Trump’s horribly stupid return to Twitter


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dated: 2022-11-20 16:18:32 .

Like a monster miraculously resurrected to terrorize the heroes in a horror movie sequel, Donald Trump is back.

No, I’m not talking about his November 15th announcement of his third campaign for President of the United States. Instead, I have something much more important on my mind: Twitter.

On the evening of November 17, Elon Musk — the richest man in the world and the new owner of Twitter —published a poll He asked the site’s users if they should “bring back former President Trump,” who was banned from the platform after inciting Jan. 6 uprising—the same bots that Musk has been railing against for the past few months. “Vox Populi, Vox Dei”, Musk chirpedand Trump’s account was reinstated.

This whole incident is terribly stupid. The story revolves around the whims of two rich and selfish men who enjoy nothing more than public attention. It’s a huge waste of everyone’s time and I hate having to think about it.

During Trump’s 22-month “permanent suspension” from Twitter, the account was hidden from anyone who tried to look it up: typing @realDonaldTrump into Twitter produced a blank gray screen that simply announced, “Account suspended.” But now Trump’s old tweets are back, preserved like the citizens of Pompeii frozen in the ashes of Mount Vesuvius. His last tweet is from January 8, 2021. the day it is forbidden: “To everyone who asked, I won’t be coming to the inauguration on January 20.” If you want a reminder of what prompted Twitter to ban him from its platform due to the “risk of further incitement to violence.” , you can scroll through the former president’s other tweets from the day of the riot. (But not his tweets fueling the anger of Capitol rebels against Vice President Mike Pence or calling the rebels “great patriots” — he deleted those posts before deactivating the account.)

However, Musk is clearly not worried about the risk of future violence. His decision, apart from the childish implementation, is not particularly surprising. In May, still embroiled in a legal battle over his bid to back out of buying Twitter, Musk called the site’s decision to ban Trump “extremely stupid” and suggested bringing the former president back.

Predictably, when Musk announced his decision, some Twitter users went wild. A number of people have announced that they will leave the platform. Doom and gloom are spreading. Representative Liz Cheney from the committee on January 6 posted his own tweet suggesting that Twitter users might be interested in following the commission’s hearing documenting how Trump’s tweets contributed to insurgent violence.

One person, however, has been particularly quiet: Trump himself. He still hasn’t tweeted — and his contractual obligations to Truth Social, the platform created to serve as Trump’s alternative online home during his Twitter ban, may actually limit what he can post on his newly revived account. Speaking publicly after Musk released his survey, Trump said he saw “no reason” to return to Twitter: “Truth Social has taken its place for a lot of people, and I don’t see it coming back to Twitter.”

However, Truth Social is a much smaller platform than Twitter: Trump’s followers there (4.6 million) dwarf his followers on Twitter (88 million). And Trump is not known for keeping his word. His return would not be a surprise. A world with Trump back on Twitter, running for office again and more recently able to spread his hate and destabilizing whims, is arguably riskier than a world where Trump is banned from Twitter. In a time of increasing political violence, it is dangerous to hand the megaphone back to this man.

But as David A. Graham wrote Atlantic When Musk first took over Twitter, there was no guarantee that the former president would be able to recapture the magic. The political situation has changed. Most importantly, Trump is no longer president. The unique power of his tweets has always been that, with just his words, he could redirect the direction of the US government. That power is no longer his – and that is exactly the truth he wanted to undo when he expelled the rebels in Congress on January 6.

There are a million lenses through which to understand Trump’s possible return to Twitter. Just look at the implications for social media platforms. What will happen to Trump’s suspended Facebook account? What might Trump’s hold on Truth Social tell researchers about the effects of “deplatforming”—banning toxic users from a social media site? Truth Social runs Mastodon, a decentralized social media network that many Twitter users now treat as a life raft. If Trump sticks with Truth Social and ex-Twitter fans flee to Mastodon, what might that signal about the rise of smaller, less centralized networks as a possible future for social media?

Ultimately, however, I find it absurd and even insulting that I have to deal with these issues at all. You’re reading this and I’m writing this because a very rich man, desperate to get people to pay attention to him, posted a slightly rigged survey on a site he just bought for $44 billion. The answers to many of the questions I just asked will depend on the imagination of another rich man who is desperate for people to pay attention to him. It’s insulting to get your attention like that.

Asking people to simply ignore these clumsy titans is too easy: their bludgeoning tends to destroy the world in which the rest of us live. But at least we can be more critical about what kind of attention we give them and why. Throughout the Trump administration, journalists have struggled to get critical information out to the public without simply amplifying Trump’s absurdities or giving him the attention he craves. The press has not been entirely successful, but recent coverage of Trump’s 2024 bid suggests that journalists have learned some lessons. In their stories about Trump’s presidential announcement, for example The Washington Post and ilmhunt chose not to focus on his recent provocations, instead highlighting Trump’s role in the insurgency and the threat he poses to democracy.

If Trump returns to Twitter, the press must stick to that approach and not return to the breathless, substance-free reporting that has often prevailed during Trump’s tenure. And since journalists learned the hard way how to — and how not to — cover Trump, they should apply some of those lessons to the public debate about Musk. Unfortunately, it cannot be turned off completely. (I can attest to this: I unfollowed Musk on Twitter in a fit of rage over a year ago, but it’s proving extremely difficult to follow what’s happening on the platform these days.) But we can refuse to let it completely reshape our attention spans.

For journalists, that means thinking more critically about how to cover Musk, perhaps expanding the scope to consider not just the man himself, but the larger forces that enabled his acquisition of Twitter and the impact his actions have on the world. For the average Twitter user, that might just mean not panicking too much about Musk’s decision to bring Trump back now. There will be plenty of time if and when Twitter’s most notorious poster opens the Vogel app again. And for that matter, you can always find me on Mastodon.


Trump’s horribly stupid return to Twitter

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