Elon Musk has struck a ksh5-1-trillion to buy the world’s most powerful political bullhorn. So will Musk let former President Donald Trump back on Twitter?
Musk has not said if he would reinstate Trump. Twitter permanently banned Trump after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence.”
Trump, a likely 2024 presidential candidate, said Monday he will not return to Twitter- even under new ownership. Instead, he will formally join his own TRUTH Social app, he told Fox News.
So far, Trump has published one post on TRUTH Social.
“President Trump is committed to TRUTH Social and will be communicating on the platform very soon,” his press office told USA TODAY in a statement.
A week ago in an interview with Americano Media, Trump said he would not return because “Twitter’s become very boring.”
“They’ve gotten rid of a lot of good voices on Twitter, a lot of their conservative voices,” he said at the time.
Still, once Musk gains control of Twitter, observers are betting he will restore Trump’s account.
“Trump has the incentive to be coy right now because his parallel venture would be devalued if he rejoined Twitter. Musk has every incentive to be coy right now, as well, to cast this as much as possible as a simple shift in ownership,” said Emerson Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab.
Musk is a libertarian and a self-described “free speech absolutist,” who has made it clear that he supports more unbridled expression on Twitter.
He’s also wary of permanent suspensions and sympathetic to conservative claims of censorship.
“It’s very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech,” Musk said during an interview earlier this month at the TED conference. “Twitter has become kind of the de-facto town square, so it’s just really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.”
In a statement Monday, Musk reiterated that “free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy.”
“Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated," Musk said.
Musk also has strong financial motives to lure back Trump, who is just the kind of mega personality who drives engagement on the platform.
“Musk makes electric cars and rocket ships, but he’s really made his fortune in commanding and influencing attention. He understands how to do it and I think his closest peer there is Donald Trump,” Brooking said.
Adding fuel to speculation of a Trump return is the certainty that, even under current management, Twitter may have been forced to lift the ban if Trump became the 2024 GOP nominee. The company's chief financial officer Ned Segal said last year that Trump would not be allowed on Twitter again even if he runs for president and wins in 2024.
For his part, Trump may have trouble resisting the siren song of a massive platform he once used to blast unfiltered messages to nearly 89 million followers and the world at large.
Trump has not gotten anywhere near the resonance from rallies and press statements that he got from news outlets amplifying his tweets, said Brian Monahan, a sociology professor at Baldwin Wallace University who has studied Trump's Twitter.
“Twitter provides a measure of narrative control or influence that he can’t have in other forums, including his own fledgling app,” Monahan said.