Donald Trump used to be the golden goose for Twitter and Facebook. He had millions of followers on both platforms and generated enormous engagement with all of his posts. That worked well for the Trump brand and also worked well for the platforms that hosted him. All of that changed when Trump became President. His tone became more combative, and the way the social media companies policed his account changed accordingly. In the end – as we’re sure you all already know – he was banned from both platforms. He was banned from several smaller social media networks at around the same time.
Much has changed for Donald Trump since then. He’s no longer President of the United States of America, but his voice still carries weight with his former supporters – some of whom he stands accused of inciting to riot during the events of January 6th at the nation’s Capitol. Trump probably expected to get his social media accounts back when he left office in February. That’s yet to happen. He’s banned from Facebook indefinitely and Twitter permanently. An attempt to set up a blog of his own failed miserably, and his promise to set up a new social media network has failed to materialize. Presumably bored of having nobody to talk to on the internet, Trump has now done something extraordinary. He’s decided to sue Facebook and Twitter, and he’s also suing Google for good measure.
The not-entirely-unexpected news was announced by Trump personally on Thursday, July 7th, from Trump’s golf course (where else?) in New Jersey. Aside from suing the companies, he’s also individually suing their CEOs in a class-action lawsuit that claims censorship and a violation of his freedom of speech. He also claims that he’s able to demonstrate a pattern of bias against both himself and his supporters and goes further by claiming there’s a relationship between the companies named in the lawsuit and the government and “government actors.”
Some of Trump’s lengthy statement didn’t appear to make sense. He claimed that “we” will make changes to Section 230, which is the part of the Communications Decency Act that outlines the responsibilities of social media companies in relation to what’s posted on the platforms by their users. He’s promised to “change” the content of the section at a minimum or “take it away” as a maximum. As a former President with no current political office, he does not have the power to do so.
Many of the words used in Trump’s statement will be familiar to anyone who spends time on social media, and Twitter in particular.
He spoke of “shadow bans,” “cancelling,” and “blacklisting.” There’s never been any evidence of the existence of “shadow bans” or “blacklists” operated by either Facebook or Twitter. “Cancelling,” on the other hand, is the act of multiple people (usually thousands) campaigning to have someone’s account removed from social media – usually without success. When bans are issued, there’s generally a specific reason for it.
Legal analysts who’ve commented on the suit, which has been filed in Florida, believe it has little prospect of success. It relies on the idea that all three companies are effectively arms of the federal government as opposed to being privately-owned individual companies. This is easily disprovable and may even get the case dismissed out of hand. It’s also unclear why the CEOs of the companies – including Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg – have been named individually in the suits. The legal action appears to be unfocused and will most likely be found to be so by a competent judge.
The move also isn’t without risk for Trump, which is nothing new for a man who once owned casinos in Atlantic City.
Those casinos failed when online slots websites were invented, which is perhaps something he should bear in mind while contemplating this action. Despite his social media success, the internet hasn’t always been his friend. He even became the unlikely star of an online slots game during his conflict with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The slot, called “Rocket Men,” saw likenesses of the two leaders firing missiles at each other while the reels spin in the background. It went on to be a big hit with online slots websites such as Rose Slots CA. This legal action might not be such a success. In recent years, Trump has lost more often than he’s won when he’s spun the reels. Losing is becoming a habit for him – and that’s not something he’s likely to enjoy.
Part of the risk he’s exposed himself to is that if the case goes to trial, it will draw further focus to his alleged role in the January 6th riot at a time when America is starting to move on from it. Another risk is that it’s going to cost him money to fight the case, and perhaps even more if he loses. Money might soon be an issue for Trump. The entire Trump Organisation is currently subject to an indictment because of tax issues and fraud. Trump himself is understood to have tens of millions of dollars of personal debt scheduled to fall due in the next few months and no realistic means of paying those debts.
A costly lawsuit might be the last thing he needs with wolves seemingly likely to arrive at the door in the near future. It’s not yet impossible that criminal charges will be filed against Trump himself for the same tax and fraud irregularities that have attracted the attention of prosecutors to his company.
Staying in the public eye is essential for Trump. It’s how he makes money – and as we’ve outlined above, he badly needs money. Anything that might persuade his supporters to make donations to him is probably seen as a good tactic by his management team. At the same time, though, it exposes him to the risk of another image-damaging, high-profile loss if it doesn’t go his way – which it probably won’t. He’s playing high stakes poker with this lawsuit – and the cards he’s holding might not be as strong as he thinks they are.