Goodbye Trump – but is his departure good for social and traditional media?

Twitter has been on a journey with Donald Trump – the platform of choice for a controversialist who kicks against conventions, rules and restrictions.

How will social media platforms fare in the absence of Trump? asks Melissa Davis
How will social media platforms fare in the absence of Trump? asks Melissa Davis

He is permanently suspended from Twitter. He also won an indefinite ban from Facebook, and is off Instagram. Amazon and Google kicked the Parler App off their servers just in case it got used by Trump-supporting insurrectionists.

With his Twitter suspension, Trump joins UK columnist Katie Hopkins – the controversial ex-The Apprentice contestant.

Trump had, in fact, taken to retweeting Hopkins before she was suspended for breaching the platform’s ‘abuse and hateful conduct’ rules last year.

In each case it’s the end of the road for two dysfunctional relationships.

There’s a tension for platforms that commit to diversity, inclusion, dignity and safety policies, but resist full responsibility for amplifying the views of account-holders.

Traditional media outlets, though, are in on this game too.

Newspaper and network execs are now looking at a drop in circulation and traffic following the US president’s departure at a very challenging time for traditional media.

Figures like Trump and Hopkins boost readership. People who hate them also circulate stories about them.

So are these social media platforms a force for good or evil?

It certainly doesn't put them in a positive light when they act so late on controversial accounts.

But if the news had been about social media’s role in overthrowing a barbaric dictator, we’d be feeling somewhat different.

In the UK, if you voted Remain, you most likely find the role social media played in spreading misinformation enraging.

If you voted Leave, citizens and visionaries used Twitter and Facebook to get around the hold of the establishment elite on power and information.

And conspiracy theories are durable. They spread and remained in the mind long before the internet.

So what’s new?

The direct communications route to supporters that social media gives public figures is the factor that looks to be bigger or faster than the ‘old ways’.

That mass intimacy of communication can change the course of things.

But it is also used to watch us. The police and intelligence agencies take an interest, and might act on what’s posted.

And traditional media use social media to find stories, and to promote their own coverage of events.

Journalists can have huge followings on all platforms – they will file a story about a tweet, and then tweet their own story.

So what now?

My suspicion is that social media platforms will calm down – temporarily.

If some battles are being fought elsewhere, then our attention will go elsewhere.

In the UK, look at what COVID-19 has done to our own Government communications strategy.

We’ve seen the revival of the press conference, with questions for ministers – a form of comms long ago declared dead by journalists and PRs.

When the chief medical officer is on PowerPoint slides – rather than TikTok – then so are we.

This is where the action currently is, although of course we’re all also on Twitter while watching these press conferences.

When controversial figures go, social and traditional media miss the traffic they bring.

But they probably need a break too, because it can feel relentless.

It won't be long, though, until other divisive figures come on their radar. It's interesting to see where they will choose to project their messages.

Melissa Davis is chief executive of MD Communications

Thumbnail credit: Getty

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