Conservatives push Elon Musk to use Twitter stake to restore Trump's account

Tesla founder's purchase of major stake in Twitter reignites calls to rein in Big Tech censorship.

Updated: April 5, 2022 - 12:38am

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Conservatives are asking Elon Musk to restore former President Donald Trump's Twitter account after the Tesla chief executive became Twitter's largest shareholder.

Musk, the world's richest person, bought 73.5 million shares of Twitter stock worth some $2.9 billion at the time, according to a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The purchase gave Musk a 9.2% stake in the social media giant, larger than any shareholder.

About one week earlier, Musk lambasted Twitter for not protecting free speech.

"Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy," Musk tweeted. "What should be done?"

"Is a new platform needed?" he added later.

Musk didn't immediately respond to a request for comment and hasn't yet made any public statements on his new ownership in Twitter.

Musk's purchase reignited calls to rein in Big Tech's influence, and conservatives pushed him to reinstate Trump's Twitter account, which was banned in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot last year.

"Now that @ElonMusk is Twitter's largest shareholder, it's time to lift the political censorship. Oh... and BRING BACK TRUMP!" tweeted Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.).

"Will the new majority shareholder return freedom of speech to Twitter?" asked Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). "It will require courage [because] the regime is heavily investing in a certain industry and threats will undoubtedly come. Yet the freedom of speech restored will enable us all to defeat them."

Errol Webber, a Republican congressional candidate in California, added that with Musk as the largest shareholder now is the time to return Twitter to its "former glory" by "bringing back President Trump" and ending "all forms of political and other censorship."

Monica Crowley, who served in the Trump administration as assistant secretary of public affairs for the Treasury Department, tweeted that Musk should use his influence at Twitter to "demand the end of political censorship, company-wide reform, and the reinstatement of President Trump."

Twitter permanently suspended Trump's account last year following the Jan. 6 Capitol breach "due to the risk of further incitement of violence." Trump went on to launch Truth Social, a new social media platform.

Trump and many of his supporters decried the Twitter ban as an effort to silence him for expressing views with which Silicon Valley disagreed.

Indeed, critics argue Big Tech has too much power and uses it unfairly to censor conservative or Republican content without consequence, threatening free speech. Twitter, Facebook, and other major tech companies counter they're not engaging in suppression but instead protecting users from bigotry, misinformation, and potential incitement to violence.

After Twitter banned Trump last year, Musk appeared to frame the move as an attack on free speech.

The Babylon Bee, a conservative news satire site, shared on Twitter an article they published at the time titled "Evil Fascist Dictator Censored and Voted Out of Office." Musk, who has 80.3 million Twitter followers, responded, "A lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech."

Another user then tweeted that "West Coast high tech has to make the distinction between banning hate speech and banning speech it hates," to which Musk replied, "This is an important distinction."

Musk's implication appeared to be that Twitter and other Big Tech companies actually ban speech with which they disagree under the guise of combating hate speech.

This wasn't the first time Musk publicly defended free speech. In June 2020, for example, Musk castigated Amazon after a writer said his forthcoming book on COVID-19 didn't meet Amazon's guidelines for sale. The author had been a critic of pandemic lockdown measures and questioned the severity of the disease.

"This is insane @JeffBezos," Musk said, naming the Amazon CEO. "Time to break up Amazon. Monopolies are wrong!"

Amazon later said the book was removed in error and reinstated it.

Musk hasn't been the only one to question Trump's Twitter ban and what it says about the power of Big Tech to silence people, even presidents.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a vocal critic of Trump, expressed worry after Trump was banned, saying that while "we understand the desire to permanently" suspend him, "the unchecked power" companies like Twitter and Facebook have "should concern everyone."

The ACLU didn't immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Beyond Trump, Big Tech's influence over public discourse has become a major concern to many observers on both sides of the political aisle — and, according to experts, one man, even one as powerful as Musk, won't be enough to change the status quo.

"While this is a positive development, Musk's investment alone won't resolve Big Tech's politically motivated censorship of conservatives," said Mike Davis, founder and president of the Internet Accountability Project. "Congress must modernize our antitrust laws and reform Section 230 to restore competition and accountability in the tech marketplace."

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields companies that act as platforms or virtual public forums — such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — from liability for content on their sites. This means social media giants can't be sued and held legally responsible for content posted by users.

However, critics argue, these companies in recent years have been behaving like publishers, not platforms, by choosing to block certain content like a publication. Conservatives contend most content that's blocked is supportive of their views or critical of the political left.

As a result, the argument continues, Big Tech acts as a publisher by deciding what content stays up while enjoying legal immunity as a platform under Section 230 and not being held accountable.

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have often said they intend to update and reform Section 230, but no major changes have been made.

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