- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The American Civil Liberties Union said on Tuesday that Twitter should allow former President Donald Trump to return to the social media site, lending support to billionaire — and would-be Twitter owner — Elon Musk’s argument for reinstating Mr. Trump’s access.

The left-leaning ACLU is among the former president’s most dogged legal opponents but it has criticized social media platforms that permanently banned Mr. Trump in the wake of his questioning of the 2020 election results and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The ACLU offered a full-throated endorsement for restoring Mr. Trump’s presence on Twitter after Mr. Musk touted the idea on Tuesday. 

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a more steadfast opponent of Trump and his policies than the ACLU, but Elon Musk’s decision to re-platform President Trump is the right call,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director, in a statement. “When a handful of individuals possess so much power over the most important forums for political speech, they should exercise that power with restraint.”

Mr. Romero said Twitter should apply “lesser penalties” against Mr. Trump for any future Twitter violations, such as removing a rule-breaking post by the former president. The company permanently blocked Mr. Trump from its site on January 9, 2021, three days after the melee on Capitol Hill, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence” by Mr. Trump.

Mr. Musk, who is trying to put together the $44 billion needed to acquire Twitter, said Tuesday he thought permanently banning Mr. Trump and other users was wrong and thought the best solution would utilize temporary restrictions. 

“I guess the answer is that I would reverse the permanent ban. Obviously I don’t own Twitter yet, so this is not like a thing that will definitely happen,” Mr. Musk said at an event hosted by the Financial Times. “Because what if I don’t own Twitter? But my opinion — and [former CEO] Jack Dorsey, I want to be clear, shares this opinion — is that we should not have permanent bans.”

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Mr. Musk said inauthentic accounts should still face removal on Twitter and said the platform ought to obey various countries’ laws on disclosure and abuse. 

The ACLU previously criticized social media platforms’ restrictions on Mr. Trump’s social media accounts, but its message on Twitter’s ban has turned from sympathetic to confrontational. 

Last year, ACLU senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane issued a statement saying the ACLU understood social media platforms’ desire for permanent suspensions but people should be concerned that tech companies wielding unchecked power could turn on Mr. Trump’s opponents one day as well. 

“President Trump can turn to his press team or Fox News to communicate with the public, but others — like the many Black, Brown, and LGBTQ activists who have been censored by social media companies — will not have that luxury,” Ms. Ruane said in January 2021. 

Mr. Romero’s statement on Tuesday was notably less concerned with the thinking of the opponents of free, unmoderated speech online. 

“Like it or not, President Trump is one of the most important political figures in this country, and the public has a strong interest in hearing his speech,” Mr. Romero said. “Indeed, some of Trump’s most offensive tweets ended up being critical evidence in lawsuits filed against him and his administration. And we should know — we filed over 400 legal actions against him.”

Despite Mr. Musk and the ACLU supporting a path for Mr. Trump’s return, the former president may not use the platform again if provided the opportunity. Mr. Trump told Fox News last month that he would not return to Twitter and instead would stay on his own platform Truth Social.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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