An oversight board at Facebook today upheld the platform’s ban on Donald Trump, so for at least another six months, Trump won’t have direct access to the social media that made him. (Bans on Twitter and YouTube are also still in effect.)
Trump vanished from sight with such speed that it’s easy to think that he’s lost his power. His ongoing ban from social media seems to reinforce that belief, since Trump no longer controls the daily media messaging.
But as with most things Trump, the truth is a lot more complicated. It’s true that Trump has been reduced to crashing weddings and looking like the greeter at a country club. But it’s also true that Trump – or more properly Trumpism – is now in complete control of the Republican party.
Keeping Trump off Facebook means we don’t have to listen to the ex-president inject his racism, xenophobia and transphobia directly into the political mainstream.
But Trump doesn’t have to. His followers reside in a closed universe well outside the mainstream. He has plenty of other outlets, including his newest platform, which has all the bells and whistles of a rudimentary blog.
More to the point, Trump has achieved such cult-like status in the GOP that the man himself is almost beside the point. The idea that his influence would shrink in the wake of contributing to a presidential and Congressional wipeout, to say nothing about inciting an insurrection, has proven false.
The forces Trump unleashed are larger than him. Now we’re not dealing with Trump. We’re dealing with Trumpism.
Meantime, Facebook is facilitating the growth of Trumpism by providing a handy outlet for the lies, conspiracy theories and other assorted delusions from the right. If you look at the top 10 posts shared on Facebook at any given time, they are dominated by right-wing characters like Ben Shapiro, Sean Hannity, and Franklin Graham. Fox News is also a regular on the list. Most times, at least seven or eight of the top posts are from Trump-loving sources.
As a result, Facebook remains one of the chief contributors to the spread of the lies that are damaging democracy. Trump is almost beside the point. Plenty of his acolytes are on Facebook spreading the same pernicious ideas, just without the same level of visibility or flair for aggressive bullying.
Keeping Trump off social media remains the right thing to do. But the focus now should not be on Trump. It’s on the movement he’s started. As long as social media remains the primary vehicle for the spread of disinformation and lies, banning one person, even if he was president, won’t count for much. It’s just a band aid on a cancer that is spreading through the body politic.