Trump’s social network could be arriving at the worst possible time

What’s happening? Former US President Donald Trump has said he is working on launching his own social media platform. Trump was banned from Twitter after the social network said he breached rules against promoting violence, following his encouragement of supporters to storm the US Capitol on 6 January via his personal account. The former president is also suspended from Facebook, pending an external review. Trump recently told Newsmax that putting out statements via press releases was more effective than tweeting since the content can’t be retweeted by someone who can “put you in a little difficulty”. (Bloomberg)

Why does this matter? It’s easy to forget in the post-Trump era that some 70 million people voted for the former president in November’s presidential election. His base still seemingly remains supportive – almost two-thirds of Republican voters said in a recent poll he should play a major future role in the Republican Party, while 54% said they’d back a presidential run by him in 2024.

A social network where Trump can make the rules, therefore, would likely gain some traction – and potentially allow the former president to retain influence over a not insubstantial portion of the US population. While it’s often difficult to tell if Trump is serious when talking about future plans, reports have indicated he has taken some steps with the launch of a social platform in mind.

Arriving at the worst possible time – Trump has always been willing to feed the public with untruths and misinformation while indulging in conspiracy theories. Millions of people believe him.

The US is in the middle of a mass vaccination drive, one that is so far proving successful with the possibility that 70% of American adults will be inoculated against Covid-19 by June. This, however, relies on all eligible adults taking the vaccine and, worryingly, a recent poll suggested only 59% of US residents are willing to have the shot. It’s estimated at least 80% of the adult population will need to have had the jab for the maximum benefit to be realised.

Trump has a history of indulging those spreading anti-vaccination conspiracies and chose not to publicly take the vaccine himself. There is a real risk a social network fronted by the former president allows misinformation to spread and stymies the US’s vaccine rollout.

What can be done to encourage vaccinations? While Trump’s rhetoric may sway people against the vaccine, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have noted politicians taking the opposite stance – encouraging people to take the jab – have nearly no impact. Instead, health care providers are often the best source of reason for those who are sceptical. For those who are particularly stubborn, there have also been reports of parties and sweepstakes being held to encourage getting the shots. 

It’s not just Trump loyalists refusing the vaccines. Structural racism has created mistrust within African American communities, with the number of Black Americans getting vaccinated lagging other groups. Addressing this, the US has put $10bn towards expanding vaccine access for communities of colour. Other steps involve authorities working with Black leaders, holding Zoom sessions with experts to dismantle myths and enlisting locations like barbershops and salons to help with vaccine drives.

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