This illustration shows former President Donald Trump’s Facebook page on a smartphone screen in Los Angeles, March 17, 2023.
Chris Delmas | AFP | Getty Images
On Friday, Donald Trump wrote a message on his messaging platform Truth Social that recalled the final days of his presidency, when his public messages got him kicked off Twitter. Facebook and YouTube.
Complaining about the potential impeachment, Trump warned of “potential death and destruction” if he is charged with a crime. Trump was reacting to recent developments in the hush money probe and to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office was leading the investigation.
After the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol more than two years ago, major US social networks banned Trump, citing his threatening rhetoric and the risk of further violence if he remained on their platforms.
Since then they have welcomed his return.
In November, new Twitter owner Elon Musk said he was restoring Trump’s account after polling his followers on whether he should bring back the ex-president, who is campaigning for his old job again.
“People have spoken. Trump will be restored,” Musk wrote. He predicted the decision months earlier, saying at a conference in May that “permanent bans should be very rare and really reserved for accounts that are bots, or scammers, spam accounts,” adding that “it was wrong to ban Donald Trump.”
In late January, Meta announced that Trump would soon be allowed back on Facebook and Instagram. Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, wrote on his blog that “the public should be able to hear what their politicians have to say—the good, the bad and the ugly—so they can make an informed choice when they vote. “
And more recently, Google YouTube said this month that Trump would be allowed to post the video again.
Now the question arises – what are the rules?
So far, Trump has been relatively quiet on major social media platforms. Rather, he muses daily on Truth Social, writing in a post this week that Democrats are “meddling in our elections, it’s their new form of cheating!!”
He has not tweeted since January 8, 2021. On Facebook, Trump has posted several snippets from his rallies and several fund-raising blasts. He dropped a new video on YouTube on March 17, announcing to his 2.7 million subscribers, “I’LL BE BACK!”
Companies that have punished Trump for his past antics have no reason to believe that his behavior will change. His posts on Truth Social are replete with examples to the contrary. The advocacy group Accountable Tech wrote in a recent report that it found more than 350 Trump posts on Truth Social that violated Facebook’s security rules.
“He’s using Truth Social to incite people,” said Jessica Gonzalez, co-CEO of the media and technology advocacy group Free Press. She said his posts there “remind her in some ways of what he was saying before January 6.”
Before Meta reinstated Trump’s Facebook account, the Free Press sent the company a letter urging it to “permanently ban former President Donald Trump from Meta.” The letter cited a draft report on the January 6 attack by the US House of Representatives’ special committee, which said “the risk of violence has not diminished” since the uprising.
Metta said in January, while allowing Trump to return to Facebook and Instagram, that the risk to public safety had “substantially decreased.”
At the time, the company said it had implemented “new fences” designed to “deter repeat infractions” by Trump, including limiting his reach and removing the repost button on questionable posts.
“If Mr. Trump posts more infringing content, that content will be removed and he will be suspended for a period of one month to two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” Meta said.
A spokesperson for Meta declined to comment on Trump’s messages to Truth Social and referred to the company’s January statement.
Twitter responded to a request for comment with the standard retort of the Musk emoji.
Elon Musk attends the 2022 Met Gala for ‘In America: An Anthology of Fashion’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2022 in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris | Getty Images
YouTube had no comment for this story. Leslie Miller, vice president of public policy at Google’s video division, said in an earlier statement that the company “carefully assessed the continued risk of real-world violence, balancing that with the importance of preserving the opportunity for voters to hear equally from major national candidates in the run-up to the election.”
Miller said that “the channel will continue to be subject to our policies, just like any other channel on YouTube.”
The clearest limitations on Trump come from Truth Social, but they have nothing to do with the substance of his messages. According to an agreement between the two parties, Trump must post on Truth Social six hours before posting on a rival social network.
However, this exclusive deal is set to expire in June.
“Then we’ll really see if the platforms want to follow the fences they’ve put in place,” Gonzalez said, adding that the restrictions imposed by Meta are “simply weak.”
Angelo Carusone, CEO of the nonprofit Media Matters, said he was concerned that the Trump campaign would spread misinformation and incite violence on Truth Social and Rumble, another conservative social network. Facebook and Twitter can be used to direct its many millions of followers to those other programs that have minimal content guidelines.
The risks associated with Trump’s social media habits are greater now that Musk controls Twitter, Caruson said.
“Twitter has usually been the first to make policy changes” regarding content and misinformation, Caruson said. Under Musk’s leadership, Twitter “will no longer be the vanguard of the fight against misinformation and extremism,” he said.
Musk said he is only running Twitter on an interim basis as CEO and hopes to appoint a successor by the end of this year. As the 2024 election approaches, it’s unclear whether any other social network will take the lead on political issues.
Gonzalez says it’s only a matter of time before Trump’s inflammatory posts create a headache for mainstream social media.
“The more he feels cornered and the more his power and freedom are threatened, the more we’re going to see him lash out,” Gonzalez said. “He has proven that he will not hold back.”
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