First it was Twitter, and now its Facebook and Instagram welcoming Donald Trump back into their fold but the question will he or will not triumphantly post?
So, why are these social media platforms reintroducing the former US President? Is it because he’s returned to the political spotlight? Was there any pressure from Trump’s group? Do these platforms’ management teams believe Trump’s upcoming political campaigns will boost ratings?
Given that he has his own TRUTH Social, will he post on these social media networks? Will Trump be satisfied with a 280-character Tweet when he can express himself freely on his own social media platform triumphantly?
Trump was eliminated from Meta platforms following the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, when he posted unsupported assertions that the election had been rigged and stolen, also when he continuously commended vicious picketers and judged former vice-president Mike Pence even as the mob threatened his life.
“Back to the fold”
Recently though, a decision has been reached for Meta to allow Trump to return “in coming weeks” but “with new guardrails ready to prevent repeat wrongdoings, Meta’s president of global affairs Nick Clegg explained in his blog post clearing up the decision.
“Like any other Facebook or Instagram user, Mr. Trump is subject to our community standards,” Clegg wrote.
Clegg said the suspension was “an extraordinary decision taken in extraordinary circumstances” and that Meta has weighed “whether there remain such extraordinary circumstances that extending the suspension beyond the original two-year period is justified.”
Eventually, the management teams have decided that its platforms should be available for “open, public and democratic debate” and that users “should be able to hear from a former President of the United States, and a declared candidate for that office again,” he wrote.
“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying – the good, the bad, and the ugly – so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” he said.
“In the event that Mr Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation.”
But will Trump post?
Today, it is not clear whether or not Trump will utilize Facebook or Instagram as he seeks the Republican nomination. Trump has not tweeted since Twitter owner Elon Musk lifted his ban in November. He is still triumphantly using his own network, after all.
“Sadly, Facebook has been doing very poorly since they took me off,” Trump said in a statement earlier this month, suggesting parent company Meta Platforms revert to calling itself Facebook. “Whoever made that decision, and the decision to take me off, will go down in the Business Hall of Fame for two of the worst decisions in business history!”
Trump Media & Technology Group Corp.’s first product is Truth Social. It has positioned itself as a competitor to Twitter and Facebook, focusing on “free and honest global conversation without censoring or cancelling users based on their political views.”
Trump cannot post on any other social platform for six hours after triumphantly posting on Truth Social, according to the terms of the licensing agreement between Trump and Trump Media & Technology Group. Posts from his personal accounts with political messaging, political fundraising, or get-out-the-vote efforts are exempt. This means Trump will be unable to use Twitter as his primary social networking site, even after Elon Musk cleared the way for his return.
According to Trump Media & Technology Groups, a component of its success is dependent on “the reputation and popularity of its Chairman, President Donald J. Trump,” which entails numerous risks. For one thing, Trump is currently embroiled in a slew of legal wranglings, including the congressional committee investigation into the Capitol rebellion, the ongoing court case over the 2020 election, an investigation into Trump’s suspected removal of confidential documents and records from the White House, and tax investigations in New York.
Also noted were the Trump-associated businesses that have filed for bankruptcy, like the Trump Plaza, the Trump Castle, and the Plaza Hotel, and other companies that had licensing agreements with the former president which have failed.
Even outside of Trump, Truth Social also faces several questions about its ability to succeed. Trump posting and speaking triumphantly on his network does not mean it can reach the millions of people in the US.
Further, there’s concern that the company’s mission may be unclear, as it may suggest that the user already needs to have a large audience to use the platform or needs to be sharing important “Truths.” There’s also the possibility that the overall mission will not succeed.
Truth Social plans to feature advertising on its platform, which the company notes may be impacted by advertising boycotts if the content on the platform is deemed too contentious and provocative.
Was banning Trump the right call?
“I think that banning Trump’s account is the right call for social networks, but it might have unforeseen consequences,” says Gianluca Stringhini, a Boston University College of Engineering assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. He has been studying online disinformation, hate speech, and radicalization for years, and recently earned a National Science Foundation CAREER award to develop tools to rapidly identify coordinated cyber mobs.
Meta’s announcement to take Trump back in drew immediate backfire from civil rights and advocacy groups.
“[Meta CEO] Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to reinstate Trump’s accounts is a prime example of putting profits above people’s safety,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson. “It’s quite astonishing that one can spew hatred, fuel conspiracies, and incite a violent insurrection at our nation’s Capitol building, and Mark Zuckerberg still believes that is not enough to remove someone from his platforms.”
Wendy Via, president of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, warned Trump’s reinstatement will resonate internationally, and triumphantly, perhaps, for the Republicans.
“Authoritarian-leaning politicians everywhere are watching, and they will celebrate this decision,” she said. “They have already been inspired by Trump’s successful manipulation of Facebook and its lax rule enforcement for the politically powerful. These far-right leaders will simply ramp up their use of Facebook to spread misinformation to build their base, contributing to political violence and an increase in far-right governments.”
For many, such social media bans were the right thing to do – if too late.
“While I’m pleased to see social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube take long-belated steps to address the president’s sustained misuse of their platforms to sow discord and violence, these isolated actions are both too late and not nearly enough,” said Mark Warner, a Democratic senator from Virginia. “Disinformation and extremism researchers have for years pointed to broader network-based exploitation of these platforms.”
Greg Bensinger, a member of the editorial board of the New York Times, said what happened on 6 January “ought to be social media’s day of reckoning.”
He added: “There is a greater calling than profits, and Mr. Zuckerberg and Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, must play a fundamental role in restoring truth and decency to our democracy and democracies around the world.
“That can involve more direct, human moderation of high-profile accounts; more prominent warning labels; software that can delay posts so that they can be reviewed before going out to the masses, especially during moments of high tension; and a far greater willingness to suspend or even completely block dangerous accounts like Mr. Trump’s.”
Even observers who had previously argued against taking action had changed their minds by the weekend. “Turn off Trump’s account,” wrote tech analyst Ben Thompson.
On Trump’s account reinstatement
The decision to reestablish the former president’s access to a platform that he used to commanding effect as a campaigner, could potentially boost his faltering 2024 fundraising.
But a Trump return could also lead to more election misinformation on the platform, Democrats warn, since Facebook has a policy of not fact-checking political candidates — and Trump has continued to push the false narrative that he was the true winner of the 2020 election.
Even if Trump chooses to rejoin, many political observers think it’s unlikely he’ll regain his previous level of influence.
“The big question mark is, are people going to be as interested in him as much this time around,” said Eric Wilson, the managing partner at Republican investment fund Startup Caucus.
“We’re seeing evidence that there’s not as much enthusiasm for Trump.”
So, why would Trump triumphantly return to other people’s networks?