@realDonaldTrump is officially back.
Trump’s self-serious profile picture is back. His MAGA-rally cover photo is back. His location is even listed as Washington DC, the city he left nearly two years ago for his Mar-a-Lago compound in Florida.
Trump had been banned from Twitter since Jan. 8, 2021, two days after egging on his supporters who stormed the US Capitol building last year to disrupt the presidential election certification process. His most recent tweet is from that day: “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
Twitter took that tweet as the final straw, a not-so-veiled implication that he disputed the results of the election in violation of the site’s rules on promoting misinformation. His permanent suspension for breaking Twitter’s rules against inciting violence capped off months of increasingly harsh disciplinary action.
But Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk restored Donald Trump’s account on Nov. 19 without preconditions following months of would-he-or-wouldn’t-he speculation. Musk justified Trump’s reinstatement by posting a Twitter poll and claimed the people had spoken by voting for Trump to come back to the platform.
Yet Trump’s account has remained untouched since the ex-president’s official reinstatement on the social media service. Despite Trump announcing his presidential campaign this month, Trump is claiming he has no interest into picking up where he left off on Twitter. “I don’t see any reason for it,” Trump said at an event with the Republican Jewish Coalition this weekend.
Rather, he said he wants to keep posting on Truth Social, the app he founded primarily so he could keep posting after his social media suspensions.
The reason for Trump’s absence on Twitter has less to with his political ambitions or love for Truth Social, than his business interests. There are hundreds of millions of dollars riding on Trump’s social media company.
Truth Social is Trump’s replacement for Twitter
Donald Trump’s Twitter habit wasn’t just a personal compulsion. It was his loudest political megaphone. He used the account to besmirch opponents, gin up support, and spread false narratives about undocumented immigrants, election fraud, and his impeachment proceedings, among many other things. Before he was banned from Twitter in the early days of 2021, it was hard to imagine Donald Trump without Twitter—or Twitter without Donald Trump.
Trump, in other words, had become Twitter’s so-called main character. Derek Robertson wrote in Politico Magazine in the days after the ban that Trump’s Twitter account wasn’t novel but “exemplified, at the largest possible scale, the twisted incentives at the heart of the platform that gave it life: to generate spectacle and action without regard for truth, context, or collateral damage.”
Without Twitter, Trump needed a new platform where he could dominate the conversation. In February 2022, one year after losing his Twitter access, Trump launched Truth Social, an app that looks a lot like Twitter and functions similarly. Truth Social boasts a mainly right-wing audience of about 2 million million active users according to SimilarWeb. While it has content rules and enforcement, it is much more lenient about what users can and cannot post, but has had to clean up its act recently in order to be let back onto the Google Play Store.
Truth Social is owned by Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), a company Trump founded in October 2021 and run by former Republican congressman Devin Nunes.
Truth Social is hardly a social media juggernaut. Its tiny size means it competes less with Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok than with right-wing apps such as Gab, Getter, Rumble, and Parler, the latter of which was recently bought by the rapper Ye (née Kanye West). Trump has less than 5 million followers on the app, dwarfed by his nearly 88 million on Twitter.
But the value for Trump is that he can easily speak directly to a concentrated group of his most loyal followers and tap into a conservative media network devoted to him. Truth Social’s users get unfiltered access to posts from their favorite online influencer, Donald Trump, just like they used to get on Twitter.
This has allowed Trump to keep in touch with his base, even if he’s been largely isolated from the rest of mainstream political discourse, which often transpires on Twitter. Therein lies the debacle for the former president. By returning to Twitter, he could doom the social media app he founded after being excommunicated from his Twitter account. But if he isn’t posting exclusively to Truth Social, why would anyone choose to follow him there?
Trump’s SPAC problem
This is a particularly bad time for Trump to leave Truth Social. TMTG is attempting to go public through a blank-check corporation called Digital World Acquisition Corporation. (Yes, it’s a SPAC called DWAC.) DWAC has been something of a meme stock thanks to retail investor enthusiasm about capitalizing on a Trump-branded media empire.
But DWAC has been bogged down by multiple government investigations. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra) are investigating whether DWAC broke federal securities laws by holding discussions with TMTG before its initial public offering. Under federal rules, shell companies like this cannot go public with a specific takeover target lined up. Truth Social also received a criminal subpoena in June from a federal grand jury in Manhattan reportedly over the same allegations.
Not only are these probes legally perilous for Trump, but they have delayed the merger of the two companies by pushing off regulatory approval. Luckily for Trump, he and his associates won a big shareholder vote on Tuesday, Nov. 22 when its base of largely retail shareholders (80% according to the financial data company FactSet), voted to approve an extension until September to close the deal. The deal was facing a Dec. 8 deadline to pass an extension. Failure to win this vote would have imperiled the deal and nearly $1 billion in investment allocated by private investors to DWAC should the deal close.
If the deal falls through before or at the September deadline, investors will be able to pull their money out of DWAC and TMTG would have to search for a new buyer. One major investor already pulled $139 million in commitments in September, dealing a major blow to the company’s financing.
That leaves Trump with few good options. A full-throated return to Twitter would allow Trump rally the followers he used to vault to the presidency in 2016, but jeopardize his financial interests in Truth Social. Additionally, his promise to investors that he would post all social media material on Truth Social and not repost this on Twitter for a time ahead of the US presidential election could open him up to additional legal liability should he change his mind, Columbia law professor Eric Talley told Semafor.
“If it’s going to look, later on, that he never had that intention [of remaining off Twitter] but he just wanted to convince people that they should go ahead and close [the SPAC deal] that’s kind of a textbook securities fraud lawsuit,” Talley said.”
Additionally, there’s a contractual barrier to Trump posting again on Twitter—even if he keeps posting on Truth Social. According to an SEC filing from May, “President Trump is generally obligated to make any social media post on TruthSocial and may not make the same post on another social media site for 6 hours,” even though he is exempted to “make a post from a personal account related to political messaging, political fundraising or get-out-the-vote efforts on any social media site at any time.”
In other words, even if Trump wants to tweet again, it’s, well, complicated.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that Trump’s account restored on Nov. 9. It was restored on Nov. 19.