Elon Musk has said he would reverse Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter, accusing the social media company of leftwing bias that had aggravated political divisions in the US.
“I think it was a morally bad decision, and foolish in the extreme,” Musk said of the lifetime ban of Trump, which was imposed soon after a mob of the former president’s supporters invaded the US Capitol on January 6 last year.
Musk has agreed to buy the social media platform for roughly $44bn. “I would reverse the permaban [on Trump],” he added. “Obviously I don’t own Twitter yet, so this is not a thing that will definitely happen.”
The comments, made in an interview at the FT’s Future of the Car conference, marked a sharp escalation of the Tesla chief executive’s attacks on Twitter’s attempts to weed out hate speech and misinformation.
“Banning Trump from Twitter didn’t end Trump’s voice,” Musk said. “It will amplify it among the right. This is why it’s morally wrong and flat-out stupid.”
In his first interview since reaching a deal to buy Twitter two weeks ago, the world’s richest person repeated assertions that he was mounting the biggest-ever personal acquisition of a company in order to help improve what he called “currently the least-bad public square” online.
Until now, Musk has avoided taking political sides in the fight over Twitter’s moderation policies, despite echoing many of the complaints from rightwing politicians and commentators.
But on Tuesday, he came out aggressively against what he claimed was a “strong left bias” at the social media company. Rather than any intentional bias on the part of workers, the platform’s political leaning probably resulted from the location of its headquarters in San Francisco, he added.
Twitter’s political leaning “fails to build trust in other parts of the United States, and also perhaps other parts of the world”, he said. “Twitter needs to be much more even-handed.”
Musk has already publicly criticised the platform’s executives involved in some of the company’s controversial moderation decisions, drawing criticism from many social media experts who claimed he does not understand the complexities of preventing hate and misinformation from taking over social media sites.
The Tesla boss said that although he opposed lifetime bans, he still believed it was right to suspend the accounts of users sometimes, or make some of their tweets less visible to other Twitter users.
Asked if he thought those tactics should be used to control Trump’s messages, he pointed out that the former president had said he would not return to Twitter but would stay on his own new site, Truth Social, meaning that Twitter had failed to silence Trump’s “voice”.
Musk claimed support from Twitter’s co-founder, Jack Dorsey, for his opposition to lifetime bans. Dorsey was CEO at the time of the Trump ban, but unlike Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg has the final say on penalties against prominent users, decisions at Twitter are largely in the hands of the company’s trust and safety group.
Following the exchange, Dorsey confirmed on Twitter that he agreed with Musk, saying “permanent bans of individuals are directionally wrong” and “don’t work”. Dorsey added: “It was a business decision, it shouldn’t have been.”
Musk brushed aside concerns about whether his purchase of Twitter would distract him from Tesla, or whether his closer association with the social media platform, where his controversial tweets have often provoked strong responses, risked backfiring on his electric-car company.
“We are able to sell all the cars we can make,” he said, adding that the company was “probably” going to start limiting the number of orders it takes or stop taking orders that cannot be fulfilled within a certain period of time. Tesla has said some orders were stretching into next year.
“Even before there were supply chain issues, Tesla demand exceeded production,” Musk said. “So now it’s demand exceeds production to a ridiculous degree.”