Four months after ex-President Donald Trump was kicked out of most major social media platforms, he returned to the web last Tuesday with “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” a blog about his thoughts.
A week after the revelations, social media data suggests that things are not going well.
The former president’s blog attracted a much smaller audience than his once-powerful social media accounts, according to engagement data compiled with BuzzSumo, a social media analytics company. The data offers a hint that while Trump remains a political force, his online footprint is still dependent on a return to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Donald J. Trump’s office is limited — Users can’t comment on or engage with actual posts other than sharing them on other platforms, an action that few people do, according to the data.
Trump’s new blog attracted just over 212,000 posts, defined as backlinks and social interactions – including likes, shares, and comments – and received via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit. Before the ban, a single Trump tweet was liked and tweeted hundreds of thousands of times.
Blog posts come in the form of statements that are also sent to supporters via email. In multiple daily notes, Trump has attacked his political enemies and staunch supporters, continued to promote false claims and conspiracy theories, and appeared in today’s news.
Trump’s ban has cost him the ability to connect with millions of people: 88 million followers on Twitter, 32 million on Facebook, and 24 million on Instagram. Trump only had about 3 million subscribers on YouTube, but his videos regularly garnered millions of views.
A CNBC analysis of Trump’s tweets in January found that his most popular tweets spread misinformation. But the conspiracy theories and expletives the former president has posted on his blog do not appear to be moving the way they did when Trump took advantage of the dual platforms of the White House and traditional social media. Trump called his remarks a “more elegant” alternative to Twitter, telling Newsmax’s Greg Kelly in March, “I like this better than Twitter. They actually did us a favour.”
The most common posts of Trump’s new content came from conservative outlets and activists. The blog’s top post, in which Trump criticized Facebook’s oversight board’s decision to uphold his ban on Facebook, had just 16,000 shares.
Can people spread Trump’s posts by other means? Improbable. Another popular method of sharing, posting screenshots of posts, is also not particularly popular with Trump’s blog posts, collecting only a few thousand posts per post on average, according to an image text search using CrowdTangle, Facebook’s social media analysis tool.
This isn’t Trump’s first blogging experience. The former Trump Blog, maintained in the mid-2000s on the website of the now defunct Trump Real Estate School, which has adopted a similar structure, but is allegedly written in a ghostly fashion.
A blow to the latest blog came last week when Twitter ran an account with more than 2,100 followers who primarily shared Trump’s blog posts. Despite the note in her bio that explicitly states, “Don’t tweet Donald J Trump,” Twitter has permanently suspended the account.
“We will take enforcement action on accounts whose explicit intent is to replace or promote content associated with a suspended account,” a Twitter spokesperson said.
Trump has been temporarily or permanently banned from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube after what social media companies said was a glorification of rioters at the Capitol on January 6. Trump’s ban on Twitter is permanent, and his temporary suspension on YouTube will be lifted when the company determines that the threat of violence is no longer imminent. The company will decide how long he will be suspended “indefinitely” on Facebook in the next six months, as ordered by Facebook’s supervisory board last week.
Trump’s denunciation has caused a political uproar, mostly from conservative politicians and analysts arguing that the widespread ban is only the latest example of social media censorship of conservative voices. Research has consistently found no evidence of anti-conservative bias from the most popular social media platforms.
The low engagement numbers on Trump’s blog appear to suggest that the practice of dismantling the rules, or isolating the user from their followers and thus cutting off networks of subscribed followers, is broadly effective and can be used to curb hate speech and glorify violence from major platforms. It also appears to restrict a public figure’s ability to attract a similar audience on an alternative platform.
A limited body of academic research suggests that while platform scraping can clean up a platform and reduce the size of extremist communities, there are unintended consequences when a community migrates to its self-hosted platform.
Trump’s move is more restrictive, said Jeremy Blackburn, an assistant professor of computer science at Binghamton University in New York who co-authored some of the research.
“In the case of Trump’s new platform, it is so technologically primitive that there is no way for even his followers to emigrate,” Blackburn said. “Who cares about a platform where you can’t even have libs? There are tons of other newsletters people have been adding to spam boxes for years.”
But the Trump team is not giving up on bringing its messages back to a large, engaged audience. After mocking the new blog, senior Trump adviser Jason Miller asked his followers to hold on.
“President Trump’s website is a great resource to find his latest statements and shed light on his first term in office, but this is not a new social media platform.” Miller tweeted. “We will have additional information coming on that front in the very near future.”