Nine months after Elon Musk reinstated Donald Trump’s account on the social network previously known as Twitter, the former president has returned to what was once his platform of choice for communicating with the country.
The return of Trump – who used to be one of the site’s most prominent, if controversial, users – could mark a turning point for the company now called X after months of turbulence. Trump, who has nearly 87 million followers, could attract a wide set of viewers, especially in the lead up to the 2024 presidential election, where he is the front-runner for the Republican nomination. But it could also present a new set of challenges for the social network, including for its effort to revive its ad business, if Trump decides to resume regularly posting on the platform at all.
Trump on Thursday night posted on the platform for the first time since January 2021, when he was suspended for violating Twitter’s rules against glorification of violence in the wake of the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. On Thursday, he posted a photo of his mug shot – the first such photo of a US president in history – after his surrender in Georgia on more than a dozen charges stemming from his efforts to reverse the 2020 election results there. He also added a link to a fundraiser.
Trump’s return appeared to be welcomed by X owner Musk, who has been encouraging politicians and public figures to post on the site in a bid to improve user numbers. He shared Trump’s X post saying, “Next-level.” Later, appearing to reference the former president without explicitly naming him, Musk posted that “the speed at which your message on this platform can reach a vast number of people is mind-blowing.”
X declined to comment for this story.
If Trump decides to return to regularly posting on X, it could be a major boon to the platform’s effort to attract an audience as it faces increased competition. In the wake of controversial policy decisions by Musk, a slew of Twitter copycats have popped up as users seek alternative platforms, including Meta’s Threads, which rolled out a key update this week. The week of July 17, traffic to then-Twitter was down more than 9% compared to the same period in the prior year, according to the most recent public report from web traffic intelligence firm Similarweb.
Musk’s changes at the company have also irked some advertisers, weighing on X’s core business.
When he was president, Trump’s posts on what was then Twitter often moved the markets, set the news cycle and drove the agenda in Washington – a fact that benefited the company in the form of countless hours of user engagement and almost certainly could again. And while Trump has remained mostly on his own platform, Truth Social, since he was suspended from many mainstream social networks in early 2021, X would give him a larger reach as he vies for the 2024 Republican nomination.
Trump’s return “should have a positive impact on [X’s] engagement at a time when it needs it,” D.A. Davidson analyst Tom Forte told CNN in an email Friday.
(It’s not clear how Musk – who has often been X’s main character since his takeover, thanks in some cases to his own policy decisions – would feel about sharing the spotlight.)
That engagement could be a selling point for X in its quest to lure advertisers back to the platform. But Trump’s return could also raise fresh concerns for advertisers, some of whom have pulled back their spending on the platform over fears that their ads could run next to controversial or potentially objectionable content as Musk has reduced content moderation on the site.
Musk said last month that the company still had negative cash flow because of a 50% decline in revenue from its core ad business, although CEO Linda Yaccarino said weeks later the company is now “close to break-even.”
And while X’s leadership has said advertisers are returning thanks to new brand safety controls, at least two brands recently paused their spending on the platform after their ads were run alongside an account celebrating the Nazi party. (X suspended the account after it was flagged and said ad impressions on the page were minimal.)
Trump frequently pushed boundaries when he was active on Twitter. For years, the platform took a light-touch approach to moderating his account, arguing at times that as a public official, the then-president must be given wide latitude to speak. Now, if Trump returns to his old habits – the former president has, for example, continued to falsely claim in posts on Truth Social that the 2020 election was stolen – Musk could be forced to decide whether to risk alienating additional advertisers or compromise his stated commitment to “free speech.”
Forte said he will be closely watching the impact of Trump’s return on Twitter’s advertising business. “The increased engagement should be favorable, but there is a risk that heightened controversy could hamper ad sales,” he said.
And it’s not yet clear whether Trump will actually return to being active on X beyond Thursday’s post, which was essentially a fundraising appeal, and similar to what he posted on Truth Social. After Facebook restored Trump’s account earlier this year, many of his posts on that platform have been aimed at directing users to donate or volunteer for his campaign.
What’s more, after making his return to X, Trump appeared to try to clarify where his loyalty lies. “I LOVE TRUTH SOCIAL. IT IS MY HOME!!” Trump posted on the X competitor platform.