Four months after former President Donald Trump was banished from most mainstream social media platforms, he returned to the web last Tuesday with “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” essentially a blog for his musings.
A week since the unveiling, social media data suggests things are not going well.
The ex-president’s blog has drawn a considerably smaller audience than his once-powerful social media accounts, according to engagement data compiled with BuzzSumo, a social media analytics company. The data offers a hint that while Trump remains a political force, his online footprint is still dependent on returning to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The Desk of Donald J. Trump is limited — users can’t comment or engage with the actual posts beyond sharing them to other platforms, an action few people do, according to the data.
Trump’s new blog has attracted a little over 212,000 engagements, defined as backlinks and social interactions — including likes, shares and comments — received across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit. Before the ban, a single Trump tweet was typically liked and retweeted hundreds of thousands of times.
The blog posts come in the form of statements that are also sent to supporters via email. In the multiple daily notes, Trump has attacked his political enemies and endorsed faithful supporters, continued to push false claims and conspiracy theories, and opined on news of the day.
Trump's bans cost him the ability to communicate with millions of people: 88 million followers on Twitter, 32 million on Facebook, and 24 million on Instagram. Trump had just around 3 million YouTube subscribers, but his videos regularly racked up millions of views.
A CNBC analysis of Trump’s tweets in January found his most-liked tweets spread disinformation. But the conspiracy theories and name-calling that the former president has spread via his blog don’t seem to move the way they did when Trump benefited from the dual platforms of the White House and traditional social media. Trump has called his statements a “more elegant” alternative to tweeting, telling Newsmax’s Greg Kelly in March, “I like this better than Twitter. Actually they did us a favor.”
The most popular shares of Trump’s new content came from conservative outlets and activists. The top post on the blog, in which Trump railed against the Facebook Oversight Board’s decision to uphold his Facebook ban, garnered just 16,000 engagements.
Could people be sharing Trump’s posts through other means? Not likely. Another popular method of sharing, posting screenshots of posts, is also not particularly popular with Trump’s blog posts, racking up just a few thousand shares per post on average, according to a search of image text using CrowdTangle, Facebook’s social media analysis tool.
This is far from Trump’s first experience with blogging. Trump’s previous blog, kept in the mid-2000s on the website of the now defunct for-profit real estate school Trump University, followed a similar structure but was allegedly ghost-written.
A blow to the newest blog’s reach came last week when Twitter booted an account with more than 2,100 followers that primarily shared Trump’s blog posts. Despite a note in its bio that explicitly stated, “Not Donald J. Trump Tweeting,” Twitter permanently suspended the account.
“We’ll take enforcement action on accounts whose apparent intent is to replace or promote content affiliated with a suspended account,” a Twitter spokesperson said.
Trump was either temporarily or permanently banned from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube following what the social media companies said was his glorification of the rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump’s Twitter ban is permanent, and his temporary YouTube suspension will be lifted when the company decides that the threat of violence is no longer imminent. The length of his currently “indefinite” Facebook suspension will be decided by the company in the next six months, as ordered by the Facebook Oversight Board last week.
Trump’s deplatforming has caused political uproar, mostly from conservative politicians and pundits who argue that the widespread bans are just the latest example of social media’s censorship of conservative voices. Research has consistently found no evidence of anti-conservative bias from the most popular social media platforms.
The Trump blog’s low engagement numbers seem to suggest that the practice of deplatforming, or cutting off a user from their followers and thereby severing networks of common followers, is broadly effective and can be used to reduce hate speech and glorification of violence from mainstream platforms. It also seemingly restricts a public figure’s ability to attract a similar audience on an alternative platform.
A limited but growing body of academic research suggests that while de-platforming can clean up a platform and reduce the size of extremist communities, there are unintended consequences when a community migrates to their own, self-hosted platform.
Jeremy Blackburn, an assistant professor of computer science at New York’s Binghamton University who co-wrote some of this research, said Trump’s move is even more limiting.
“In the case of Trump's new platform, it is so technologically primitive that there is no way for his followers to even migrate,” Blackburn said. “Who cares about a platform where you can't even own the libs? There are plenty of other newsletters that people have been adding to their spam boxes for years.”
Trump’s team isn’t giving up on getting his messages back in front of a large, engaged audience, though. Following ridicule of the new blog, Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told followers to hold out.
“President Trump’s website is a great resource to find his latest statements and highlights from his first term in office, but this is not a new social media platform,” Miller tweeted. “We’ll have additional information coming on that front in the very near future.”