Elon Musk, the world’s richest man and soon-to-be-owner of Twitter, made waves on Tuesday when he said he would let former President Donald Trump back on the social media platform he was banned from in January 2021.
“I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump, I think that was a mistake,” Musk said, speaking at the Financial Times Future of the Car conference. “I would reverse the perma-ban.”
That’s exactly what Trump and his supporters have long been demanding — and even suing for. Trump has said he has no interest in coming back, and will instead be using his Twitter-clone app, Truth Social.
“I won’t be going back on Twitter,” the former president told CNBC in late April. “I like Elon Musk. I like him a lot. He’s an excellent individual. We did a lot for Twitter when I was in the White House. I was disappointed by the way I was treated by Twitter.”
There’s good reason, though, to expect that Trump may start his Twitter account up again if given the chance. (Musk isn’t expected to take over for the next several months, and the Twitter sale still isn’t a done deal.) Trump built his political career using Twitter, paired with cable news. Up until the day he was banned, Twitter was an incredibly effective tool for Trump. He had some 67 million followers, making him the most popular world leader on the app. And so far, he hasn’t been able to rebuild a similarly large or engaged audience since he was kicked off Twitter and all the other major social media platforms. Of course, people are also talking about Trump less these days because he’s no longer president — but that could change, considering he’s expected to run again for the Republican presidential nomination.
Here’s why you should take Trump’s claims of being over Twitter with a grain of salt.
Trump still doesn’t have a good Twitter alternative
Instead of using Twitter, Trump has said he’s moving his social media presence to Truth Social, the Twitter-clone app that he helped create.
Truth Social sets out to be a “Big Tent” social media platform rivaling Twitter and Facebook that encourages an “open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology.”
But in reality, the app is dominated by almost exclusively right-wing users and has had a troubled start.
First, Truth Social’s launch was delayed by several weeks. Then, when it launched in late February 2022, most users couldn’t log on. The app accumulated a waiting list of millions of people.
Truth Social’s CEO said the app would be “fully operational” by the end of March, but many still report being waitlisted, and those who are using it so far report a clunky user experience.
The app’s financial viability is also in question, as its source of funding — a merger between a SPAC (a special purpose acquisition company, a shell company whose sole purpose is to buy other companies) and the Trump Media & Technology Group — is at risk as it is under investigation by federal regulators and facing a decline in valuation. Two top executives have also resigned from Truth Social in recent months, less than a year after joining the company.
And even if Truth Social sorts out its technical and financial challenges, it still won’t have the same massive reach as Twitter or Facebook. Currently, Truth Social has an estimated 2 million users. Twitter, with 330 million users, is more than 150 times larger. It also attracts users of all political persuasions — including journalists and influencers — who react to and amplify Trump’s messages, helping him stay in the news.
If you’re a politician like Trump, you’re going to have a far wider impact sharing your thoughts on a major social media platform rather than on a niche app where you’re preaching to the choir.
Other than being banned, Trump has no real beef with Twitter
Up until the day he was banned, Twitter was an incredibly effective tool for Trump to promote his political agenda in real time, without the intermediary of the press fact-checking his claims or analyzing his decisions.
The only real problem Trump had with Twitter was that it banned him.
Sure, Trump wasn’t happy about the fact that Twitter began in 2020 to label a few of his many false and inflammatory tweets with warning signs and fact-checks, but even that didn’t stop him from continuing to tweet incessantly.
In the past, Trump had often claimed that Silicon Valley was run by liberal elites who he said were censoring him and other conservatives on social media. But now, Trump has found an ally in Musk, who is increasingly appealing to the right wing and is also aligning with Trump in accusing Twitter’s current employee base of having a pro-liberal bias.
Trump and his supporters change their minds all the time
Lastly, Trump changes his mind all the time. Like many politicians, he flip-flops on issues, including building a wall at the US-Mexico border and threatening to leave the Republican Party. And he’s generally amenable to people who support him, as Musk is doing now, even if they haven’t been his biggest fans in the past.
Other conservative leaders, such as Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson, have quietly returned to Twitter since the news of Musk’s takeover — calling it a “pivot point” in history — after previously criticizing the company. Carlson was suspended from Twitter in March for tweeting that articles referring to US Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine — who is a transgender woman — as a “man” were true. The Fox News host and his supporters framed his suspension as an attack on free speech and refused to delete his tweet.
After Musk’s bid to buy Twitter broke in the news in April, Carlson seems to have quietly deleted the tweet that kept him off the platform. His account has since been reinstated.
In the end, it would benefit Trump to follow Carlon’s lead and similarly set aside his issues with Twitter. The former president is expected to soon launch his 2024 presidential bid, and he can use all the attention he can get.