Trump Needs Facebook. Does Facebook Need Him?

The company's much-hyped Oversight Board has set the platform and the GOP's potential 2024 presidential candidate on a collision course.

I am experimenting with sending this newsletter out on Saturday morning -- so here it is two days early.

Having been suspended from Facebook and Twitter since the Capitol insurrection, on May 4, Donald Trump launched a new "communications platform." A video posted to his site reads, "In a time of silence and lies...a beacon of freedom arises. A place to speak freely and safely." The site resembles a blog with statements, photos, and videos.

On May 5, the Facebook Oversight Board, created by and paid for by the company to make content moderation decisions, upheld Trump's suspension. However, it recommended that Facebook make a final decision on the suspension within six months. Thus, Trump will remain off the platform -- for now.

Despite Trump's claim to have created a new "place to speak freely and safely," he needs the established social media platforms, most of all Facebook. A potential 2024 comeback would be much more difficult without these platforms.

While Trump has released statements that get screenshot and tweeted, they get barely any attention in the news cycle. According to the tech site Recode, Trump's mentions have declined by about 90 percent on both Facebook and Twitter since being banned from both platforms. Some of this decline is undoubtedly related to the fact that he is no longer president. However, the bans appear to limit how quickly and easily his words travel on platforms.

His platform is reliant on Facebook and Twitter for his statements to be amplified. However, several Twitter accounts replicating the statements on his site were suspended by Twitter. Twitter said that they were attempts to evade his ban.

Without Facebook and Twitter, Trump lacks a way to interact with his followers -- his new platform does not allow for comments. Brad Parscale, Trump's 2016 digital director and 2020 campaign manager, told "60 Minutes" in 2017, that Twitter was how Trump "talked to the people." He regularly retweeted fans who tweeted at him, offering a sense of a direct line. 

Facebook is also a key tool for Trump's campaign fundraising. The platform helped drive small-dollar donations and allowed his campaign to target voters and gather data about contributors. Parscale said, "I understood early that Facebook was how Donald Trump was going to win...I think Facebook was the method -- it was the highway in which his car drove on."

While Trump clearly needs social media platforms, as Facebook prepares to respond to the Oversight Board's ruling, the question will become, how much does Facebook need him? In a potentially threatening development to the company, Republicans' calls for antitrust enforcement against Facebook have gotten much louder since the Oversight Board decision. Should Republicans regain power in the 2022 midterms, it appears more likely that they will try to go after Facebook on antitrust concerns. "If Facebook is so big it thinks it can silence the leaders you elect, it’s time for conservatives to pursue an antitrust agenda," Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) tweeted, who is the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, an influential group of conservative lawmakers. As it has repeatedly been since Trump got elected, Facebook will remain at the center of political battles as it is increasingly the most important media space.

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