Twitter and Facebook will certainly hand over the official POTUS accounts to the incoming president after the January 20 inauguration, but will they ban Donald Trump from tweeting from his personal account once he’s no longer a public official?
There are reports — and even suggestions from some left-leaning outlets — that they should do exactly that. But there is enough chatter that Trump has plans post-presidency that it may not matter what efforts social media decides to take to keep him quiet.
President Trump is shielded by Twitter’s “World Leaders Policy”, which means the platform can leave up a tweet that breaks its rules so the public can view what their leaders are stating.
Brookings has a long-form piece suggesting several options available to social media platforms to keep Trump from releasing his often polarizing thoughts unencumbered into the wild.
Social media companies appear to have three options for censorship once Trump returns to civilian life. First, they could maintain a libertarian stance: granting his accounts continued public interest exceptions and allowing him to say whatever he wants. Even though he would no longer be in office, he is a political leader whose words impact the public, and millions will still want to know what he has to say. This approach is similar to the one that Facebook appears to be adopting. Still, these decisions could facilitate the continued spread of hate speech and false information, perhaps even at a greater rate once Trump is free from the constraints of public office.
Second, the companies could remove his public interest exception and treat him like any regular user. When he utters falsehoods or makes inflammatory statements, they could remove the tweets or temporarily suspend his account. Indeed, some Democrats, such as Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) have called for greater oversight of his provocative rhetoric, explicitly asking Twitter and Facebook’s CEOs to monitor his accounts post-inauguration. This option carries its own risks: social media fact-checks can further polarize Americans than if posts were unaltered, but even in the face of these risks, the importance of maintaining some baseline of truth cannot be overstated.
Third, these firms could permanently remove accounts on the grounds he is a repeat offender. Using the “three strikes and you are out” principle, they could label him incapable of rhetorical rehabilitation and revoke his posting privileges completely. This approach is both extreme and incredibly risky: it would move Trump off mainstream platforms and force him to rely on newly emerging sites such as the conservative platform Parler, which would drastically reinforce the partisan echo chamber effect promulgated by social media.
There will doubtless be many reasons given for these efforts to, as Brookings admits, censor Trump. He’s revealing classified information could be one. Or he’s repeating debunked and dangerous conspiracy theories. Or his tone and style is violating community standards. They will almost certainly be creative in their rationale for whatever steps they may take.
But they’re going to have quite a battle if reports are true that Trump and his family are exploring the idea of creating a media company to compete with the mainstream press.
Jared Kushner has been talking up the idea of starting a Donald Trump-themed news outlet or some other media company, possibly as soon as after the election, five Republicans familiar with the discussions told Insider.
Kushner has floated the idea to Republicans and media types throughout the year, according to three of the people. But the increased chatter about the rise of another conservative media outlet, possibly branded under the Trump name, has kicked up even more over the past few weeks as the president’s reelection chances continue to sink.
The timing so close to Election Day has Trump advisors wondering if Kushner himself is anticipating a defeat much like he and others did before the president’s upset White House win in 2016.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Jared’s future is in building a media empire of some kind,” one of the Republicans familiar with the nascent talks said. “He believes that controlling the media means controlling the policy, controlling the people.”
Of course and ironically, it’s wise to take reports attributing quotes to unnamed sources with a huge grain of salt. Trump was one of the best at reminding the nation of that. But it’s not an idea out of left field, and it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing if it turned out to be true. In short: no matter what Trump does following his time in the White House, it’s a good bet we’ll be hearing a lot about it. And it will be even less filtered than it has been these past four years.
In short, the season with Trump as a private citizen may be where the show starts to get really interesting.