Twitter’s decision to ban President Donald Trump just days before the end of his term sparked a fierce political backlash on Saturday among his most staunch allies, sending some of his supporters – and the White House itself – to stand down. scramble to find another powerful tool to communicate online.
Many prominent conservatives – including Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, and Rush Limbaugh, the main voice of right-wing radio – have responded to Mr. Trump’s suspension by blowing up Twitter, by leaving the site altogether or by encouraging the president’s faithful to turn to an alternative. services. Mr Trump himself has indicated that he is in negotiations to join other social networks and he has raised the possibility of creating a new online platform himself.
For now, the White House is considering a push on Monday against Twitter and other tech giants, lambasting it for silencing the president’s ability to reach supporters while calling for new regulations against Silicon Valley , according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity. Mr. Trump, who is apoplectic about his ban, plans to spend the last days of his tenure swinging against the industry, the person said.
Yet Mr. Trump’s threats also underscore his reliance on the very social media sites he has long denounced for their perceived political biases. On Twitter, the outgoing president has frequently taken advantage of his more than 88 million followers to mow down his rivals, strengthen his allies and sometimes spread lies on a viral scale.
This vast online reach provided Mr. Trump with an online megaphone unprecedented in US politics. But his rhetoric was also vitriolic – the consequences of which turned deadly after a mob of his supporters took hold of his baseless tweets about the 2020 election and stormed the U.S. Capitol this week.
The president and his allies are now faced with a significant technical and logistical challenge: relocating to a new social network or creating their own online hub, which will likely be much smaller than the general public that Mr. Trump had enjoyed until now. has recently. A move away from traditional platforms would mark a retreat into more island conservative communities and threaten to exacerbate partisan divisions in a country Mr. Trump had already left out.
“For more casual supporters of the president, I think they will receive his messages less frequently,” said Emerson Brooking, a senior resident researcher at the Atlantic Council who studies issues such as disinformation.
“Obviously, he will have millions of die-hard supporters tuned in to the broadcast sources that still carry his messages, or [they will] go to the online space it occupies. . . but it will be a smaller, more dedicated group, ”Brooking said, expressing fear that it would become“ extremely radicalized ”.
Mr Trump’s removal from Twitter was part of a broader calculation Friday night across much of the mainstream web, as tech giants including Apple, Facebook and Google took action unprecedented discipline to discipline apps, users and accounts seen as helping to stoke the violence that left lawmakers. under lockdown earlier in the week.
Before banning Mr. Trump, Twitter removed a large number of users affiliated with QAnon, a prominent conspiracy theory. Google-owned YouTube has suspended channels associated with Stephen Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager. And Apple and Google have both removed Speak, a pro-Trump app where users have threatened further violence, from their smartphone software download portals. Apple announced its move on Saturday night, saying the app was on hold until it improved its content moderation practices. Amazon dealt the biggest blow on Saturday, claiming it would stop offering its web hosting services to Parler, a move that threatens to cast a shadow over the conservative site indefinitely. (Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns Le Washington Post).
These actions reflect a new vigor on the part of Silicon Valley to punish those who peddle damaging content – from election disinformation to hate speech and violent threats. Congressional lawmakers, digital researchers and human rights groups hailed the measures this week, even as they decried them as too little, too late, approaching the end of Mr. Trump.
But the bans amounted to a digital slaughter in the eyes of Mr. Trump’s conservative allies, many of whom decried them as censorship.
One of Mr. Trump’s main allies, Senator Lindsey Graham, has promised he is “more determined than ever” to try to end legal protections for Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, accusing them of censorship. Mr Limbaugh deleted his Twitter account, and fellow radio host Mark Levin also announced he would be leaving, urging users to do the same. The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, posted a widely watched video on Facebook that warned his supporters that it is only a matter of time before social media companies “inevitably kick us out of platforms that they censor and regulate only in one way ”. He urged Trump supporters to sign up for alerts on his website.
“I’ll let you know where I end, my dad ends, where we can go so we can continue,” Mr. Trump Jr. said.
On Friday, Mr. Trump threatened to run off to a new social media service almost immediately after Twitter banned him, swearing he “wouldn’t be QUIET !!” And promising a “big announcement soon”. More than any other social service, the loss of Twitter seemed to strike a personal note: Mr. Trump was obsessed with the platform, he loved posting a tweet, and timing how long it would take to get attention on TV. He would often pull out his phone and say, “Look at this, bing bing bing,” senior administration officials recall.
The White House declined to comment on the president’s plans or schedule on Saturday.
Already, however, Mr. Trump’s team has been inundated with requests for him to join their alternative social networks, and his envoys have been having conversations with other companies. But Mr Trump has told his allies he prefers to start his own services, according to two aides, who warned it could be impossible and costly. He also plans to hammer home lawmakers in the coming days for not repealing Section 230, a provision in federal law that spares tech giants from being held accountable for content posted by their users. Such a repeal could have backfired against Mr. Trump, some experts note, leading to his removal from Twitter earlier.
Mr Parscale, his former campaign manager, on Saturday urged the president to step down on his own. “I think the best avenue for POTUS is to use its own app to talk to its subscribers,” he said. If Apple or Google block the service, Mr. Parscale added, Mr. Trump has “a clear path to a successful lawsuit against them.”
Even before the Capitol riot resulted in his suspension, Mr. Trump had considered turning to other social media services. In the summer of 2019, Trump’s White House aides and others during his re-election campaign discussed joining Speak, according to two people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to describe private conversations. Trump even invited the top Talking leader to the White House as part of a wider social media summit this summer, where he criticized Silicon Valley for unproven claims they censor conservatives online.
A locked down private account with the name @realDonaldTrump – the same username the president once had on Twitter – appears to have been inactive on the site since June. The president’s campaign – under the Team Trump account – also had an active Talk account dating back to 2018. On Saturday, Team Trump’s account blitzed its roughly 3 million subscribers with posts blaming Twitter for censoring the President. Parler did not respond to a request for comment.
Another conservative online hub, Gab, took to Twitter to reveal he had a “big call with someone very special” scheduled for Saturday. The company didn’t mention Mr. Trump or anyone else by name, but then tweeted an article mentioning the president’s negotiations with potentially new social services, fueling speculation.
Like other pro-Trump online communities, Gab is moving away from much of Silicon Valley by avoiding aggressive enforcement against content that his critics see as harmful, dangerous and violent. Asked about Gab’s tweet, company chief executive Andrew Torba responded with an insult and declined to comment. Gab then tweeted on Saturday that “threats of violence have no place” on the site, noting that it has “tens of thousands of volunteer users” monitoring it.
Several advisers have said they believe Mr Trump is unlikely to join an outlet like Speaking soon because he feels he has no influence. Earlier this year, the president himself also told aides in the 2020 campaign, the White House, and the Republican National Committee that he would have his own platform, but repeatedly refused to name it, claiming that only she would arrive “soon”.
But the president would face a daunting task in strengthening his own social network. This could be an expensive endeavor that could take years. Social media sites are only attractive to users to the extent that they manage to capture a large number of them and their friends. Mr. Trump might find it difficult to incubate such an audience given the overtly political nature of his digital business, some experts have said.
“It’s very difficult to create a new network,” said Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “Maybe it’s so big and so important that it could get millions of people to join a network. The economy will make it much more insular and internal… Networks will benefit from being an option for people to reach a lot of different people. ”
But Mr. Trump’s quest to rebuild his reach online – securing a prominent voice as he prepares to step down as president – marks only the latest push by Republicans to serve as gatekeepers. information. The party and its allies dominated talk radio from the late 1980s, set their sights on cable news in the 1990s, and in recent years have created a wide variety of websites that operate under the conservative news banner. Social media, experts say, is simply the next frontier.
“The liberal media bias is not just an assertion, it is a reality taken for granted on the Right,” said Lawrence Rosenthal, president of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California, adding that many conservatives now see the same bias in Silicon Valley. “This is the current embodiment of something that has been taken for granted by the right for decades and decades. ”