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Corporate Media Thrived On Donald Trump, So What Will They Do With Him Silenced?

(Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for CNN)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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The relationship between President Donald Trump, social media and the corporate news industry was unlike anything that existed before him. Now, with the outgoing president being shut down by more and more social media platforms, he’s lost his preferred form of communication — and the media has lost one of their biggest ratings draws. 

Trump attracted increasing scrutiny to his social media posts once the 2020 election cycle began heating up. His claims about mail-in voting and voter fraud specifically started getting misinformation warning labels from Twitter, and the platform ultimately took the step to ban him following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. In addition to the warning labels, many of Trump’s post-election tweets asserting the election was stolen were unable to be retweeted or replied to. 

The media lambasted the president for his allegations of widespread fraud while benefiting greatly from the resulting news and social media engagement cycle. (RELATED: Twitter Stock Plummets After Banning President Trump, Purging Conservative Accounts)

Twitter and Facebook have undoubtedly been helped by Trump’s presence on their platforms. Prior to his banning on Jan. 8, the president had amassed more than 88 million followers on Twitter, or sixth-most on the entire platform. No other political figure ranked in the top 60 with the exception of former President Barack Obama, who has the most followers on Twitter with 128 million. 

Trump built a following of 33 million likes and 35 million followers on Facebook, before being “blocked indefinitelyfrom using the platform on Jan. 7. Trump didn’t only attract followers on social media, he drove traffic: The president ranked 57th on all of Twitter in engagements and ranked in the top 200 of Facebook’s “talked about” metric, according to social media tracker Social Blade

Social media platforms weren’t the only beneficiaries of Trump’s frequent posting. Legacy media outlets, from print publications like The New York Times to cable networks like CNN, repeatedly turned a single tweet into an entire news cycle. 

Some of the most intense moments of the Trump administration were birthed by a tweet. Trump’s July 2018 tweet threatening the leader of Iran was breaking news at CNN and received widespread coverage from corporate media. After recovering from COVID-19 late in his term, Trump’s tweet urging Americans “don’t be afraidof the virus sparked mass condemnation from legacy press outlets such as CBS and The NYT

There were also lighter moments that, without Twitter, likely would not have even existed to become news stories at all. The media made hay out of Trump tweeting his desire to purchase Greenland and the infamous “covfefe” blunder, which became so much a part of popular culture the term has a Wikipedia page of its own. 

The proof is in the numbers. CNN and MSNBC have both seen record-high ratings in the Trump era, and executives are concerned those numbers will tank when the president leaves office, according to The New York Times. The Capitol riot led to Jan. 6 being the most-watched day in the 40-year history of CNN, ABC reports

Digital news success has soared under Trump as well. The Washington Post passed 1 million digital subscribers for the first time shortly after Trump took office in 2017, and The New York Times reportedly had its best growth ever in the year 2020. (RELATED: Google Bans Parler From Play Store, Citing Potential To ‘Incite Ongoing Violence’ After Capitol Building Riot)

The Trump campaign itself also generated immense revenue for digital news and social media platforms through advertising spending. In 2016, the Trump team focused more than any campaign had before on digital spending, and that prompted both parties to go big on online advertising in 2020. The Biden and Trump campaigns both spend tens of millions of dollars on digital advertising down the stretch of the 2020 election season, according to CNBC

Despite the boon delivered by Trump to much of corporate media, members of the industry largely applauded his banning from social platforms. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg were ultimately among those who enacted the actual bans, but personalities from CNN, MSNBC and The NYT all celebrated the moves, despite cashing in on Trump’s presence on the platforms for the previous four years. (RELATED: Twitter’s Jack Dorsey Ripped For Tweet That Seemed To Mock Parler’s Deplatforming)

The final weeks of Trump’s presidency have been among his quietest. The White House has released a few statements on Trump’s activities, but citizens have largely had to return to the news-gathering methods of the past, relying on communications professionals and reporters to spread information, rather than the president himself. 

While the nation is still on high alert approaching President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, tensions seem to have lessened somewhat from their Jan. 6 peak. Some attribute that to the lack of tweets coming from the Oval Office.

Ideological or personal gains made by the media from Trump’s ban may come at a cost, though. What some media members thought was their biggest headache could also prove to have been their biggest revenue driver.