NEW YORK — The decision by Facebook's parent company to soon reinstate Donald Trump's account comes at a critical moment for the former president as he tries to build campaign momentum for a return to the White House.
Reclaiming his social media megaphone could open an important new stream of revenue for the 2024 contest’s only declared candidate, whose campaign has faced criticism for its lackluster launch.
Trump is considering a return to Twitter, as well, rejoining both of the social media giants that he used to great effect to widely and personally connect with his supporters in previous campaigning.
He was banned from posting on both Facebook and Twitter, along with other social media sites, for his role in inciting violence in the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021,
In considering a return to the platforms that shunned him, Trump is essentially recognizing that the social media company he launched last year, Truth Social, pales in comparison to the reach of the highest profile platforms. He currently has 4.84 million followers on Truth Social, dramatically fewer than the 87.7 million who follow his account on Twitter, the 34 million who follow him on Facebook and the 23.4 million who follow him on Meta's Instagram.
Trump’s Twitter account was unlocked in November, shortly after Elon Musk purchased the company, but Trump has refrained from using it, insisting that he is happier on Truth.
But while Twitter was long Trump's instrument for shouting his opinions — and received far more attention — for his new campaign, Facebook is ultimately about money.
The 2016 campaign of the business executive and reality TV star was a trailblazer when it came to harnessing the power of Facebook’s digital advertising tools. And his 2016 and 2020 campaigns spent millions on ads that were key to his small-dollar fundraising efforts.
The decision by Meta, Facebook’s parent company, to reinstate him, is likely to be a similar boon to his current campaign’s efforts to raise millions, as well as to collect emails and identify voters.
“I think first and foremost this is about fundraising for Trump,” said Katie Harbath, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center who served as Facebook’s former public policy director. “He wants to continue to have access to get emails and addresses for fundraising, which is something the platform was always really important to the campaign for.”
During his suspension from Facebook, Trump’s political operation continued to fundraise on the site but couldn’t run ads directly from him or in his voice — appeals that Harbath said are much more powerful.
“Personal appeals are always the best,” she said. “And folks haven’t seen that in their feeds in a long time.”
The reinstatement comes at an opportune time for Trump, who has struggled in the opening months of his 2024 White House campaign to reclaim the energy of his previous two bids. He's planning his first official campaign event Saturday, with plans to visit two early-voting states, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But even as Trump and his team mull how best to harness the social media brands that helped power his initial rise, there could be significant hurdles.
The former president created Truth Social, a Twitter lookalike, after he was suspended from Twitter and Facebook. He usually posts on his social media site multiple times a day, sharing thoughts, insults and campaign videos and reposting messages from his supporters, just as he had on Twitter.
As part of his deal with Digital World Acquisition Corp. to take Truth Social public, Trump agreed — so he wouldn’t compete against his own company — that it would be the “first channel” for “any and all social media communications and posts coming from his personal profile,” according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last May.
That includes an exclusivity clause in which the former president was “generally obligated to make any social media post on TruthSocial and may not make the same post on another social media site for 6 hours” for a period of 18 months, beginning Dec. 22, 2021.
By JILL COLVIN and LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press
It adds, however, that, Trump “may make a post from a personal account related to political messaging, political fundraising or get-out-the-vote efforts on any social media site at any time.”
Some Trump allies believe that that line gives him license to post political messages anytime he’d like, though he continues to abstain.
Former Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, CEO of the Trump Media & Technology Group, told The Associated Press that the SEC filing makes Trump’s obligations clear, but he declined to elaborate. Neither Digital World nor its CEO Patrick Orlando responded to requests for comment.
“I think this is less of a legal question than an ego question,” said Harbath, who expects Trump to begin advertising on Facebook before he resumes messaging. “The man likes to put on a show.”
Questions also remain about whether Digital World will get approval from federal stock market regulators to join with Truth Social and go public. Without the merger, Truth Social and its biggest owner, Trump, won’t get shares in the combined company potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Since rumors began spreading of Trump possibly posting again on rival social media platforms, stock in Digital World has plunged. The potential Truth Social partner is down 30% since Twitter reinstated Trump’s personal account last year even as the broader comparative market has barely moved.
Trump has so far insisted he is sticking with Truth, saying he prefers the engagement on the site, where fringe content dominates.
But Trump in recent weeks has been talking about returning to Twitter, according to two people familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations. That has included discussing possible first tweets that would generate maximum impact, NBC News first reported.
A Trump campaign spokesperson declined to discuss Trump’s social media plans including his plans for a possible return.
President Donald Trump looks at his phone during a roundtable with governors on the reopening of America's small businesses, in the State Dining Room of the White House on June 18, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. Facebook parent Meta is reinstating former President Donald Trump's personal account after two-year suspension following the Jan. 6 insurrection.