Trump may be returning to mainstream social media. Can he still drive his next campaign?

In the two days after the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot, both Facebook and Twitter removed Donald Trump from their platforms, citing the danger his posts posed to the peaceful transfer of power between presidents.

He timer Trump’s Facebook suspension officially ended earlier this month, but leaders at Meta, which is now the name of Facebook’s parent company, have yet to announce whether the former president will be allowed back on the platform.

Katie Harbath, who worked at Facebook for 10 years, most recently as head of the company’s public policy team, resign seven weeks after the riot at the Capitol. But in a phone conversation with HuffPost last week, he admitted that he is somewhat envious of the power his former employer now has.

“How many people can actually address these kinds of issues and be in the decision-making space, rather than just sharing their thoughts in the cheap seats?” Harbath, now an independent consultant and senior adviser to the International Republican Institute, wondered aloud.

“How many people can actually address these kinds of issues and be in the decision-making space, rather than just sharing their thoughts in the cheap seats?”

– Katie Harbath, former director of public policy at Facebook

Similarly, under his previous leadership, Twitter permanently suspended Trump after the attack on the Capitol, citing concerns that his posts would inspire more violence. Trump was a prolific user of Twitter: After joining Twitter in 2009, he sent out 57,000 tweets, most of which came during his 2016 campaign and presidency. His most notable post came in December 2020, when he told his supporters that his January 6 rally would be “crazy.”

One thing is clear: Trump has not changed in the last two years. He never acknowledged the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency and made no apology for the mob he summoned to Washington, DC, two years ago, despite the violent coup attempt that followed. In fact, he has publicly stood in solidarity with the rioters whose lives were “ruined,” vowing that “this situation will be fully rectified after the 2024 election.” He has explicitly promised pardons in the past to the same group.

However, the stage is set for a likely return to social media. Shortly after buying Twitter, Elon Musk tweeted a poll to his followers, and contrary to his promise to establish an independent panel for such decisions, he quickly reinstated Trump’s account, citing the results. Trump is still embroiled in an exclusivity deal with Truth Social, the social media platform he created, but NBC News and Rolling Stone have reported that he is already planning the first tweets from him on the platform.

And in an interview with Fox News, Trump confirmed an NBC News report that his campaign had also asked Meta to restore access to his account. A Meta spokesperson told NBC News last week that the company would announce a decision “in the coming weeks.” Meta did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

In other words, after two years of his absence, the platforms that formed the basis of Trump’s political success are opening the door for his return. But times have changed, both for Trump and for the platforms he used in his rise to power. Does Trump still wield the enormous influence on social media that he once had?

“Many reasons to remove it”

In the most urgent sense, Trump’s Facebook and Twitter accounts are important because of their reach: Trump has fewer than 5 million followers on Truth Social, compared to more than 87 million on Twitter and 34 million on Facebook. Even allowing for some inevitable bot following, that’s a significant following, and Trump has used those platforms for bad in the past.

“He was removed because he helped instigate, mobilize and lead an attempt to overthrow the US government using social media,” said Khadijah Costley White, a professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University.

White also noted Trump’s prolific lies on social media, as well as his posts about his political opposition Being killed. Researchers have found correlations between Trump’s bigoted tweets and hate crimes against muslimsas well as between trump attacks on Twitter and increased the levels of severe toxicity and threats towards their targets.

“There were a lot of reasons to pull him out,” White said. “The question for social media companies is, how have any of them been addressed? And they haven’t really been addressed in any way.”

For its part, Meta has laid down some ground rules: In June 2021, Meta’s President of Public Affairs, Nick Clegg, saying Trump’s possible reinstatement would depend on whether he poses “a serious risk to public safety.”

“There will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will kick in if Mr. Trump commits any further violations in the future, including permanent removal of his Pages and accounts,” Clegg said.

The statement did not address the main benefit Trump derived from his Facebook account: money. As a candidate, Trump used the platform to draw supporters to rallies and build his war chest.

Brad Parscale, former top Trump campaign adviser He said “60 Minutes” in 2017, “it was the road his car was driving on.” And Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth later wrote of the 2016 election that Facebook could be credited with choosing Trump, “because it ran the best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser.”

“I think Trump wants to go back to Facebook because he needs it to raise funds and build an email list,” Harbath said. “My instinct is, first and foremost, that this is money.”

Twitter played a parallel role in giving Trump a direct line to the media. As political journalist Peter Hamby argued a decade ago after observing the media habits of reporters on Mitt Romney’s campaign bus, “Twitter is the central news source for the Washington-based political news establishment.” Over the years, the platform has served as something of a public newsroom: the first place to announce big scoops and, in many cases, a source of material for the next story.

Just as he cultivated tabloid reporters during his early days as a New York City real estate investor, Trump knew how to handle the Twitter-based press corps by giving them what they wanted: spectacle and outrage.

“Propaganda works best at the intersection of information, entertainment and persuasion, and Trump is a consummate artist, he is very effective at capturing human attention,” said Renee Hobbs, a professor of media literacy at the University of Rhode Island. “Their return of him to social media will be an extraordinary spectacle that journalists will find it hard to look away from and therefore report on…and amplify his madness to the general public.”

Hobbs paraphrased Noam Chomsky about propaganda:: “People think that propaganda is for the masses, but in reality it is for the elites. The elites are the ones who need to be fed a constant stream of propaganda, because they are the intellectual leaders who shape the masses. Trump understands that very well.”

Former President Donald Trump prepares to leave after speaking during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump announced that he would seek another term and officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign.

Joe Raedle via Getty Images

‘More irrelevant to politics’

Ironically, Trump is considering rejoining Facebook and Twitter at a time when all three players have cooled down.

of trump announcement of the campaign of low energy consumption 2024 and the mediocre performance of his endorsed candidates in the 2022 midterms have gotten off to a slow start to their 2024 campaign.

With Musk at the helm, Twitter has experienced what new CEO has described as “a massive drop in revenue”: a combination of fleeing advertisers and the failure of its new subscription service, Twitter Blue.

and goal alone fired more than 11,000 people, or 13% of its workforce. Furthermore, the site has actively tried to minimize the role of divisive political discussions. since the capitol riot.

“In general, Facebook is becoming more irrelevant to politics in some respects, at least in the United States,” Harbath said.

Ironically, then, Facebook’s decision on Trump’s fate may be more important to other world leaders and would-be coup plotters, who may use the platform to organize and incite their supporters.

“I think the question of whether or not Trump should have a platform is really a larger question of what our political discourse and debate should look like right now,” White said. “And not only on social networks, but also on television and in newspapers. What does it mean to put these people who spread lies and encourage violence on a platform?

Harbath, for his part, is inclined to let the former president return to the platform. First, he says, because of the message it would send abroad if a US company excludes a legitimate presidential candidate from its platform, and second, because Facebook’s censorship policies focus on the threat of imminent violence, not incitement. or other more indirect threats. . She suggested that the company consider other restrictions on Trump’s content, including limiting his presence in users’ feeds.

Either way, he said, it won’t be an easy decision.

“It will be a precedent,” Harbath said. “This is not going to be the closing of a book; this will be the beginning of a new chapter of questions about how world leaders and politicians in government should manage online. I think this will be a really monumental decision that people will remember.”

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