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22 March 2021updated 30 Jul 2021 3:33pm

Why Donald Trump’s new social media platform could be so dangerous

The question isn’t whether Trump’s new platform will be popular – it’s whether it can keep him relevant in the mainstream media. 

By Sarah Manavis

In what can only be described as a move towards the inevitable, a senior adviser to Donald Trump, Jason Miller, announced in an appearance on Fox News on Sunday that the former president would be launching his own social media platform in a matter of weeks.

Speaking to the Media Buzz host, Howard Kurtz, Miller said: “This is something that I think will be the hottest ticket in social media, it’s going to completely redefine the game, and everybody is going to be waiting and watching to see what exactly President Trump does.” 

“This new platform is going to be big and everyone wants him,” he added. He also claimed that several major companies were vying to be part of the project. 

“He’s gonna bring millions and millions, tens of millions of people to this new platform.” 

The motivation behind a Trump-founded platform is his sweeping mass-ban from most mainstream social media sites after the violence at Capitol Hill on 6 January, including permanent bans from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, even Pinterest, and most importantly Twitter – his greatest megaphone since the late Noughties. It also follows a trend over the past few years of social media platforms launching that cater to a right-wing audience: Gab, Parler, and MeWe are some of the most notable cases. However, all three have experienced middling success at best, and have thus far failed to achieve mainstream notability, even after initially high sign-up rates and endless coverage.

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It would be tempting to think that another site (even one helmed by Donald Trump) would struggle to make serious, lasting waves; that it would be predestined for similar failure. But what makes Trump’s platform different is that its success isn’t reliant on good business or high engagement: whether it flourishes or fails is dependent only on how successfully it injects its protagonist’s unfiltered thoughts back into the mainstream. 

Much like Parler, it is likely that a new Trump platform would experience a boom in users in its first few months. Trump supporters are itching for the same level of communication they got from their idol before he was banned from Twitter, and alongside them is a growing group of QAnon believers currently grappling to keep Trump at the centre of their now-leaderless movement. These two groups would relish his return to regular posting, welcoming an even more direct form of communication. On top of that initial burst of interest, the platform would experience a flurry of sign-ups from those morbidly curious to see what Trump might say when he is completely untethered by any community guidelines. 

While Trump needs the former group of supporters to maintain his own perceived importance, they would be likely to remain his fans with or without a new platform (although the direct line to Trump would help motivate that increasingly flattened base). The latter group, however, largely made up by the media on both the left and right, is what could make or break this new platform – giving Trump added airtime in the mainstream once again.

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In the months since Trump’s ban from Twitter, it has sometimes been easy to forget he still exists, because there is no longer wall-to-wall coverage of his every tweet. From his candidacy announcement in 2015 to his ban in January 2021, almost anything he tweeted was broadcast on global news channels on what became a daily basis. Part of this coverage was rightly motivated by public interest (if the president is inciting violence or making fraudulent claims about voter registration, Americans have a right to know). But something else was at play that journalists and pundits are more reluctant to admit: that Trump’s Twitter was entertaining. He was funny. He knew how to use memes to make his engagement soar, often despite the content of the message. Readers and viewers liked to hear what he was saying.

This cycle of tweeting and subsequent coverage has not stopped because Trump is no longer president – it has stopped because Trump is no longer tweeting. On the few occasions he has made a public statement since the January ban (such as his “who cares!” letter resigning from the Screen Actors Guild), the cycle has repeated, because an absurd or funny Trump message has managed to fight its way to the surface. With a new platform, which will gain coverage in and of itself (as it is getting in this very piece), there’s reason for the media to turn its attention back on Trump. And just as the media misguidedly treated Trump as a joke for the majority of the 2016 election, journalists will probably cover it in the same jovial way now, not realising the potential harm in offering Trump a fresh opportunity at mainstream salience. 

As the writer Dan Brooks wrote in the wake of Trump’s social media ban: “The argument for Trump as the greatest Twitter user of all time is that he made the platform relevant. The lesson, probably, is that Twitter should never be so relevant again.” Another lesson may be learned in the wake of a new Trump platform: that no matter how useless the platform, Trump will make it relevant – or at the very least use it to fight his way back into relevance, playing the fool at the delight of a naive media ecosystem primed and ready to give him the spotlight once again.