(As originally published with bells and whistles, Fri, March 24th 2023, 5:06 PM EDT)
Donald Trump’s long, turbulent relationship with social media platforms has been on the up and up in recent months, but will it last?
That question was raised over the past week, and not because he may or may not be indicted over hush money payments in New York.
His banishments — called “permanently suspended” by Twitter and “indefinitely” by Facebook and Instagram — came shortly after the events of Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.
It was decided Trump violated the platforms’ policies on inciting violence after he spoke and a mob of his supporters attacked, keeping Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.
Facebook even reiterated its decision four months later.
But despite what those platforms claimed, Trump was not really banned for life.
The platforms had second — or third, in the case of Facebook — thoughts when Trump announced his candidacy in the 2024 race, on Nov. 15, 2022. Then they reversed course, little by little. They couldn’t stop messages from a presidential candidate, could they?
Twitter was first, just four days later. On Nov. 19, new owner Elon Musk conducted a poll, asking users to click “yes” or “no” on whether Trump’s account should be restored. The “yes” vote won — barely — with 51.2%.
Then, on Jan. 25, it was Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram. The company said in a blog post it was adding “new guardrails” to ensure there are no “repeat offenders” who violate its rules.
That decision was important for both sides.
Trump’s campaign wrote to Meta,
We believe that the ban on President Trump’s account on Facebook has dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse.
The letter didn’t threaten legal action. Instead, it reportedly touched on the importance of free speech and petitioned Meta for a meeting to discuss Trump’s reinstatement.
Facebook had been a crucial source of Trump’s campaign fundraising, in both 2016 and 2020. Trump spent a lot of money to make even more money. Meta made millions of dollars on the company’s ads.
The company’s reversal also helped Trump by letting him communicate directly with his 34 million followers. That’s dramatically more than the 4.8 million who follow him on his own site, Truth Social, which he started in the fall of 2021 after being banned from the others.
A few days later, Trump sounded a bit less than grateful when he posted, “FACEBOOK, which has lost Billions of Dollars in value since ‘deplatforming’ your favorite President, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account. Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!”
And finally, a week ago, YouTube announced on Twitter that it’s time for Trump’s channel to be active.
Like the others, Trump’s channel on the Google-owned video hosting and sharing platform was banned shortly after the violence of Jan. 6, 2021.
But the country woke up to big news the next day.
Saturday morning, Trump claimed his arrest was imminent — expected Tuesday — and issued an extraordinary call for his supporters to protest “THE RADICAL LEFT ANARCHISTS,” “CRIMINALS & LEFTIST THUGS,” “WITH NO RETRIBUTION.”
He called the district attorney “CORRUPT & HIGHLY POLITICAL” and accused him of being “FUNDED BY GEORGE SOROS,” whose name has become a dog whistle for conspiracy theories.
The message seemed designed to galvanize outrage from his base of supporters.
“IT’S TIME!!! WE ARE A NATION IS STEEP DECLINE, BEING LED INTO WORLD WAR iii BY A CROOKED POLITICIAN?” Trump posted.
He continued against the Biden administration and raised the prospect of civil unrest: “WE JUST CAN’T ALLOW THIS ANYMORE. THEY’RE KILLING OUR NATION AS WE SIT BACK & WATCH. WE MUST SAVE AMERICA!PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”
Days later, Trump claimed the district attorney ‘IS BREAKING THE LAW” and called for him to “BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE” without mentioning who should do it and how.
The messages led to supporters rushing to his Palm Beach home, Mar-a-Lago. For days, they played music dedicated to Trump and waved at cars going by.
Trump mentioned the infamous phone call in which he tried but failed to pressure Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory. Instead, Trump became the first Republican to lose the Peach State in decades by a margin of roughly 12,000 votes.
Trump said he’s not going down without a fight but he also had a message for his supporters.
“They’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you. I’m just standing in their way, and I always will stand in their way!” he said.
Officials in New York didn’t specify any particular reason when they set up barricades to prepare for possible unrest.
Then, as recently as early Friday, Trump used Truth Social to say “potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our Country?” could follow an indictment.
In the meantime, the arrest Trump announced won’t happen until at least next week.
There will also be time for the social media platforms to wonder at what point could his language be deemed incitement, and enough to be punishable again.