Trump Ban: Why The President Needs Facebook More Than It Needs Him

Facebook Donald Trump Mark Zuckerberg

President Trump has, momentarily at least, lost an important friend: Facebook. The estrangement will likely matter much more to him than to the social media site.

The platform, where he has 35 million followers, has been one of the president’s most important political tools, a place he’s used to dispense conspiracy theories and spread misinformation. To volley insults against opponents and heap praise on supporters. And a place he used to encourage violence and chaos at the Capitol Building on Wednesday.

A day later, Facebook said it was indefinitely barring him from its app and from Instagram and that the ban would last at least through Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, a step Facebook hopes will cut down on the likelihood of more destruction during the presidential transition’s final days.

While it’s not clear how long Trump’s Facebook exile will last, it’s an undeniably large blow. It only leaves him with Twitter to continue communicating with his supporters, and it’s possible Twitter could issue a similar ban, though the company has so far declined to do so. Very soon the president could be more muted than at any other point in his time as a politician, reducing the spread of his often toxic messaging. He’d be forced to rely on more conventional media—where he’d be less able to speak unfiltered and unchecked—or on niche social media sites.

In the past, Trump has issued a two-side warning to the mainstream social media companies to maintain his presence on their platforms. That he might goad Republicans into greater regulation over their industry—and that he might decamp their platforms for other sites, as if he was a famous TV talk show host taking his act to a rival network.

With his departure from the White House imminent, he can no longer threaten the first, and the other is largely hot air. While there are a number of smaller, conservative-focused social media companies like Gab and Parler, those apps are far smaller, measuring users by millions while Twitter and Facebook count theirs by the hundreds of millions. The likes of Gab and Parler “are never going to get critical mass,” says Michael Pachter, a Wedbush Securities analyst. Without that, they’re effectively useless to Trump, who needs the ability to reach beyond his most devoted base. “They’re all conservative echo chambers.”

As for Facebook, the loss of one of America’s most famous social media users can be best summed up as—eh. “No one person matters to a platform like Facebook,” says Jason Helfstein, managing director of internet research at Oppenheimer. “Remember when that one Kardashian said she was getting off Instagram? It’s the same thing.” “I am really not focused on it,” sniffed another Wall Streeter, declining to give the ban’s implications much thought or comment at length.

No Facebook observer thinks the company will lose significant users if it does make its Trump ban permanent. In reality, the site will still probably be a hotbed of conservative discussion and delusion, a swirl concocted, most notably, each day by Fox News, Newsmaker and Dan Bongino. And all three would presumably cover what Trump would be saying off Facebook, ensuring the president a continued specter over the site.

Facebook’s investors sure aren’t worried either. Even as the broader markets put together a pretty good day on Thursday—the S&P 500 rising 1.5%, the Nasdaq 1.4%—Facebook shares did better still, going up about 2%.

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