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Donald Trump's return to social media is now inevitable
He's (coming) baaaack!
On Wednesday, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced that its ban on Donald Trump — instituted in the wake of the January 6, 2021 attack at the U.S. Capitol — was officially over.
“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,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, told the New York Times. “But that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform.”
Which, ok. I mean Facebook, when it suspended Trump, clearly believed that when he was reinstated something about his online behavior would have changed (in a positive way for society.) That, of course, hasn’t happened at all. Trump, if anything, has gone deeper into conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and other anti-Democratic views (he proposed getting rid of the Constitution!) since the ban.
Facebook and Insta’s main justification for reinstating Trump then is the fact that the Elon Musk-led Twitter re-platformed the former president several months ago so, well, why not.
But, I digress. The real takeaway from Wednesday’s news is this: Donald Trump is coming back to social media in time for the 2024 presidential campaign.
Which means that Truth Social, the social media platform Trump started after the 2020 election, is likely done for.
Consider the state of Truth Social. It was supposed to go public via a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) named Digital World Acquisition Group (DWAC). Whole lotta acronyms!
That hasn’t happened — or at least not yet. Instead, DWAC has been beset by problems. In December, two board members and the company’s chief financial officer left — the latest in a series of departures from the company.
The SPAC is also under federal investigation by two regulatory agencies over its initial negotiations with Trump.
Then there is the user side of Truth Social. While the Times wrote last fall that the site is outpacing its other conservative rivals like Gab and Parler, that’s not saying much in terms of traffic — especially when compared to behemoths like Facebook or Twitter.
Trump has 4.84 million followers on Truth. He has 87 million followers on Twitter. He has 34 million followers on Facebook.
It’s not even remotely close.
In the immediate aftermath of Facebook’s decision to end his ban, Trump was defiant.
“FACEBOOK, which has lost billions of dollars in value since ‘deplatforming’ your favorite president, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account,”
Trump wrote on Truth Social. “Thank you to Truth Social for doing such an incredible job. Your growth is outstanding and future unlimited.”
(Sidebar: It’s not at all clear to me what role Truth Social played in ending Trump’s Facebook and Instagram bans.)
To believe that Trump will stay off Twitter and Facebook going forward requires a willing suspension of disbelief when it comes to several traits we know he possesses.
He loves attention. Trump has said publicly that he doesn’t think he would have won the White House if not for Twitter. He used the social media service as a way to drive each day’s news cycles with his latest pronouncement (or insult). Truth Social has not been able to deliver that same magic. While journalists dutifully mention the site from time to time, Trump enjoys nowhere near the messaging power that he did when he was on Twitter.
He loves money. Facebook was one of the major drivers of Trump’s outstanding small-dollar fundraising operation in the 2016 and 2020 campaigns. Presidential campaigns cost a whole lot of cash — and Trump has shown before that he’d rather not dip into his own pockets to fund his races. Which means he can’t simply turn his nose up at a fundraising spigot like Facebook.
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Now, it is absolutely true that Trump has a financial stake in Truth Social and, if the company ever went public, would stand to reap considerable financial profits.
But, there are already whispers — Rolling Stone reported on them here — that Trump is looking for ways out of Truth Social, which, as I noted above, has had a very rocky existence and has a decidedly uncertain financial future.
And, given Trump’s business history, is it so hard to believe that he would simply find a way to walk away from Truth Social, declare it a massive success and move on? I mean, he’s done similar stuff in the past!
In short: The siren song of Twitter and Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Instagram) are simply too much for Trump. There’s too much those platforms offer — relevance, money — that Trump wants and, honestly, needs as he prepares to run for the president again in 2024.
He’s coming back.