Washington: A day after accepting that his quixotic bid to remain in the White House had failed, Donald Trump has suffered another blow that may prove almost as traumatic in the long term: being banned from Twitter, his favourite social media platform.
Twitter announced on Saturday (AEDT) that it has permanently suspended Trump’s account because he had violated its "glorification of violence policy" and posed the risk of inciting violence in the future.
Earlier in the day hundreds of Twitter staffers signed a petition calling for Trump to be banned following the assault on the US Capitol that resulted in five deaths.
Visit Trump's Twitter page now and you find only the words: "Account suspended".
Donald Trump’s Twitter account has been permanently suspended.
Trump's Twitter account played an integral role in his rise to power. He used the platform to bypass the mainstream media, communicate directly with his followers and control the daily news cycle.
It was predominantly through Twitter that he spread the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born outside America, and therefore ineligible to be president – a false claim that made him a folk hero among conservatives.
As president, he has used Twitter at all all hours of the day to vent against his enemies, fire cabinet members and announce major policy decisions. When Trump had something to tell the world – like the fact he had contracted the coronavirus – he did it via Twitter.
In recent months he has pumped out hundreds of tweets falsely claiming he was the victim of election fraud; it was through Twitter that Trump urged his followers to travel to Washington for the rally that turned into a violent assault on the US Capitol.
Even when Twitter started to apply warning labels to his most egregious tweets, Trump continued to tweet – so addicted was he to the platform and so reliant on it to spread his message. When Twitter suspended his account for 12 hours after the Capitol riots, he came running back as soon as he could.
Although Trump may have lost the election to Joe Biden, he could take solace in the fact that he still had his Twitter megaphone to blast out messages to 80 million people.
After leaving the White House on January 20, Trump no doubt planned to use Twitter to maintain his relevance as a political force to be reckoned with.
Through his tweets, he could target his enemies – including Republicans who had failed to back up his election fraud lies – and lay the groundwork for another possible run for office in 2024.
Now that megaphone is gone.
The extraordinary move will likely accelerate the fragmentation of the social media landscape – with Democrats and Republicans increasingly getting information only from their own echo chambers.
Republicans will cite the ban as further proof that social media companies are biased against them and need to be punished – including by being stripped of legal protections for potentially defamatory content posted by their users.
Soon after Trump's ban, some prominent figures from conservative media, including Fox News host Mike Levin, announced they were quitting Twitter and migrating to Parler – a site that has set itself up as a right-wing alternative to Twitter and Facebook.
Trump may migrate there too, but his missives won't have the same velocity and cut-through as his Twitter posts. Google has announced it has suspended the app from its Play Store over objectionable content, and Apple has made similar threats.
With many of his most loyal allies abandoning him, Trump has been stripped of a core feature of political persona. He's ending his presidency as an increasingly marginalised figure, a presidential pariah who still has access to the nuclear codes but isn't allowed to send out a tweet.
It's an indignity he'll find it difficult to bear.
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