Rights groups warn of 'real danger' to Muslims, marginalised if Trump returns to Twitter
As many have expected since billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk was approved to buy Twitter last month, he has finally indicated that he will approve of the return of banned former president Donald Trump. This could leave Muslims and other marginalised groups vulnerable to the effects of Trump's tweets.
"I think it was a morally bad decision, and foolish in the extreme," Musk said of Twitter's permanent ban of Donald Trump, prompted by the former president's proximity to the 6 January 2021 riot at the Capitol, which took place shortly after his rally in front of the White House.
"I would reverse the permaban," said Musk, who has agreed to buy the social media platform for $US 44 billion, speaking at a Financial Times event, reported on Tuesday.
Though it is still not clear if Musk will go through with the purchase of Twitter, as the deal has yet to be finalised, nor is it clear if Trump will re-join Twitter, as he has said he would prefer to stick with his own social media network Truth Social; the likelihood of both scenarios is high, given these public figures’ commitments to self-promotion.
What is clear is that marginalised groups, including Muslims, have been adversely affected by biased posts on Twitter from Trump and indirectly from his followers and similar users.
"It is irresponsible for Elon Musk to commit to reversing Twitter’s ban on former President Donald Trump," Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-California, told The New Arab.
"That ban was a result of Trump's repeated violations of Twitter's rules against the propagation of false conspiracies and incitement of violence. While Trump has not stopped such practice, it appears that Musk wants Twitter to stop enforcing those necessary rules," Ayloush added.
Shortly after Musk began discussing his potential deal, Muslim Advocates issued a press release expressing their concern about what it would mean for vulnerable groups.
In a statement, Sumayyah Waheed, senior policy counsel at Muslim Advocates, said, "Elon Musk has publicly paraded his desire for less accountability on the platform under the guise of free speech. Twitter already has a serious problem of failing to enforce its policies, which creates real danger for Muslims and other marginalized groups."
An example of the former president's overtly anti-Muslim tweets reads: "Radical Islamic Terrorism must be stopped by whatever means necessary," Trump had tweeted on 18 August, 2017.
Aside from his tweets, one of his best known statements was his repeated false claim, both spoken and on Twitter, that he watched Muslims cheer the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001.
Throughout his presidency, Trump's anti-Muslim tweets have been widely reported and questioned. Numerous studies have shown a clear correlation between Trump's time in the political spotlight, including his presidential campaign, and anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.
One of the most comprehensive studies on the subject was done in 2018 by economists Karsten Mueller and Carlo Schwarz. The report, titled "From Hashtag to Hate Crime: Twitter and Anti-Minority Sentiment", tracks Trump's anti-Muslim tweets and their effects.
They found that "Trump's tweets about Islam-related topics predict increases in xenophobic tweets by his followers, cable news attention paid to Muslims, and hate crimes on the following days. These correlations persist in an instrumental variable framework exploiting that Trump is more likely to tweet about Muslims on days he plays golf."
They further found "a strong time-series correlation between Trump's tweets on Islam-related topics and the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes after the start of his presidential campaign, even after controlling for general attention paid to topics associated with Muslims."
Trump's influence on Twitter is difficult to overstate. With 80 million followers prior to his ban and a steady stream of inflammatory tweets that consistently took over the international news cycle, it stands to reason that members of vulnerable communities are already apprehensive over what a Trump return to Twitter would mean.
Ayloush from CAIR said, "Musk should put the safety and well-being of society and communities before profits. He must be reminded that with great powers comes great responsibilities."