With his decision on Saturday to restore former President Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account almost two years after it was finally suspended, Elon Musk could throw Twitter into even deeper chaos — and that might be the point.
In the weeks since Musk completed his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter, the influential social network has laid off so many employees that users and employees have raised concerns about its ability to continue operations. Musk said it’s also suffered a “massive drop in revenue” as a growing number of brands pause advertising amid uncertainty over the platform’s direction and stability.
Trump’s return will not help with either problem.
The company’s servers ‘are going through quite a stress test from @elonmusk right now’ tweeted Sriram Krishnan, general partner of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and former Twitter contributor who works with Musk to run the company. (He also noted that Trump’s return comes a day before the start of the World Cup, a high-traffic event for the platform.)
Also on Saturday, NAACP President Derrick Johnson sent an urgent warning to companies still doing business with Twitter: “Any advertiser still funding Twitter should stop all advertising immediately.”
Some advertisers had previously hinted that they could stop spending on the platform if Trump were reinstated, potentially dealing another blow to a company that derives almost all of its revenue from advertising.
Prior to buying Twitter, Musk had repeatedly said he would reinstate Trump’s account and reconsider the platform’s approach to permanent bans as part of his maximalist vision for “free speech.” But Musk also tried to reassure brands and users that he would set up a “Content Moderation Council” to determine whether Trump and other suspended account holders would be brought back onto the platform.
There is no indication the group was even formed, let alone involved in the decision to reinstate Trump. Instead, Musk tweeted a poll on Friday asking supporters to vote on whether or not Trump’s account should be restored. “Yes” won, and Musk tweeted Saturday, “People have spoken. Trump is reinstated. Vox Populi, Vox Dei”, Latin for “the voice of the people is the voice of God”.
If Musk has a strategy behind the decision and its timing, it seems like chaos makes for a good show.
Through all the mass layoffs and staff departures, the controversial paid verification option rolled out and withdrawn, prominent brands and celebrities withdrawing from the platform, and the widespread criticism of his inflammatory statements, Musk has consistently insisted that Twitter is Reach all-time highs in user numbers.
Now add Trump to the mix.
Throughout his time as President, Trump has been the most prominent and often controversial user on the platform, forcing Twitter to rethink how it should deal with a sitting world leader who taunts (allows) North Korea with threats of nuclear destruction and encourages a violent pro -Trump mob to attack US Capitol on January 6, 2021 (earning him a ban).
But Trump also made Twitter the center of the well-known media and political universe. His tweets made headlines, moved markets, and set the agenda in Washington. Celebrities, world leaders, and a long list of critics and supporters have often engaged directly with Trump on Twitter. The world couldn’t look away.
It remains unclear whether Trump will tweet as often, or at all, now that he has his own social network, Truth Social. And when he does, his tweets may not get quite as much attention as they did when he was president. But Musk’s decision to bring Trump back also comes days after Trump announced he would run for president again, increasing the likelihood Trump’s remarks, and his tweets if he does publish them, won’t be ignored.
Musk is clearly still in the early stages of his so-called Twitter 2.0. Aside from restructuring staff and striving to improve Twitter’s bottom line through subscription products, he has yet to formalize his policies regarding bans and suspensions.
But one answer seems clear: Musk seems to be betting that if users can’t turn away from the platform, advertisers can’t either. And with enough eyeballs on the site, he might be able to find new ways to make money from them.
He just needs to find a way to leave the light on.