(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s reinstated Facebook and Instagram accounts could prove to be the accelerant he needs as he tries to spark Republican enthusiasm around his so-far listless 2024 White House comeback bid.
It’s not just that the former president can once again rally the 34 million followers on Facebook and 23 million on Instagram he had before his suspension in 2021. More importantly, his campaign will be able to buy ads again to raise funds with direct appeals or by capturing users’ contact information to solicit them directly.
Facebook’s most loyal users are older people, some of whom are receptive to his messaging and also are reliable voters, giving Trump a sizeable advantage over his Republican primary opponents. His accounts were shut down after his supporters waged the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.
“The main benefit of getting on Facebook is not so that he can communicate more,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant, who worked on presidential campaigns including Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 bid. “It’s so that he can raise money from his millions of followers.”
The move by Facebook’s parent company Meta Platforms Inc. to reinstate Trump comes as he ramps up his third White House run with his first campaign events of the year on Saturday in the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“As a general rule, we don’t want to get in the way of open, public and democratic debate on Meta’s platforms — especially in the context of elections in democratic societies like the United States,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, said in a blog post.
A politically weakened Trump announced in November that he’s running again just as he drew blame for his hand-picked candidates having lost key races in the GOP’s disappointing midterm elections performance.
Some polls show an increasing number of GOP voters eyeing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or another alternative, and deep-pocketed Wall Street donors have signaled publicly that they won’t support him.
But handing Facebook back to Trump means he would be able to once again deploy his most potent tools, especially with Chris LaCivita, who ran the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign that damaged John Kerry’s 2004 Democratic presidential campaign, helping lead his 2024 bid.
“It’s critical,” said Republican strategist Bryan Lanza, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign. “It was the key weapon that the president used in 2016 to win the presidency and to bypass mainstream media.”
Trump tapped Facebook and Twitter Inc. to guide the Republican agenda, generate news coverage and ridicule opponents. His campaign committees were among the largest advertisers on Facebook, spending more than $105 million on almost 756,500 ads during his 2020 reelection bid, according to an analysis by New York University’s Cybersecurity for Democracy.
Trump effectively used Facebook ads that asked users to complete a poll or respond to messages and provide their email addresses and cell phone numbers that the campaign could use to make direct solicitations, said Damon McCoy, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering who studies Facebook advertising.
Political committees affiliated with Trump, like his leadership PAC Save America, continued to advertise on Facebook after Trump was suspended but the ads could only use Trump’s name and likeness without coming directly from him in his voice.
Meta and Twitter suspended Trump’s accounts after a mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol in the Jan. 6 insurrection in 2021, citing violation of company policies against spreading disinformation and inciting violence.
But new owner and Chief Executive Elon Musk reinstated Trump’s Twitter account in November after an online poll supported it.
Meta said that the public safety risk that was present in January 2021 has subsided and that its also “put new guardrails in place” for violating the platform’s standards.
“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” Clegg said in the post.
Trump has said he’s staying on Truth Social, his own social-media platform, but few analysts think he’ll resist returning to Twitter. Trump has only 4.8 million followers on Truth Social. That compares to 34 million on Facebook and 23 million on Instagram.
“FACEBOOK, which has lost Billions of Dollars in value since ‘deplatforming’ your favorite President, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account. Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!” he said on Truth Social.
Last month, lawmakers including Democratic US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and US Representative Adam Schiff urged Clegg to continue Trump’s suspension and to “maintain its commitment to keeping dangerous and unfounded election denial content off its platform.”
There’s a high risk Trump will resume posting to a large audience the kind of false and inflammatory material that got him banned from the platforms, said Inga Kristina Trauthig, the head of research at the Propaganda Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Even if Trump is not nominated again or holds an important office currently, simply bringing him back to mainstream platforms can be harmful for US politics,” Trauthig said.
--With assistance from Bill Allison.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.