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Trump's leaving office. Don't expect him to leave your news feed

By Brian Contreras, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — When President Donald Trump exits the Oval Office on Jan. 20, don't expect him to disappear from your Twitter feed.

Trump is likely to become even less restrained on social media, putting intense pressure on Twitter and Facebook to manage his most explosive and rule-breaking claims. Under fire from Republicans for allegedly censoring conservative views and from Democrats for failing to aggressively stanch the flow of disinformation, the popular social media platforms are in a difficult spot that experts say could now get even more dicey.

Trump has said social media have been critical to his political success, allowing him to bypass traditional media and reach out directly to nearly 90 million Twitter followers. There is no reason to believe that someone as publicity-conscious as Trump will scale back his posts as he navigates a world where he is no longer at the center of the political universe. If anything, Trump could become more provocative in his effort to retain his relevance in Republican politics and perhaps lay the groundwork for another presidential bid, experts said.

"He will continue to use Twitter to raise campaign funds, to continue 'friendraising' and fundraising, and also to have those conversations with the opposition," said Jennifer Edwards, executive director of the Tarleton State University-based Social Media Research Institute. Twitter could even "fuel his next step into the 2024 campaign," she added, if he opts to run again.

Like other political figures, Trump has used his Facebook and Twitter accounts to announce policy positions, commemorate holidays and push for legislation. But he was also among the first world leaders to weaponize his feed. Critics contend that many of his missives have often gone too far, citing examples of his being unpresidential ("little Adam Schitt"), incoherent ("negative press covfefe") and mean (he called his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions "a disaster who has let us all down").

His tweets have also been dangerous, according to Democrats, election experts and public health officials say. Trump has downplayed the risks of coronavirus, issued false claims about the accuracy of mail-in voting and promoted fringe conspiracy theories.

 

Experts see no reason why Trump would scale back.

"Being in politics, being on the campaign trail, being at the start of this administration, they were able to do a better job in managing him on Twitter," said Purdue University Northwest's Yu Ouyang, the co-author of "Trump, Twitter, and the American Democracy." "But I think they've gradually lost control. And if he's no longer in office ... because there's less people helping him manage his account, he will revert to himself, actually, on Twitter."

In recent months, Twitter has more aggressively moderated Trump's tweets by appending warnings that the president's claims are in dispute. Facebook is following a similar tact, although with softer language.

Both platforms have been getting pressure to suspend Trump. Twitter recently banned Steve Bannon, a former top Trump adviser, after he called for the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert.

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