In September, Donald Trump shared on his social platform, Truth Social, an image of himself wearing a pin with the letter Q and a phrase associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory movement: “The storm is coming”.
With that, Trump ensured that the message – initially posted on an account aligned with QAnon – was amplified to his more than 4 million followers. Furthermore, he was endorsing the movement, which falsely and violently claims that leading Democrats are baby-eating devil worshippers.
Last week, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced that Trump will be admitted back – a move that followed the lifting of his ban on posting on Twitter, although he has yet to return to the site. But there is no sign that he has stopped his behavior or failed to spread the kind of message that got him “exiled” in the first place.
Indeed, two years after he was kicked off major social media sites for his role in inciting the Capitol insurrection, his online presence has become even more radical — albeit far less visible to most Americans, who never use the platforms. obscure posts in which the former president has been posting.
Since launching his own social platform in February 2022, Trump has shared hundreds of posts from accounts promoting QAnon ideas. He continues to falsely insist that the 2020 election was rigged and to claim to be the victim of corrupt federal law enforcement agencies. And he has launched personal attacks against many he considers to be his enemies, including private citizens whose names he has singled out.
Now his increasingly likely return to the big social platforms raises the prospect of taking his more radical behavior to a much wider audience on Facebook and Instagram, with a combined total of 5 billion active users, and Twitter, with 360 million.
The possibility of this happening worries specialists in extremism and led the platforms to explain that they installed barriers to prevent the publication of incendiary posts.
An eventual return of the tycoon to the networks also raised questions about how Trump’s statements, after spending a long time restricted to the right-wing arena, will be received by voters, especially at a time when a large portion of his party signals a willingness to move forward. against his will.
“Trump has not significantly changed his behavior online. In fact, he has become even more radicalized,” says Jared Holt, a researcher at the think tank Institute for Strategic Dialogue who studies technology and extremism in the US. “I don’t think anyone should expect him to be any different if he goes back to Facebook and Twitter. And when it comes to spreading conspiracy theories, Trump is king.”
Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, said Thursday that “Truth Social is a success because President Trump has created a platform that allows for true freedom of expression, unlike the Big Tech oligarchs who censor conservative voices.” .
He added: “President Trump should never have been banned from these social platforms. Everyone knows their decisions were unfair and ultimately destroyed the integrity of our democracy.”
In a letter sent this month to three of Meta’s top executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, a lawyer for Trump argued that his ouster “drastically distorted and inhibited public discourse”.
The petition to reinstate Trump on the platforms was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the decision to ban him, taken the day after the lethal attack by Trump supporters against the Capitol. At the time, the company said that the tycoon’s presence on its networks created a risk to public safety.
Democrats say Trump is still dangerous. Last month, four Democratic lawmakers urged Meta not to allow Trump’s return, writing in a letter that the former president “is still undermining our democracy.”
To try to stop Trump from causing future turmoil, Meta said it will block the sharing of posts that, among other things, question the legitimacy of elections or promote QAnon content. Violations of his policies could also lead to Trump being barred from the site again, Meta said. Conservatives praised the decision, and the initiative was championed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Senator Bernie Sanders.
There are no such restrictions imposed on Trump on Twitter, which barred him shortly after the Capitol insurrection but authorized him to return last November after Elon Musk, the company’s new owner, conducted a public poll on his possible return.
The former president published the first post on Truth Social, in which he has a major financial stake, in February 2022: “Get Ready! Your Favorite President Will See You Soon!”
He only returned after two months, but then the floodgates opened. Trump posts and shares posts dozens of times a day. The activity is described as “truthing” and “retruthing”.
Last August 31, for example, Trump made more than 50 posts on his website, launching wild statements about Hunter Biden’s laptop, Dominion’s electronic voting machines and alleged ties of President Joe Biden and Vice Kamala Harris with Russia.
He frequently repeats lies about the 2020 election. If Trump returns to major social platforms, it will increase the chances that GOP candidates and elected officials – who spent his presidency dodging questions about their incendiary tweets – will be pressured to spell out what they did. think about what he says.
Trump will also have to decide how to manage his online presences. According to regulatory filings, he has an obligation to publish his posts exclusively on Truth Social and not share them on other sites for six hours.
But there is a significant exception provided for in that agreement that allows you to post on other sites material “specifically related to political messages, fundraising for political purposes or efforts to mobilize the vote”.
Trump has yet to take advantage of that loophole, posting exclusively to his 4.8 million Truth Social followers and sometimes reposting that content to his nearly 800,000 Telegram subscribers.
These follower bases are minuscule compared to their potential reach on other platforms. An October analysis by the Pew Research Center found that just 2% of Americans use Truth Social or Telegram as their regular news source, versus 28% who use Facebook and 14% use Twitter.
Trump’s own numbers highlight this difference. He has nearly 88 million followers on Twitter, and his Facebook account has 34 million followers. Her Instagram page, which tends to feature family photos more prominently, has 23 million followers.
According to people close to Trump, he is aware that his possible return to these platforms would risk depriving Truth Social of its greatest attraction. But, according to them, it is possible that his desire to earn more income will take a backseat to the enormous attention that Facebook and Twitter can give him in his candidacy for president.
Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights organization Color of Change, says Trump’s huge following perhaps partially explains Meta’s decision.
“Corporations like Facebook continue to find ways to profit from Trump even though they have condemned him,” says Robinson, whose organization has lobbied Facebook to change its advertiser boycott policies. “It’s not just that they let Donald Trump back on his platform – it’s that they benefit from it.”
He and others pointed to the fact that the Trump campaign spent $89 million to run ads on Facebook and Instagram during the 2020 election and $56 million ) to advertise on Google and YouTube. Google, which also suspended Trump from YouTube in January 2021, has not announced plans to authorize him to return.
“Facebook has more followers than Christianity. There is no comparison in terms of reach and advertising power.”
Meta declined to comment on Robinson’s criticisms. But its executives have highlighted in the past that political advertising represents a minuscule fraction of the company’s total revenue, and Meta has admitted that in recent years it has changed its algorithm to give less prominence to political content.
It’s possible that Trump will moderate his barrage of incendiary posts if he returns to the big platforms. But it’s still pretty hazy whether he’ll make it. On Wednesday, he showed no signs of slowing down: he posted or reposted 19 times on Truth Social about the 2020 election, the news media and ending his “deplatformization,” as he described it, of Facebook. “Such a thing should never happen again,” he wrote.
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