Twitter outcasts seek reinstatement and test free speech boundaries after Musk takeover

Access to the comments Comments
By Mark Armstrong  with AFP, AP, Reuters
Elon Musk arrives at Twitter HQ carrying a sink, October 27, 2022.
Elon Musk arrives at Twitter HQ carrying a sink, October 27, 2022.   -  Copyright  TWITTER ACCOUNT OF ELON MUSK / @ELONMUSK / AFP

The hours since Elon Musk took over Twitter have seen banned account holders seek to be reinstated, while others have been testing Twitter's policies on misinformation.

The billionaire has announced that he will convene a "content moderation council" for his newly acquired social media platform despite his earlier pledge to "let the bird fly". It's being seen in some circles as backpedalling.

Musk's original intention was to make it about free speech and release banned users from what he called the Twitter jail, meaning the likes of Donald Trump could be allowed back on the platform.

But on Friday he said that no decisions on content or reinstatements will be made until a “content moderation council” is put in place. The council, he wrote, would have “diverse viewpoints," but he gave no further details.

General Motors said late on Friday that it had temporarily halted paid advertising on Twitter after Elon Musk completed his takeover.

The largest US carmaker said it was "engaging with Twitter to understand the direction of the platform under their new ownership". Musk is also chief executive of GM rival Tesla.

Hours after his takeover at Twitter was confirmed, the billionaire owner was deluged with pleas and demands from banned account holders and world leaders.

The flood of requests underscore the challenge Musk faces, balancing a promise to restore free speech while preventing the platform from descending into a "hellscape," as he had vowed in an open letter to advertisers on Thursday.

Donald Trump, permanently banned from Twitter over accusations of inciting violence after the Capitol riots of 6 January, 2021, welcomed the takeover, but said little about a return to Twitter. 

"I am very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands, and will no longer be run by Radical Left Lunatics and Maniacs who truly hate our country," said the former US president who was defeated in the 2020 presidential election.

Some conservative personalities wasted no time to jump on the platform and recirculate long-debunked conspiracy theories in a tongue-in-cheek attempt to “test” whether Twitter’s policies on misinformation were still being enforced.

Others asked Musk to reverse penalties inflicted by the social media platform. In response to @catturd2, an anonymous account with 852,000 followers — known for being a big supporter of Trump's baseless election fraud claims — and who said it was "shadowbanned," Musk tweeted "I will be digging in more today."

There were diverging views among people around Twitter's offices in San Francisco on Friday.

"There have been some problems at Twitter and we all know about it," said one woman, "so I'm just hoping that he brings the changes and makes it all about free speech."

"If he doesn't allow the control of the conversations to limit hate speech and things like that, then I think it could be worse for people and create more of an antagonistic, political environment," a man argued.

Elon Musk arrived on his first day at Twitter HQ carrying a sink. He admitted the $44 billion he paid for the social media giant was overpriced. "Let that sink in," he quipped, hence the prop.

"The bird is freed," he tweeted as the deal was confirmed, prompting the European Commission's digital chief to respond, also on Twitter, by saying that if the bird is to fly in Europe it will fly by European rules.