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Musk says he prefers 'less divisive' candidate than Trump in 2024

U.S. President Donald Trump and Elon Musk tour the Firing Room Four after the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft on NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. May 30, 2020. [Reuters]

Billionaire Elon Musk made clear on Thursday that even though he wants Twitter to lift its permanent ban on former President Donald Trump, that doesn't mean he supports Trump in a prospective 2024 presidential campaign.

Musk, the world's richest person and CEO of Tesla, is attempting to close a deal to acquire Twitter.

Musk told a Financial Times conference on Tuesday that Twitter's decision to ban Trump was "morally bad."

He followed up on those remarks in a tweet on Thursday evening, stressing he does not back Trump as a presidential candidate.

"Even though I think a less divisive candidate would be better in 2024, I still think Trump should be restored to Twitter," he said.

Trump has said he does not want to return to Twitter but instead wants to build up his own Truth Social platform.

He was banned from Twitter permanently in January 2021 because of the "risk of further incitement of violence" following the storming of the U.S. Capitol, the company said then. Trump is considering another run for the presidency in 2024 after losing his re-election bid in 2020.

Musk said on he would reverse Twitter's ban on Trump when he buys the social media platform, the clearest signal yet of Musk's intention to cut moderation of the site.

Musk, the world's richest person and chief executive of electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc, has inked a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter Inc. He has called himself a "free speech absolutist," but given few specific details of his plans.

The question of reinstating Trump has been seen as a litmus test of how far Musk will go in making changes, even though Trump himself has said he would not return.

Twitter, like other U.S.-based social media platforms, has banned various individuals for violating its policies on misinformation and glorification of violence.

Musk added that he and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey believe permanent bans should be "extremely rare" and reserved for accounts that operate bots or spread spam.

"Wrong and bad" tweets should be deleted or made invisible and a temporary account suspension could be appropriate, Musk said. "I think permabans just fundamentally undermine trust in Twitter as a town square where everyone can voice their opinion."

The suspension of Trump’s account, which had more than 88 million followers, silenced his primary megaphone days before the end of his term and followed years of debate about how social media companies should moderate the accounts of powerful global leaders.