How the Trump Social-Media Ban Paid Off for Trump, Platforms

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Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have all been able to say they have taken action against one of the most powerful voices on their platforms – after years of criticism for failing to aggressively enforce their rules on high profile users.

Across platforms, Mr. Trump has amassed nearly 150 million followers – including 35 million on Facebook and 88 million on Twitter – making him among the world’s most watched leaders.

But for companies, blocking his accounts didn’t seem to affect traffic. Facebook and YouTube don’t report an interaction for their specific units, but the number of Twitter users has continued to rise.

Since his social media ban – just days before he left the White House – Trump’s mentions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have fallen 88%, according to Zignal Labs, a company that analyzes content on social media.

Mr. Trump has become eager to regain his online presence and has announced plans to launch his own platform. But even without the social media tools that helped ignite his rapid political ascent, Mr. Trump’s influence remains strong and has grown in some ways.

The ban was a rallying point for the former president’s supporters. And while Mr Trump’s poll ratings remain more negative than positive, public opinion about the former brand tycoon and reality TV star has improved significantly since he was removed from social media after his supporters – echoing his many false allegations of election fraud – stormed the Capitol in January 6, 2021, trying to annul his election loss. Facebook, now called Meta Platforms Inc. , suspended his account on January 7, and Twitter Inc. On January 8.

A year after the violent Capitol riots, nearly 52% of Americans said they had an unfavorable view of Trump, compared to 43% who viewed him favorably, according to the FiveThirtyEight.com average of national polls. That 9-point gap compared to a nearly 20-point difference in Trump’s preference rating a year ago, according to the same poll average.

Current and former aides to Trump have said the shift in popularity is largely attributable to the former president’s waning social media presence. His persistent and provocative tweets helped motivate supporters but provided constant ammunition for his critics. During his time in office, even his most ardent supporters told pollsters they wish Trump wouldn’t air every complaint and respond to every criticism.

Guests posed with portraits of the former president and first lady, at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, in October.


Photo:

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Trump’s marginalization from social media has left much of the political spotlight on President Biden, whose approval rating has fallen sharply over the past year.

“I don’t know a single person in Trump’s world who would regret this happening — not a single person,” said one Trump adviser.

Researchers who study social media said the removal of influential social media accounts spreading false narratives has reduced the popularity of some content on platforms that companies consider toxic, although many people have also expressed concern that tech companies are doing so. decisions.

“Removing a verified person who had a media presence increased the risks on the platforms — this was their last stand against disinformation,” said Jonathan Morgan, CEO of Yonder, a company that tracks online narratives.

Companies will face questions about whether to bring back the former president, particularly if he decides to seek his party’s presidential nomination again in 2024. Facebook said it would reconsider its decision in January 2023, but social media executives insisted their accounts won ”Be influenced by Mr. Trump’s political decisions. Trump has been eager to announce the 2024 bid, according to his aides, but advisers so far have persuaded him to wait until after the November midterms for a formal decision.

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While these companies banned Mr. Trump, they continued to sell ads to him, as well as to his opponents and allies who made him a major part of their political advertising.

Facebook and Alphabet company

Trump’s two political action committees Google has sold more than $2 million in ads over the past year, according to AdImpact, an ad tracking company. Social media companies impose various restrictions on their ads, some banning the use of footage of Mr Trump or his voice recordings.

However, more than 100 candidates, case groups and political committees spent $11.5 million on Facebook ads in 2021 that mention Mr. Trump, according to AdImpact.

The Republican Senate National Committee has spent more than $3.5 million on Facebook ads aimed at raising money for the group by promoting Mr. Trump’s plans for the social media project. Several groups have attempted to capitalize on Mr. Trump’s false allegations of election fraud.

Is Trump the real president? I asked Mr. Trump’s Political Committee Save America in one place. “The 2020 elections were perhaps the most corrupt in the history of our country.”

Facebook has rejected some ads from Save America for violating its policies.

Mr. Trump initially enjoyed a break from Twitter and relied on email statements edited by his press team.

“Honestly, we won this election: the inside story of how Trump lost,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in March of his book. “And I saved so much time. I didn’t realize you could spend so much time on this. Now I actually have time to make phone calls, do other things and read papers I wouldn’t read. And with me, if I misplaced a comma or misspelled a penguin Wrong, it would be as if the world were going down.”

But recently, Mr. Trump has made sure to regain his presence on social media, his advisers said. His aides said he proudly compared his broad following with those of foreign leaders during private Oval Office meetings. During his four years in the White House, he never got tired of watching how quickly one of his Twitter posts would fly from his fingertips to the headlines on cable networks and news sites.

He sued the tech companies in July, complaining that he had been subject to faulty censorship. In October, Mr. Trump announced a new digital media project aimed at winning back his online followers. Part of that effort will be the creation of Truth Social, a social network being developed by Trump Media and Technology Group and Digital World Acquisition. corp.

Special Purpose Acquisition Corporation, or SPAC. The launch date of the platform is unclear.

Before his ban in January 2021, companies had struggled for months to fight Mr. Trump’s baseless allegations about stolen elections and grappled with how the president’s content was modified in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. For example, Twitter has repeatedly labeled or Trump removed content the company deemed inciting violence or spreading misinformation about the election.

Longtime campaign aides Brad Parscale and Gary Kobe feared that social media companies would limit the reach of Mr. Trump, whose first campaign relied heavily on Facebook data to locate and target supporters. They and Republican National Committee Chair Rona McDaniel oversaw a multi-million dollar effort to build a list of emails and phone numbers for supporters so the campaign could contact them directly through fundraising appeals, voter turnout programs, and data.

The list now includes about 50 million emails, according to people familiar with the matter. Trump has relied on the list over the past year with a relentless fundraising program that raised more than $56 million in online donations during the first half of 2021, and so in the second half, according to people familiar with the efforts. The year-end financial reports for the fundraising committee won’t be due until the end of the month.

write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Georgia Wells at georgia.wells+1@wsj.com

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