Two years ago, Donald Trump encouraged a band of his political supporters to storm the US Capitol building and disrupt the presidential election certification process. Five people died during the riot, including a US Capitol police officer. Trump egged on his supporters with the help of his wildly popular social media accounts.
Two years later, Twitter and Meta have restored Trump’s access to his accounts—just in time for the 2024 presidential campaign season to commence.
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, announced its decision on Wednesday (Jan. 25), two months after Twitter reinstated Trump. While Twitter’s reasoning had more to do with its sale to Elon Musk, a billionaire fixated on an ill-defined mission of promoting free speech, Meta cited a different rationale.
The Facebook Oversight Board, a pseudo-independent body Meta set up to review its most electrifying content moderation decisions, ruled in July the company should define the length of Trump’s indefinite suspension and recommended it end after a two-year spell. The recommendation came with a caveat: Restore Trump’s accounts, as long as he doesn’t constitute a “risk to public safety.”
“The suspension was an extraordinary decision taken in extraordinary circumstances,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s chief lobbyist, wrote in a statement. “The normal state of affairs is that the public should be able to hear from a former President of the United States, and a declared candidate for that office again, on our platforms.” Clegg said Meta determined that Trump did not constitute a direct and immediate threat and said his account will be restored in the coming weeks with “new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses.”
If Trump posts anything that violates Meta’s community guidelines, the rule-breaking posts will be removed and he will face a suspension between one month and two years, depending on the “severity” of the offense.
Trump’s past social media style would violate the community guidelines of most social media sites. He spreads vaccine misinformation, claims elections are rigged, and advances conspiracy theories about his political enemies. On Facebook and Twitter, he could continue to evangelize to a mass audience whether or not they seek him out.
But Trump’s social media days since his suspensions in 2021 have been limited to a domain of his own creation and financial backing—the ironically named Truth Social, a Twitter lookalike boasting about 2 million active users (nowhere near Twitter’s user base of around 250 million or Facebook’s 2 billion). Not only is Truth Social a spam-filled right-wing echo-chamber and the subject of multiple securities fraud investigations, it also presents a legal barrier for Trump rejoining other social media platforms.
How Truth Social limits what Donald Trump can say
Truth Social is a bust. Truth Media and Technology Group, the app’s parent company, has tried its darndest to merge with a blank-check corporation—a SPAC—but has not been able to obtain regulatory approval for the takeover. The problem comes from allegations, reported in 2021 by the New York Times, that the two entities arranged the takeover before Digital World, the blank-check company, even went public. As this would be a violation of the US securities laws, the deal is still awaiting approval by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and has received a subpoena from a federal grand jury in New York.
Beyond the regulatory troubles, Trump has an additional contractual problem.
According to an SEC filing from May 2022, “President Trump is generally obligated to make any social media post on Truth Social and may not make the same post on another social media site for 6 hours.” However, 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.” This likely explains why Trump still hasn’t posted on Twitter—once his preferred social media platform—even though he’s been permitted to do so for two months.
Trump’s social media posts have been mostly political, but the former president is not just a casual social media user—he seems to post whatever is on his mind with little oversight. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s political and what’s not. Here’s an example from Wednesday on Truth Social:
“One of the greatest privileges I had as President was firing Deborah Birx. The only thing she had going was nice scarves... The only one who thought highly of her was herself!”
Just today, he’s also posted about his winery, the Washington Post’s “fake news,” an oil painting of him, and his current poll numbers.
But, perhaps Truth Social will soon be a problem of the past. According to a new report by Rolling Stone, Trump is looking to ditch that exclusivity agreement when it lapses in June 2023. The decision could be terrible for Trump’s wallet, but would be key to mounting a presidential run.
How can Trump win the presidency if he’s just screaming into the void on a platform no one else uses?