Donald Trump marks return to X, formerly Twitter, with mug shot tweet

Former president Donald Trump made a return to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, late Thursday, with his account sharing his mug shot and a link to his website hours after his surrender and subsequent release from an Atlanta jail on charges connected to his attempts to reverse the 2020 election results in Georgia.

“Never surrender,” the caption read.

It was the first tweet by Trump’s account since Jan. 8, 2021, when he announced he would not attend Joe Biden’s inauguration. Twitter suspended his account shortly afterward, saying it was concerned about the “risk of further incitement of violence” after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol.

Elon Musk reinstated Trump’s account in November after purchasing the platform, but Trump had not tweeted in the interim. He launched his own social network, Truth Social, in February 2022 and has mostly used that platform. He also shared the mug shot there just before the post on X.

Trump’s latest tweet comes after Musk unwound many of the teams, rules and initiatives that the company created to address harmful content or disinformation on the service. A former Twitter executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the company’s handling of Trump’s tweets, said that the “Never Surrender!” rhetoric in Trump’s most recent tweet is “more inciting” than even the Jan. 8 posts that resulted in his suspension from the service. However, the person said if they were still working at the social network, they would leave the tweet alone in this instance.

“The context is less dangerous, and the public interest dimension is so significant,” the person said. “But if Twitter hired me at this very second, the first thing I would do would be publish a public, written rubric for future inciting rhetoric, and the standards that would be used to determine post removal, timeouts, and bans.”

Advance Democracy Inc., a nonprofit that conducts research on social media, did not find explicit calls to violence in response to Trump’s post. However, “Never Surrender” was repeated broadly across social media, causing the phrase to trend on X on Friday morning. “Truth Social” was also trending in connection with Trump during the same time frame.

Trump surrenders at Fulton County Jail for his first mug shot

The return of Trump on X, where he has more than 86 million followers, came after he was booked on charges he broke Georgia laws with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, producing the first mug shot of a former U.S. president. It also came ahead of a new presidential election cycle in which he faces three other indictments.

It remains unclear how active Trump will be on X, which for years was inextricably linked with his political identity. During his presidency he used the site as a megaphone: amplifying his political agenda, commenting on foreign affairs or simply praising himself. He also promoted conspiracy theories, branded media outlets as enemies of the people and targeted minorities with his tweets and retweets.

But Trump did not post at all to X on Friday, though he posted multiple times to Truth Social.

Trump’s X post was met with celebrations from his supporters as well as by Musk, who called it “Next-level.”

The mug shot post had more than 1 million likes by Friday morning, making it one of Trump’s most-liked tweets, ahead of “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!,” posted on Nov. 7, 2020, four days after he lost. But his most-liked tweet ever remains the one in which he announced he’d tested positive for covid on Oct. 2, 2020. That one drew 1.5 million likes.

Trump’s account had gained roughly 388,000 X followers within the last two days after a long streak of losing followers, according to the social network analytics site SocialBlade. Trump has tweeted more than 59,000 times in his life and is the ninth most-followed X account in the world, behind Barack Obama and Taylor Swift but ahead of Ariana Grande and CNN.

But some users of Truth Social, the social network created by a Trump start-up, Trump Media & Technology Group, expressed dismay at Trump’s return to X amid concern that without Trump’s exclusive use, Truth Social would sink into irrelevance. One user, using the handle “45MAGA2022,” posted on Truth Social Thursday night, “How is this Tweet remotely beneficial … to #Truth?”

Trump Media spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment Friday but Thursday night Trump appeared to respond in a post on Truth Social: “I LOVE TRUTH SOCIAL. IT IS MY HOME!!!”

Previously, Trump has said that he would not rejoin Twitter, which Musk rebranded as X this year. “The response on TRUTH is much better than being on Twitter,” he told Fox News in April 2022.

During negotiations for an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson this month, Trump told advisers he didn’t want the interview to show up on X because it competes with Truth Social. Carlson and his team, who had been developing ties with Musk and X for months, balked, telling Trump that his social media platform didn’t have enough reach to do justice to such a high-profile interview.

Trump once reconsidered sticking with Truth Social. Now he’s stuck.

Other social media platforms that banned Trump after Jan. 6 have also restored the former president’s accounts in the more than 2½ years since his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, despite pushback from some civil rights groups that have demanded a permanent ban.

A recent report by Accountable Tech, a nonprofit that advocates for better security and integrity in big tech, found that 360 of Trump’s posts on Truth Social would be in violation of Facebook’s Community Standards, dozens contained election-related disinformation and more than 100 posts amplify followers or supporters of QAnon.

In January, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, announced it was lifting its ban. In March, YouTube followed suit.

Hours after YouTube restored the account, Trump posted to both platforms. In a post accompanied by a CNN video clip from when he was elected, Trump wrote: “I’M BACK!” His YouTube account has posted 57 times since.

Tweets were a vital part of Trump’s communication as president, Susan Benesch, the founding director of Dangerous Speech Project said, adding that the language of the Trump tweet is inflammatory to his followers but ambiguous enough that he can claim it’s harmless. “It isn’t,” she said. “In the four words of his tweet he repeated his false claim that the election was stolen from him, and framed his cause as a righteous war.”

The risk of political violence remains high ahead of another election cycle, Benesch said, and based on what has been seen of Musk’s X, it will give Trump and his followers free reign.

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