On Wednesday, former President Trump's blog, From the Desk of Donald J. Trump, was put to rest. It was 29 days old. There will be no funeral and all traces of the blog have been erased from Trump's website.
The cause of death was embarrassment. Trump reportedly "didn’t like that this platform was being mocked and had so few readers." His entire website, including the blog fundraising pages, reportedly "attracted fewer estimated visitors than the pet-adoption service Petfinder and the recipe site Delish."
But while Trump's blog was short-lived, its death can teach us a valuable lesson. Why was the blog so unpopular? After all, Trump posted exactly the same kind of messages that were wildly popular on Twitter and Facebook before Trump was banned from those platforms.
Trump clearly expected that millions of people would flock to his website for this kind of wisdom. But the failure of Trump's blog shows there is not an unquenchable thirst for Trump's rants. Rather, Trump's popularity was artificially boosted by Facebook and Twitter's algorithms, which reward hatred, misinformation, and other divisive content. Outside of this artificial reality created by social networks, Trump's diatribes have little organic appeal.
It underscores that the fundamental problems with Facebook and Twitter are baked into their algorithms and cannot be solved by banning Trump or any individual account.
Facebook is aware of the problem. Last year the Wall Street Journal reported that senior Facebook executives were warned about the systemic issues with its algorithm:
“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”
That presentation went to the heart of a question dogging Facebook almost since its founding: Does its platform aggravate polarization and tribal behavior?
The answer it found, in some cases, was yes.
Facebook, however, "shelved the basic research" partly due to concerns that "proposed changes would have disproportionately affected conservative users and publishers."
While Trump has been absent from Facebook for months, extreme content continues to thrive. In April, for example, the top publisher on Facebook was the Daily Wire, a far-right website that produces no original reporting.
The Daily Wire, which employs a few dozen people, received more than four times the distribution of the New York Times, which employs thousands of journalists. Without Facebook's amplification, the Daily Wire's recycled and bigoted content would likely be as popular as Trump's blog.