Trump is coming back. Will he still rule social media?
It’s easy to imagine that a populist without a platform is like a bull without horns—an aggressive but impotent force in a political landscape as attention-addled as our present one. Thus, some may have concluded that Trump—who has been permanently suspended from Twitter and temporarily banned from Facebook—would lack the mobilising power for a 2024 campaign necessary to oust Biden.
However, amid recent reports that Trump’s team is surreptitiously paying teenagers who run meme accounts to support his 2024 bid, it seems all but certain that the ‘Twitter president’ will find a way to saturate the world with a doom-and-gloom message even without a personal account.
This is important for a number of reasons. For one, it indicates that Trump is planning to run in 2024. The Republican party can’t or won’t have the ability to field another candidate in his stead. There will be another messy, fraught, apocalypse-boding contest between the Trumpian right and all of liberal America, which will shift a huge amount of power to the hands of social media giants. The question of social media regulation will be even more pressing in 2024. Facebook will face a decision about whether to re-instate Trump, a poisoned chalice if there ever was one. They will have to make a decision potentially drawing the ire of a future president and essentially committing themselves politically. In any event, the 2024 election will further dilemmas we only grazed in 2020, dilemmas about the power and role of social media giants, which has already drawn warnings from the likes of Angela Merkel and Alexei Navalny. (In its early days, there was a running joke within Facebook’s organisation that they could ‘throw an election’ by sending out a few reminders to vote in a few key districts. That doesn’t seem funny anymore.)
Secondly, the nature of the pages that are being paid to support ‘Trump’s legacy’ suggests that the Trump campaign is willing to wage guerilla warfare in the bid for 2024. The payments to these alt-right meme accounts are, as Huffington Post reports, small-scale and very difficult to trace. Any sense that Trump might have ‘learned his lesson’ after the capital invasion is naive, to say the least. Hindered but not stymied, Trump will diffuse his message across the dark lairs of the internet, making his presence more diffuse, mythic, and, consequently, even more, intriguing for the outraged to champion. If he can’t speak for himself, Trump will create an army of trolls via new platforms that are springing up, such as former senior Trump aide Jason Miller’s GETTR. Bereft of a personal voice, Trump will latch on to the powerful and dark energies of the alt-right horde, playing to ‘culture war’ topics will further deepen the divide that is rivening America.
As one Game of Thrones style meme, paid for by ‘The Donald Trump Election Defense Fund’ puts it, winter is coming.