For months, we’ve heard the rumor that ex-President Trump was starting a social network. It’s up now. It’s called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.” As a social network, it sucks. But as a functional equivalent to Trump’s former Twitter account, it’s likely to succeed.
How Trump’s new megaphone works
Here are the rules for “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.”
- Only Trump can post.
- A visitor can “like” a post or share it to Twitter or Facebook. A post that’s shared appears as a very short snippet and a link on Twitter, or just a link on Facebook.
- Every post has a URL, which you can see by clicking on it.
- A post can include text, graphics, or video. So far, no post has included a link outside of Trump’s site; it’s not clear if that would be possible. There’s no visible mechanism for name-checking Twitter users, either.
To state the obvious, this is not a social network. Comparing it to a social network is like comparing a handcart to a Tesla Roadster. It’s missing the crucial element: people.
- Social networks have visible members. This has only one.
- Social networks allow people to respond to content. This doesn’t.
- Social networks surface popular posts based on member interaction. This doesn’t. (It doesn’t even show how many likes something gets.)
Articles have described “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” as a blog. That’s too generous. Proper blogs allow comments. Trump’s site doesn’t. It’s not a blog, it’s a series of bleats.
Rachel Happe, CEO of the Community Roundtable, is fond of saying “Control is for amateurs.” Social networks, like all communities, cannot thrive under strict control. And this one is under about as strict control as you can get.
“From the Desk of Donald J Trump” will serve Trump’s purpose well
Trump used Twitter as a megaphone. It allowed him to instantly translate his thoughts, provocations, insults, and endorsements into a space where everyone could see them. He reached 88 million followers. Unlike other politicians who use Twitter to interact skillfully with voters, antagonists, and allies, Trump’s Twitter account mostly ignored other users. While he name-checked events and people, there was never any attempt at dialogue.
He clearly needed that megaphone. He lost it when Twitter suspended him. Now he has duplicated it, free from the constraints and rules on a platform like Twitter.
While Trump will never get to 88 million followers on his own platform, it will serve many of the same purposes. He will be instantly out there with comments on everything that’s happening. His followers will instantly be able to spread those ideas by retweeting his text or sharing it on Facebook. He has reinserted himself in the dialogue.
Trump had also used Twitter to intimidate people who threatened to cross him or weaken his stranglehold on the Republican party. He’s using “From the Desk” to the same ends. He’s used it to threaten Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney already.
His allies will be able to share and respond to his ideas on this site, while his enemies will be able to challenge and ridicule them. But there will be discussion and controversy, which is what Trump thrives on.
Twitter and Facebook will find “From the Desk” creates challenges
We’ll now see a cat and mouse game between Trump followers and social media platforms.
If there are two Twitter users who retweet every other Trump post — creating, between them, a full feed — will Twitter ban them?
If a Twitter user posts every Trump tweet as well as hundreds of other tweets, will Twitter ban that user? (That description fit many Twitter users in the days before Trump was kicked off the platform.)
Will Twitter block all links to Trump posts, or only the ones that promote violence and hate speech? If it ends up banning links to Trump’s site, will users find other ways to post that content?
It’s a big mess. And Trump will enjoy every minute of it.
Trump’s megaphone is legal. The problem is not the megaphone, it is the messages.
Trump is going to accomplish many of his communications goals with this site.
He’s back online.
The same first Amendment that allows Twitter to kick Trump off allows him to create his own site.
If you have a problem with this, then the solution is to create communication that wins over more people and marginalizes Trump’s viewpoint.
That’s the only way to win the messaging war.