After countless, endless days and nights in permabanned purgatory, Donald Trump has at last found his way back on to the social web. No, he’s not back on Twitter. No, he’s not back on Facebook. No, he hasn’t started a Substack … yet. Let’s not give him ideas.
For those who need a refresher, the former president has been largely absent from the internet since his accounts were suspended from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat in the wake of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol in Washington DC.
The decision of various tech companies to muzzle a world leader was (and remains) controversial, as many saw the Capitol riot as merely an excuse for beleaguered Silicon Valley administrators to do what they’d wanted to do all along and silence him.
But whatever you think of the legitimacy of Trump’s social media bans, they were undeniably effective, as Trump fell effectively silent, save for the occasional emailed-but-tweet-like dispatch to those who subscribed. You could sense in these emails that Trump was itching to connect with his old audience. He clearly yearned for Twitter, the platform on which his oddly punctuated, arbitrarily capitalized missives were amplified by MAGA loyalists and outraged progressives alike until they went stratospherically viral. Thus far, Trump has lacked either the ambition or capability to bring himself back online.
But now, true as always to the spirit of a kid who responds to conflict by taking his ball and going home, Trump has finally summoned a response to his various bans: as of late April, he has his very own social media platform. Or does he?
The problem here lies in the incompatibility between the words ‘very own’ and ‘social media.’ If it’s just Donald Trump, and because it’s Donald Trump it has to be, then it isn’t a social network.
‘Former President Trump on Tuesday launched a communications platform, which will eventually give him the ability to communicate directly with his followers,’ Fox News declared in its exclusive scoop on the story, going on to explain that ‘the space allows Trump to post, and allows followers to share the former president’s posts to Twitter and Facebook, however, the new platform does not have a feature to allow users to “reply” or engage with Trump’s posts.’
According to Fox, the former president’s new ‘platform’ supports text posts, images and videos, and can be accessed on his website at https://www.donaldjtrump.com/desk.
In other words, it’s a blog.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with blogging. Blogging is, after all, what many media folks did in the days before we flocked to share our thoughts on Twitter. It is towards blogging that many are now returning as tides of writers defect from major publications to Substack, Medium and other subscription platforms. But we should be clear about what is and what isn’t. Despite the efforts of the folks at Fox to obscure the nature of the thing by calling it a ‘platform’, or ‘space’, or ‘technology’, Donald Trump’s new ‘desk ‘ is a blog. They know it’s a blog. We know it’s a blog.
The question is, does Trump know it’s a blog?
It’s hard not to notice that the ‘desk’ URL on Trump’s website directs to a page that superficially resembles a Twitter feed: each post shows Trump’s username alongside a date and timestamp, followed by a short block of text. A widget alongside each post offers viewers the chance to share it to Twitter or Facebook, or to click a heart icon to ‘like’ it, a design that echoes the main interactive options on Twitter (reply, retweet or like.)
None of it is blatant enough to trigger a claim of copyright violation, but the user interface is clearly Twitter-inspired, as if the main point was to help Donald Trump feel like he’s back on Twitter without actually being there.
The whole thing is reminiscent of one of those teen movies where the protagonist’s prom is ruined, so her cool and well-intending parents string up lanterns and a sound system in the backyard, and her dad squeezes himself into his 20-year-old tuxedo and presents himself as her date. Here you go, sweetie! Look! It’s just like a real prom, but better!
Of course, no self-respecting teen girl would be charmed by this blatant, pandering, pitiable attempt to make her feel like less of a loser. She’d look at the silly lanterns, and her pudgy dad, and say ‘thanks but no thanks’ and go back to her room to cry it out while listening to Rage Against the Machine.
That’s not Donald Trump, however. Judging by the volume of posts already present on his, er, desk, he’s just loving his brand new big-boy blog, where he can post anything he wants, and stay up way past his bedtime, and eat ice cream for dinner every night. Donnie honey! Look! It’s just like the real Twitter, but better because it’s just for you. It’s also an improvement for the many users who want to forget the Trump presidency ever happened.
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