This illustration photo show the Facebook page of former President Donald Trump on a smartphone screen in Los Angeles, March 17, 2023.
Chris Delmas | AFP | Getty Images
On Friday, Donald Trump wrote a message on his Truth Social messaging platform that was reminiscent of the waning days of his presidency, when his public posts got him kicked off Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
In complaining about a potential indictment, Trump warned of “potential death & destruction” should he be charged with a crime. Trump was reacting to the latest developments in a hush money probe and to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office has been leading the investigation.
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Following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack over two years ago, the major U.S. social networks banned Trump, citing his threatening rhetoric and the risks of further violence if he were to remain on their platforms.
They’ve since welcomed him back.
In November, Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, said he was reinstating Trump’s account after running a straw poll asking his followers if he should readmit the ex-president, who is again campaigning for his old job.
“The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated,” Musk wrote. He’d foreshadowed the decision months earlier, saying at a conference in May that “permanent bans should be extremely rare and really reserved for accounts that are bots, or scam, spam accounts,” adding that, “it was not correct to ban Donald Trump.”
Meta announced in late January that Trump would soon be allowed to return to Facebook and Instagram. Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post that “the public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box.”
And most recently, Google’s YouTube said this month that Trump would be allowed to start posting videos again.
Now the question is — what are the rules from here?
Thus far, Trump has been relatively quiet on the major social media platforms. Rather, he’s stuck to daily musings on Truth Social, writing in a post this week that Democrats are “INTERFERING IN OUR ELECTIONS, THEIR NEW FORM OF CHEATING!!”
He hasn’t tweeted since Jan. 8, 2021. On Facebook, Trump has posted a few snippets from his rallies and some some fundraising blasts. On YouTube, he’s got one new video, from March 17, announcing to his 2.7 million subscribers, “I’M BACK!”
The companies that punished Trump for his prior antics have little reason to believe his behavior will change. His Truth Social posts are littered with examples to the contrary. Advocacy group Accountable Tech wrote in a recent report that it found over 350 Trump posts on Truth Social that would violate Facebook’s safety rules.
“He’s using Truth Social to incite people,” said Jessica González, co-CEO of media and tech advocacy organization Free Press. She said his posts there remind her “in some ways of what he was saying before January 6.”
Prior to Meta’s reinstatement of Trump’s Facebook account, Free Press sent a letter to the company urging it to “permanently instate Meta’s ban on former President Donald Trump.” The letter cited a draft report on the Jan. 6 attack by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee that said the “the risk of violence has not abated” since the insurrection.
Meta said in January, in letting Trump back onto Facebook and Instagram, that the risk to to public safety “has sufficiently receded.”
The company said at the time it had implemented “new guardrails” intended “to deter repeat offenses” by Trump, including limiting his reach and removing the reshare button on questionable posts.
“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” Meta said.
A Meta spokesperson declined to comment about Trump’s Truth Social posts and pointed to the company’s statement in January.
Twitter responded to a request for comment with Musk’s standard retort: a poop emoji.
Elon Musk attends The 2022 Met Gala Celebrating “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 02, 2022 in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris | Getty Images
YouTube didn’t provide a comment for this story. Leslie Miller, vice president of public policy in Google’s video unit, said in a prior statement that the company “carefully evaluated the continued risk of real-world violence, balancing that with the importance of preserving the opportunity for voters to hear equally from major national candidates in the run up to an election.”
Miller said the “channel will continue to be subject to our policies, just like any other channel on YouTube.”
The clearest restrictions on Trump come from Truth Social, but they have nothing to do with the substance of his posts. According to an agreement between the two parties, Trump must post on Truth Social six hours before publishing on a competing social network.
However, that exclusivity deal is scheduled to end in June.
“That’s when we’ll really see whether the platforms are going to be willing to abide by the guardrails they put in place,” González said, adding that the limitations put in place by Meta “are just weak.”
Angelo Carusone, CEO of the nonprofit Media Matters, said he’s concerned that Trump’s campaign will spread disinformation and incite violence on Truth Social and Rumble, another conservative social network. Facebook and Twitter can be used to guide his many millions of followers to those other apps, which have minimal guidelines on content.
The risks posed by Trump’s social media habits are greater now that Musk is in control of Twitter, Carusone said.
“Twitter was typically the first one out of the gate to make a policy change” regarding content and disinformation, Carusone said. Under Musk, Twitter “will no longer be a vanguard for addressing disinformation or extremism,” he said.
Musk has said that he’s only running Twitter as CEO temporarily and that he hopes to appoint a successor by the end of this year. As the 2024 elections near, it’s unclear if any other social network will assume a leadership role regarding policy matters.
González says it’s only a matter of time before Trump’s inflammatory posts create headaches for the major social networks.
“The more cornered he feels and the more his power and his freedom are under threat, the more we’re going to see him lash out,” González said. “He’s proven that he will have no restraint.”
Watch: Will a Trump indictment impact the debt ceiling debate?