Meta's big money grab: Don't believe the spin, Trump is key to Facebook's success

Trump's half-literate, racist lies are a traffic bonanza on social media, so of course they want him back

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published January 26, 2023 6:00AM (EST)

Donald Trump | Facebook  (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Facebook (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Whatever Meta executives might say about the choice to allow Donald Trump back onto Facebook and Instagram, even though the former president incited a violent insurrection two years ago, know this: It's total honking nonsense. 

The "risk" from Trump, who was initially suspended from the social media platforms after he sent a violent mob to the Capitol in an attempt to install himself illegally in power, "has sufficiently receded," said Nick Clegg, president of global affairs a Meta

On Facebook, Trump doesn't even have to bother with the mainstream media to get attention.

This is false.

It hasn't been three months since a violent home invasion targeting then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, which resulted in the assault of her husband, Paul Pelosi, who suffered severe injuries. The alleged attacker was motivated by Trump's Big Lie, the same one Trump used to incite the riot of January 6. Just this month, another Big Lie devotee, Solomon Peña, was arrested for arranging and participating in shootings at four homes of Democratic officials. One attempt got very close to taking the life of a 10-year-old girl. Trump's Big Lie continues to stoke very real political violence. The threat has not receded at all. 

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In his statement, Clegg pretends the problem with Trump is merely "his praise for people engaged in violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021." In reality, Trump did more than passively admire these people. As the House committee that investigated the insurrection concluded, "the central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump." He didn't merely praise the insurrection. He led it. 

Trump makes liberals angry, makes his fans angry at liberals, causes fights and incentivizes dunks.

Clegg promises "new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses" from Trump, claiming, "Mr. Trump is subject to our Community Standards." While this cannot yet be called a lie, as Trump hasn't posted since his reinstatement, it's not overly cynical to believe that these words aren't worth the calories expended writing them. 

As Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, said in an emailed statement, "Trump's Truth Social account has shown us exactly how he'd use Facebook." As Media Matters documented, Trump "promoted what Facebook describes as a 'militarized' movement hundreds of times, and in the week after the midterm elections, nearly half (48%) of Trump's posts on Truth Social amplified QAnon-promoting accounts or pushed election misinformation." Trump can't get through a funeral or a campaign event for another candidate without turning it into a whinefest of violence-inciting lies about the 2020 election. The idea that he'll behave himself on Facebook is, at best, wishful thinking, or, more likely, just embarrassing B.S. 

This isn't about fairness, free speech, or democracy — all values Trump has spent the past 8 years trying to destroy. It's likely not even that much about Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg's well-documented willingness to be bullied by right-wingers. This is almost certainly about one thing and one thing only: money.

It's not just the money that Trump's campaign will spend on Meta. Trump himself, by being the most famous and repugnant troll in the world, is just big business for social media. His fascism, his bigotry, his cruelty and even his poor spelling and grammar all draw attention from fans and haters alike, creating a whirlwind of clicks and engagement that more responsible content simply can't match. As tech journalist Kara Swisher notes, "Enragement equals engagement." Trump makes liberals angry, makes his fans angry at liberals, causes fights and incentivizes dunks. Every post generates huge numbers of reposts both praising and condemning him. Democracy can't stand a chance against the sheer profitability engine that is his unique combination of stupidity, ego, and hatefulness. He's the worst person imaginable, but that is all the more reason we can't look away. 

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It may be that Elon Musk's similar decision to reinstate Trump's Twitter account was rooted in Musk's own right-wing politics. But Musk then followed it up with a dumb meme pathetically begging Trump to come back, making it clear that it was all about the money. Trump was the main character on Twitter for 6 years, after all, a constant source of conflict and therefore traffic. Musk's swiftly eroding financial situation means not just Twitter, but his main company, Tesla, are in danger. Trying to get Trump back on to generate traffic smelled like a Hail Mary. 

Democracy can't stand a chance against the sheer profitability engine that is his unique combination of stupidity, ego, and hatefulness.

Meta is in a similar boat. The company keeps bleeding money and laying off employees, as its daily active user rates fall and younger people skip its product altogether to go to places like TikTok. To compound the problem, Zuckerberg's solution to his company's woes — to create an unappealing "Metaverse" with graphic design that feels two decades out of date — is a joke. At this point, Facebook has little choice but to lean into the userbase it still has: aging Boomers who believed they were joining to share pictures of grandkids but end up spending hours of the day on the site further alienating themselves from their kids through their addiction to COVID-19 denialism memes and conspiracy theories about "antifa." Not injecting Trump into that situation is, from a profitability standpoint, like marketing a cruise line to retirees that doesn't feature an all-you-can-eat buffet. In this case, all they're eating is fascist propaganda. 

The possibility of Trump returning to Twitter was aggravating because journalists dominate and are dominated by Twitter. Trump on Twitter is, in effect, the assignment editor for the Beltway press, with his every lie and provocation drawing lavish coverage. But frankly, his return to Facebook, which he is likelier to take advantage of sooner, is even more dangerous.

On Facebook, Trump doesn't even have to bother with the mainstream media to get attention. On Facebook, he plugs into the vast network of right-wing paranoia that has colonized the nation's elderly white people. There's a reason Facebook's daily top ten posts heavily feature garish content from sneering fascists. Even more than Fox News, Facebook is why your grandpa thinks the city you live in is a burned-out husk where BLM protesters and "antifa" won't let you out of your house unless you change your gender. From a purely business standpoint, leaving Trump out of that is like not stocking Coca-Cola in a grocery's soda aisle. 

So far, Trump has resisted Twitter — but don't expect his claims to boycott Facebook will last long. As the old political saying goes, go hunting where the ducks are. In this case, the "ducks" are elderly racists and the hunting grounds are Dan Bongino's inexplicably popular Facebook feed.  

To be fair, it may not be entirely about money. Zuckerberg probably doesn't want to be subpoenaed to sit in front of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., while she asks why he lets medical professionals promote the vaccine on Facebook without giving equal time to those who believe Jewish space lasers caused the Sandy Hook shooting. But mostly, it's that slowly killing the remaining brain cells of our nation's Republican voters is a reliable generator of cash. 

Trump recently posted on Truth Social, the platform he launched after his mass social media suspensions, a call for "the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution." He hasn't toned down his fascist rants for the end of democracy but has instead grown even more belligerent. And thanks to Mark Zuckerberg and Meta, Trump's got an even bigger bullhorn for his lies. Lies which, we all remember quite vividly, led to a violent assault on our nation's Capitol — and still much more. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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