A budding dictator has just signed up for Twitter and already is complaining about why he can’t tweet at one of his autocratic homeboys.
Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, joined the social media site Monday, and like many on the platform, he is tweeting out bullshit into the ether, with the intent to rile the people up.
For starters, Orbán’s bio describes him as “Freedom fighter, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Prime Minister of Hungary.”
I’ll give him three, and one more on a technicality, but I call foul on a key noun.
Orbán, who is in his fourth term, has been called “the ultimate twenty-first-century dictator.” He is a hero to the American right for providing a template on how to methodically flip a government from a democracy to one under singular rule.
When he spoke at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas back in August, he told the crowd: “Play by your own rules. ... We must take back the institutions in Washington and in Brussels,” where the European Union is based.
That sort of language doesn’t translate to “freedom fighter.”
Nor does what he said in his fourth tweet this week, seeking to stir up an argument by asking about the account of former President Donald Trump. “After my first day on Twitter, there’s one question on my mind. Where is my good friend, @realDonaldTrump?” he asked.
David Pressman, the U.S. ambassador to Hungary, wrote in response, “While you look around for your friend, perhaps another friend to follow: the President of the United States, @POTUS… but as the Hungarian media might say: no pressure.”
Based on what I’ve read about the way Orbán treats Hungarian media, one imagines he prefers they not speak at all unless they’re serving as stenographers for his talking points.
But considering the racists, fascists and aspiring dictators Orbán follows — politicians like Giorgia Meloni, Matteo Salvini, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Jair Bolsonaro, as well as media figures like Tucker Carlson and Jordan Peterson — the nature of his inquiry is transparent, and it is very much intentional.
Still, his question further reignites the lingering issue of when Trump might be allowed back on Twitter to terrorize the masses — especially with the prospect of a change in ownership.
Twitter made the choice to permanently ban Trump after he used the platform to help stoke violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. But billionaire Elon Musk has renewed his effort to buy the company and has already stated that he would reverse the decision were he in charge.
“Permanent bans should be extremely rare and really reserved ... for accounts that are bots, or spam/scam accounts,” Musk explained at FT Live’s Future of the Car conference in May. “I do think that it was not correct to ban Donald Trump. I think that was a mistake, because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.”
He added: “I would reverse the permaban. ... I don’t own Twitter yet. So this is not like a thing that will definitely happen, because what if I don’t own Twitter?”
Musk is arguably only trying to own Twitter now because a contract he signed a month before making these comments still leaves him with little choice but to commit to his original offer to buy the platform for $54.20 a share.
None of us can say with certainty how this will end, but in all likelihood, Musk will eventually take over the site. So I do think it’s important to consider that the likely new owner of Twitter genuinely believes that banning Trump for stoking violence “was a morally bad decision ... and foolish in the extreme.”
That said, Trump claims he won’t return even if allowed.
“No, I won’t be going back on Twitter,” he told CNBC in April, adding that he prefers his own social media platform.
“I will be on Truth Social within the week. ... We have a lot of people signed up,” he said at the time. “We did a lot for Twitter when I was in the White House. I was disappointed by the way I was treated by Twitter. I won’t be going back on Twitter.”
A lot has happened to Truth Social since those comments, but to put it succinctly: The app is a flop, and its future is uncertain due to a lack of money and an investigation by the feds.
All hope may not be lost — Truth Social’s stock jumped after Google decided Wednesday to add the platform to its app store — but for a man obsessed with big crowds and large audiences, Twitter must tempt Trump and his likely reelection campaign. Even if Musk doesn’t take control of Twitter, it’s this potential campaign that makes me question just how long most social media platforms will keep Trump banned.
After all, it’s not like we can often depend on higher-ups at the social media companies to put safety over profit. In July, a former Twitter employee testified to a House committee that the company had allowed Trump to break its rules for years — because executives knew their service was his “favorite and most-used … and enjoyed having that sort of power.”
Speaking to The Washington Post last month, the whistleblower, Anika Collier Navaroli, said that while fearful of the consequences of stepping forward, she strongly believes extremism and political disinformation on social media pose an “imminent threat not just to American democracy, but to the societal fabric of our planet.”
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe the truth matters,” she told the paper.
Just as I don’t think most executives in publishing and news care enough about threats posed by Trump and the Republican Party (since they’re too busy profiting from coverage of their antics), I believe the heads of various social media platforms care even less.
I would love to believe that testimonies from people like Navaroli have changed their minds. But look how long it took Instagram and Twitter to do something about inflammatory behavior by Kanye West — and all he does is make beats, rap and design shoes.
In the coming months, Trump might be indicted, but he is certainly expected to run for president again — and that alone will give him an argument for reinstatement. It’s an argument that many platforms are likely to accept in a bid to make money, while Trump sets everything on fire again the way he used to.
Musk might just be one of the few willing to admit it, but either way, I’d rather know sooner than later if and when Trump will be allowed to tweet again. I want to have my block button and filters as ready as possible.