol siege.
Trump, who frequently spread misinformation online, being allowed to rejoin Twitter comes at a vulnerable moment for the company and potentially American politics.
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Musk has already laid off thousands of employees and recently cut content moderation contractors who help halt the spread of hate speech and misinformation.
More employees appeared to resign this week after Musk told staff they “will need to be extremely hardcore” to build “a breakthrough Twitter 2.0,” and working long hours in a high-intensity environment would be part of that push.
On Friday, Musk tweeted that Twitter’s new 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,” he tweeted. “You won’t find the tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different from rest of Internet.”
Of the platforms, Twitter was Trump’s favorite and it could provide a pivotal bullhorn during his 2024 run to regain the White House.
Especially at a time when Twitter is struggling to keep its most active users engaged, Musk has a strong financial motive to bring back Trump, who is just the kind of mega-personality who drives engagement on the platform.
Facebook, meanwhile, will decide in January whether to lift Trump’s suspension.
As for YouTube, CEO Susan Wojcicki said last year that the platform would lift the Trump ban “when we determine the risk of violence has decreased.” YouTube declined to comment.
Even before Trump’s reinstatement, Musk and Twitter had gotten the attention of several Democratic senators including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who on Thursday asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate potential violation of consumer protection laws.
Under a 2011 consent order with the FTC, Twitter is barred from misleading consumers about the privacy and security of confidential user data. “We are concerned that the actions taken by Mr. Musk and others in Twitter management could already represent a violation of the FTC’s consent decree, which prohibits misrepresentation and requires that Twitter maintain a comprehensive information security program,” the senators said in a letter to FTC chairperson Lina Khan.
Contributing: Christal Hayes and Marina Pitofsky