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Technology  Brief #47

Trump’s Comically Bad Communications Platform and the Power of Engagement and Deplatforming

By Scout Burchill

May 15, 2021

Summary

After four months of radio silence, former president Donald Trump is back in the social media game, sort of. After hyping a return on a platform of his own, Trump finally launched a new section on his website called From the Desk of Donald J. Trump, touting it as “a place to speak freely and safely.” Billed as a “communication platform,” the new feature on his website is basically a micro-blog that Trump uses to post messages in his trademark Twitter style.

Quite in line with the Trump brand, Trump’s Desk is a far shot from what it was originally hyped up to be and suffers from a number of comical technical issues. For one, there is no way to respond to or interact with any of Trump’s messages. Also, for each message there is an accompanying like button that serves no discernable purpose. When the site feature was first launched, tech savvy observers noted that it was not even coded with any action. At the time of writing, however, it seems to have been updated to turn red when clicked.

Additionally, the platform is very poorly integrated to work with Twitter, so even though Trump’s Desk allows Twitter users to share Trump’s messages on Twitter, which, in a way, would allow Trump to bypass his current Twitter ban, the interface is horrific. When shared on Twitter, most of Trump’s message becomes cut off and replaced with an ugly, blue link to Trump’s website and a giant image of Trump signing what appears to be a very large Bible.

Since Trump’s ban from Facebook and Twitter, the former president’s power to insert himself in the national discourse has diminished considerably. Social media interactions about Trump have fallen 91% since January. Google search traffic as well as Trump’s visibility and mentions on cable news have plummeted to levels not seen since before he began his presidential run in 2016. In total, Trump’s new communications platform has received 212 thousand engagements (meaning likes, shares and comments on the big social media platforms), whereas previously a single tweet or post of his would easily rack up hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets. Towards the end of the 2020 election, Trump’s Facebook served as his own private media company, garnering 336 million interactions, utterly dwarfing Biden’s 48 million as well as mainstream news outlets like The New York Times and NBC, which garnered even less.

While many people may feel a marked improvement in their mental health as their Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines have become noticeably saner without Trump, the ability of a handful of tech companies to multilaterally silence a former president is a serious exhibition of power. Without a shadow of a doubt, deplatforming works for certain individuals, and is perhaps even more effective than most people predicted. Even though Trump’s waning influence in our national politics is certainly worth celebrating, the power of tech companies to deplatform is definitely not.

Analysis:

The trick to ending Trump’s madness-inducing spell over the nation’s collective consciousness was always to simply stop feeding into it. Trump’s political and cultural power is directly tied to engagement. For years, journalists woke up, checked Twitter and then proceeded to report the daily news starting with what Trump tweeted at some ungodly hour of the night. This became the norm. Entire cable shows were dedicated to obsessing over his inflammatory tweets and speculating about social media platforms’ responsibilities to stop the sitting president from spreading dangerous messages. During the 2016 presidential election, CNN would cut to shots of an empty podium where Trump would soon be scheduled to speak, ginning up their captive audiences’ outrage reflexes for maximum effect after a short commercial break.

The playbook was always predictable. Trump mouthed some horrendous opinion or outright lie and then commentators would play it over and over again while clutching their pearls in righteous indignation. Cable news outlets like CNN, MSNBC and Fox, as well as mainstream publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post raked in massive profits during Trump’s presidency and saw ratings soar to unprecedented levels. No surprise then that since Trump’s virtual disappearance, profits and ratings have plummeted.

While Facebook enabled Trump to maintain an organizing and fundraising infrastructure, Twitter was Trump’s not-so-secret weapon. With the twiddle of his thumbs he controlled media narratives and succeeded at putting himself at the center of everything. If there was a culture war issue simmering at the surface of America’s deeply polarized society, Trump’s tweets doused it in gasoline.

Herein lies Trump’s real power, engagement. Trump completely lacked a coherent political vision or ideology What Trump did have though was unrivaled cultural power through the constant engagement he fostered with those who loved him as well as those who hated him. He empowered his supporters with his whole-hearted willingness to own the libs and curse in the face of the political establishment. On the other side, Trump Derangement Syndrome became a pejorative diagnosis to describe those obsessed to the point of madness over his antics and cruelty. Engagement was central to this power dynamic because through engagement Trump’s followers were made to feel empowered and his detractors exasperated and powerless.

It’s hard to celebrate Trump’s deplatforming as a victory for American democracy or a viable solution to the harms posed by people who espouse dangerous ideas. No matter which side of the political spectrum you may fall on, the success of Trump’s deplatforming should be alarming. The fact that a few companies have the power to multilaterally silence a former sitting president is not a sign of a healthy democracy or media ecosystem. Needless to say, Trump is not the only political figure to be silenced. Left leaning individuals and communities have been suppressed, as well, and historically, deplatforming movements have overwhelmingly targeted individuals deemed to be socialists or communists. Palestinian voices, too, are systematically erased by Big Tech companies, demonstrating that any idea or opinion that challenges power and does not serve the status quo is liable to be punished or suppressed. When the power to deplatform some and amplify others becomes so concentrated and so potent, the real danger resides in the power itself. Even though Trump may be gone for now, our information ecosystems are still sick.

Engagement Resources:

Accountable Tech

https://accountabletech.org/

American Economic Liberties Project

https://www.economicliberties.us/big-tech-monopolies/

Center for Humane Technology

https://www.humanetech.com/

Sources:

If you want to engage with Trump’s new communications platform, you can find it at his website

Aviv Ovayda’s Proposal to Facebook Oversight Board

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UUefNIiTZL7vvBvhtcZ9lfYSN2gA_4WH7kQm_uA_QSI/edit

Trump’s Hyped Return to Social Media

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-social-media-platform-return-adviser

Data on Trump’s Decline After Social Media Bans

https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/trumps-blog-isnt-lighting-internet-rcna890

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/04/06/trump-media-era-ends-not-with-wow-whisper/

https://www.axios.com/donald-trump-social-media-attention-d6829513-644d-4235-9090-20284862e009.html

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