Donald Trump and Facebook need each other


That’s a crucial distinction. Trump might feel bitter about his expulsion from Facebook, but it could be hard to resist the platform’s utility for spreading a political message and raising money for his 2024 campaign.

While Trump has more followers on Twitter and the platform was useful for delivering headline-grabbing messages aimed at the media, those who follow him on Facebook skew older and are generally more sympathetic and supportive to his cause. Facebook has always held greater potential for grassroots campaigning, allowing him to target specific demographics with longer, more detailed posts, memes and videos.

Trump made a commitment to primarily post on his Truth Social network — which would seem to deter him from platforms like Facebook — but the arrangement has plenty of wiggle room.Credit:Getty Images

With a user base north of 2 billion people, Facebook also offers a much wider audience than Twitter’s, which has about 360 million monthly active users, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s no surprise that Trump’s 2016 campaign spent 80 per cent of its digital budget on Facebook, and that his new campaign team has now written to Meta demanding his reinstatement.

For Zuckerberg, Trump’s potential return is complicated. The former president used Facebook to say that COVID-19 was “less lethal” than the flu, attack his political opponents and post hashtags that raised the credibility of QAnon conspiracy theories. His actions put Facebook under enormous pressure to switch up recommendation algorithms that were steering people toward extremist groups and to dampen the spread of misinformation even though such content boosts engagement integral to Facebook’s business model.

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One thing that should help Zuckerberg breathe easier: Academic studies over the past two years have shown that social media firms are getting better at stopping foreign manipulation on their networks, and Facebook has come under less pressure to censor specific content unless it constitutes direct harm, like harassment. Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer, said on a podcast in January that social media firms needed to “resist trying to make things better” and focus on stopping things from getting worse — in other words, preventing harmful content from going viral.

What’s unclear is how long Trump’s return might last. Last year Facebook promised a “strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions” including the threat of permanent removal if Trump violated the platform’s policies again. If Zuckerberg is hoping Trump will stick to the rules this time around, he only has to look at the former president’s increasingly unhinged posts on Truth Social. His return could well be a brief one.

Bloomberg

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