Twitter owner Elon Musk granted amnesty to almost all banned accounts Thursday, a drastic policy shift that has alarmed many users and advertisers and opens the door for numerous high profile figures to stage potential comebacks and join the likes of former President Donald Trump and Kanye West who have had their accounts restored—here are some of the accounts that could return:
Steve Bannon: Trump’s former White House strategist was banned in November 2020 after suggesting Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded on a video posted to his Twitter account.
Mike Lindell: The MyPillow frontman has been banned from Twitter twice—once for spreading election misinformation and again for trying to skirt that ban with a new account—and has reportedly been desperately trying to meet Musk in an effort to be reinstated.
Lin Wood: The prominent lawyer and Trump supporter had his account suspended for spreading conspiracy theories about the presidential election and a tweet inciting violence in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection, which became permanent after he said he would post from another account.
Sidney Powell, Mike Flynn and Ron Watkins: The trio of high-flying QAnon figures—respectively Trump’s former election advisor, national security advisor and former administrator of far-right website 8kun, formerly 8chan—were suspended for promoting baseless conspiracy theories that the presidential election was stolen from Trump.
Martin Shkreli: Widely criticized as the “pharma bro” who jacked up the price of a lifesaving antiparasitic drug, he was permanently banned in 2017 for attempting to evade a temporary ban imposed for the “targeted harassment” of a journalist.
Roger Stone: The former Trump advisor made a brief return to Twitter ahead of Musk’s takeover—he was swiftly re-banned—after being suspended for attacking journalists online in 2017.
Azealia Banks: The rapper, who had a reputation for offensive tweets, rants and for trolling celebrities, including Musk, has been suspended multiple times (and attempted numerous comebacks) and was permanently suspended in 2020 for transphobic tweets.
Katie Hopkins: The British media personality and controversial right wing commentator was kicked off Twitter in 2020 for violating its “hateful conduct” policy.
David Duke: The former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and brazen white supremacist was ousted from the platform in 2020 for repeatedly violating Twitter’s rules on hateful conduct.
Aubrey Huff: The former San Francisco Giants player downplayed the severity of Covid-19 online and was permanently suspended in 2021 for repeatedly violating Twitter’s policies on Covid misinformation.
Musk already reinstated a number of suspended accounts—typically right wing—unilaterally. Taking action last Friday—Musk dubbed it “Freedom Friday”—the likes of Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (banned for repeated Covid misinformation infractions), Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson (hateful conduct targeting trans people), satire site Babylon Bee (banned for anti-trans tweets), comedian Kathy Griffin (banned for impersonating Musk) and Kanye West, who legally changed his name to Ye (banned over antisemitic remarks). Musk later reinstated former President Donald Trump, who was ousted for inciting and glorifying violence surrounding the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Musk on Thursday said he would grant “amnesty” to suspended Twitter accounts providing they were not banned for breaking the law or spam. The move follows an unscientific poll the billionaire conducted and will see accounts restored from “next week.” Musk has been a vocal and longstanding critic of Twitter’s moderation and suspension policies and openly stated his intention to change them when pursuing ownership of the company in favor of a more unfettered “free speech” approach. Though Musk vowed the platform would not become a “free-for-all hellscape” under his leadership, his botched attempts to overhaul Twitter’s verification scheme, drastic headcount reductions and relaxed approach to content moderation has spooked advertisers and regulators alike. While Musk initially said no accounts would be reinstated before a diverse moderation council was in place to evaluate any decision, he swiftly reneged and blamed social activists for reportedly pressuring advertisers to boycott the platform.
In contrast to the expected return of suspended accounts, a number of users are choosing to leave Twitter entirely. This includes high profile figures like Whoopi Goldberg, Shonda Rhimes, Toni Braxton and Gigi Hadid. Firms and advertisers are also distancing themselves from the platform by leaving or cutting ad spending, including Balenciaga, Chipotle, United Airlines, Volkswagen, Ford and Pfizer. Interest in Twitter alternatives like Mastodon, Hive and Post has spiked since Musk took over as users seek to jump ship onto other platforms.
What We Don’t Know
It is not clear how Musk or Twitter will sort through the many suspended accounts and pick which may return or how this might work given the company’s reduced headcount. Musk has said those banned for spam or illegal actions will not be permitted to return but it is otherwise unclear what criteria will be used. Twitter lists a series of policies for which infractions could technically garner bans—including content and conduct involving suicide or self-harm, violence, terrorism, abuse and harassment and posting private information—though it is not certain whether all of these are still in force. It is also unclear if there will be circumstances where policy violations, though legal, will still result in a ban—Twitter has previously taken a hard stance on people caught trying to circumvent temporary suspensions—or whether a degree of subjectivity will enter into the equation. To an extent, Musk has shown a willingness to do this already and unilaterally acted to restore numerous accounts. He also said conspiracy theorist Alex Jones would remain off the platform, adding that he—as someone who has lost a child—has “no mercy” for a man who “would use the deaths of children for gain, politics or fame”.
A report published by the European Union on Thursday said Twitter was taking longer to review harmful content and was removing less of it this year, compared to the year before. The research, an annual undertaking by the EU that was based on data collected before Musk acquired the platform, also outlined weaker performance among Twitter’s competitors, including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. The issue is likely to compound fears already being voiced by regulators over Twitter’s ability to keep on top of hateful content and misinformation in light of Musk’s significant staffing cuts. Such content already appears to be on the rise, with reports suggesting a spike in hate speech since Musk took over and the company failing to act on racist tweets directed at football players competing in the Qatar World Cup. The firm’s former safety lead, Yoel Roth, said there was a “surge in hateful conduct” after Musk acquired the platform. Previously banned figures have also been able to work their way back onto the platform in recent weeks, according to the Guardian, which found accounts for parts of Britain’s far right movement back online using new accounts.
$191.6 billion. That’s Musk’s estimated net worth, according to Forbes’ real-time tracker. He is the richest person on the planet. He acquired Twitter for $44 billion in October and is best known for leading and cofounding electric carmaker Tesla, rocket firm SpaceX and tunneling enterprise Boring Company.