Last week, Facebook’s oversight board ruled that the company was right to suspend former President Donald Trump. According to the oversight board, Trump used his account to praise violent rioters that stormed Congress on January 6th. However, the oversight board did call on Facebook to re-examine its decision to ban Trump ‘indefinitely’.
Notably, Facebook’s oversight board represents a unique approach to solve legal and normative issues faced by big tech companies. The board is composed of international legal experts, members of civil society organizations or NGOs, journalists, newspaper editors as well academics. Their task is to help Facebook reach decisions that have wider legal ramification, such as deciding to ban a world leader from the social network. Indeed, the decision to ban Trump was attacked by numerous individuals and groups alleging that Facebook violated Trump’s freedom of speech as well as his supporters’ freedom to interact with politicians and decision makers. Some argued that Facebook had amassed such a presence online that banning a world leader from the network was tantamount to an assault on democracy itself. Others feared that Facebook may use the Trump precedent to ban other world leaders, be it due to normative, financial or commercial reasons.
Trump himself has recently sought to overcome his social media bans from both Facebook and Twitter. To this end, the former President has created a blog titled ‘From the Desk of Donald J Trump’. During the first week of May 2021, Trump published 15 posts each of which were reminiscent of his use of social media. For instance, the former President has referred to the recent elections as “the Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020” arguing that the election was stolen by the Democrats. Trump also stated that a case brought forth against him regarding bribes was dropped adding “It was a case built on lies from Michael Cohen, a corrupt and convicted lawyer, a lawyer in fact who was so corrupt he was sentenced to three years in jail for lying to Congress and many other things having nothing to do with me”. In other posts Trump has attacked Republican politicians, linked the ‘radical left’ with the ‘fake news media’ and suggested that his followers should topple social media giants.
In terms of tone, language and subject matter, Trump’s blog site is a worthy successor of his social media accounts, especially Twitter which was used by the former President to incite hate, promote violence and disseminate false information. As Trump cannot post content on Facebook or Twitter, he now calls on his readers to post his statements themselves. Indeed, the blog’s layout enables immediate sharing across Twitter and Facebook.
The question that comes to the fore, however, is whether Trump’s supporters have responded to the former President’s call to arms. To answer this question, I searched Twitter for phrases used in Trump’s blog. For instance, in one post Trump wrote “Warmonger Liz Cheney, who has virtually no support left in the Great State of Wyoming, continues to unknowingly and foolishly say that there was no Election Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election”. A search revealed that this post was shared by less than 40 Twitter users (see examples below). Importantly, the collective reach of these tweets was limited as most tweets garnered no favorites or re-tweets. The most ‘successful’ tweets garnered some 50 re-tweets.
In another post Trump wrote “Liz Cheney is a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership. We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First. Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!”. According to the advanced Twitter search, this tweet was shared by less than 20 users, with only one tweet garnering a re-tweet. Another post stating that “Twitter stock ‘plunged’ as results are no longer cutting it for investors. Shares are off 15% today. Bad forecasts are hurting the outlook but more importantly, in my opinion, it has become totally BORING as people flock to leave the site”, was shared by less than 30 people while only one tweet garnered any comments or re-tweets.
Trump’s blog was supposed to usher the return of the President to Twitter and Facebook. Millions of followers were meant to tweet and post his comments thus enabling Trump to indirectly overcome his social media ban. At the present, this plan seems to have failed. The collective reach of Trump tweets is miniscule compared to the former President’s reach of 88 million Twitter users.
An important question that this post cannot answer is how many visitors frequent Trump’s blog on a daily basis? If the former President is able to attract millions of visitors then he may be able to once again take part in shaping online discussions, both in America and beyond. This is worrisome given that over the last few days alone, Trump has used his blog site to spread conspiracy theories, discredit the recent election results and resume his assault on media institutions.
Trump may be back. Sort of.