How Trump’s social media ban paid off for Trump, the platforms

On the business side, Facebook,

Instagram, Twitter and YouTube were all able to say they took action against one of the most powerful voices on their platforms, after years of criticism that they failed to aggressively enforce their rules on their users. the most prominent.

Across all platforms, Mr. Trump had amassed around 150 million followers, including 35 million on Facebook and 88 million on Twitter, making him one of the most watched world leaders.

But for businesses, banning his accounts didn’t seem to hurt their traffic. Facebook and YouTube are not reporting engagements for their specific units, but the number of Twitter users has continued to increase.

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

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

The ban was a rallying point among supporters of the former president. And while Mr. Trump’s poll scores remain more negative than positive, public opinion on the former brand mogul and reality TV star has improved dramatically since he was removed from the media. social after his supporters – echoing many of his false claims about electoral fraud – stormed the Capitol on Jan.6, 2021, seeking to overturn his electoral defeat. Facebook, now called Meta Platforms Inc., suspended its account on January 7 and Twitter Inc. banned it on January 8.

A year after the violent riot on Capitol Hill, about 52% of Americans said they had an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Trump, compared with 43% who viewed him favorably, according to an average of FiveThirtyEight.com national polls. This 9-point gap compared to a nearly 20-point gap in Mr. Trump’s favorability rating a year earlier, according to the same poll average.

Mr. Trump’s current and former aides have said the change in popularity was largely due to the former president’s declining social media presence. His constant and often provocative tweets helped galvanize supporters but provided regular ammunition for his detractors. During his tenure, even his most ardent supporters told pollsters they wanted Mr. Trump not to air every grievance and respond to every criticism.

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


Photo:

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Mr Trump’s sidelining from social media has left much of the political attention to President Biden, whose approval ratings have fallen sharply over the past year.

“I don’t know a single person in Trump’s world who regrets that this has happened, not a single one,” a Trump adviser said.

Researchers studying social media have said that removing influential social media accounts that spread fake stories has reduced the popularity of some content on platforms that companies deem toxic, although many people have also expressed concern that technology companies can do them. the decisions.

“Removing a verified person who was in the media raised the stakes for the platforms – it was their latest stand against disinformation,” said Jonathan Morgan, managing director of Yonder, a company that tracks online stories.

Businesses will face the question of whether to reinstate the former president, especially if he decides to seek his party’s presidential nomination again in 2024. Facebook has said it will reconsider his decision in January 2023, but social media officials insisted their calculations wouldn’t win. not be influenced by Mr. Trump’s political decisions. Mr Trump was eager to announce an offer for 2024, advisers said, but advisers have so far persuaded him to wait until after the midterm elections in November to make a formal decision.

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Although these companies banned Mr. Trump, they continued to sell advertising to him, and to his opponents and allies who made him a key part of their own political advertising.

Facebook and the alphabet Inc.

Google sold more than $ 2 million worth of ads to Mr. Trump’s two political action committees in the past year, according to AdImpact, a company that tracks the ad. Social media companies have various restrictions on their advertisements, and some prohibit the use of images of Mr. Trump or recordings of his voice.

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

The National Republican Senate Committee spent more than $ 3.5 million on Facebook ads that aimed to raise funds for the group by promoting Mr. Trump’s plans for a social media company. Several groups have tried to take advantage of Mr. Trump’s false allegations of electoral fraud.

“IS TRUMP THE REAL PRESIDENT?” Mr. Trump’s political committee, Save America, asked at the same location. “The 2020 elections were potentially the MOST CORRUPTED in our country’s history.”

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

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

“It’s really better than Twitter because I don’t do the silly retweets that people don’t like – retweets are the ones that appeal to you,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in March for the book “Frankly, We won This Election: The Inside Story of Losing Trump. “” And I won a lot of time. I didn’t know you could spend a lot of time on this. Now I have time making phone calls, doing other things, and reading articles I wouldn’t read. And with me, if I put a comma in its place or accidentally misspelled a word, it was like the world was collapsing.

But lately, Mr. Trump has been keen to reestablish his social media presence, his advisers have said. He proudly compared his many subscribers to those of foreign executives at private Oval Office meetings, assistants said. During his four years in the White House, he never grew tired of how quickly one of his Twitter posts would slip from his fingertips to the headlines of cable networks and news sites.

He sued tech companies in July, complaining that he was wrongly censored. In October, Mr. Trump announced a new digital media venture aimed at restoring his online subscribers. Part of that effort would be the creation of Truth Social, a social network developed by Trump Media & Technology Group and Digital World Acquisition. Corp.

, an ad hoc acquisition company, or SPAC. The launch date of the platform is unclear.

Before his January 2021 ban, companies had struggled for months to tackle Mr. Trump’s baseless allegations of a stolen election and wondered how to moderate the then president’s content as the 2020 presidential election looms. Twitter, for example, repeatedly tagged or removed content from Mr. Trump that the company considered inciting violence or spreading election disinformation.

Longtime campaign assistants Brad Parscale and Gary Coby feared 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 Ronna McDaniel oversaw a multi-million dollar effort to create an email list and phone numbers for supporters so the campaign could contact them directly with calls from fundraising, voter turnout programs and statements.

The list now includes around 50 million emails, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Trump has leaned on the list over the past year with an unrelenting fundraising program that has raised more than $ 56 million in online donations in the first half of 2021, and roughly as much in the second semester, according to people familiar with the efforts. The fundraising committee’s year-end financial reports are not 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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