Twitter will never ban Donald Trump. It can't.
“I did it. I took the plunge. I just really wanted to follow Donald Trump and see it for myself.”
That’s what my neighbor told me this past weekend about signing up for Twitter. He doesn’t participate in social media often, not unless he has to. He doesn’t care about what celebrities have to say, gets his news from other sources and still uses the actual telephone to keep in contact with friends and family.
He follows only one person on Twitter.
As I've come to suspect he’s done to millions of others, Trump lured him into the fray. As one of the app’s most valuable clients, the president-elect is likely the one person that will keep it in business for at least the next 4 years.
"(Trump’s) use of social media in particular… is gonna be something that’s never been seen before,” says Sean Spicer, Trump’s current press secretary. Yeah ... no shit.
It isn't a secret that Twitter is in trouble. Despite it having over a billion registered accounts, the company claims that only 320 million of those are monthly active users. Even then, some 44 percent of people using Twitter aren’t doing anything with it except watching on the sidelines. That's right, almost half of Twitter's active users don't even use it for what it's intended. For a social media platform, that's bad for business.
When a tech company isn’t growing, it’s failing — at least that’s the sentiment around the industry in general. And for Twitter, it hasn’t been able to gain new followers by capturing the worldwide audience Facebook has. That fact has investors and analysts worried it’s going to soon get beat out and sit amongst other failed companies that couldn't hang in the quickly changing social atmosphere.
Holding it on by a thread is its knight in glistening orange armor: @realDonaldTrump. The guy can’t stay off of Twitter for three minutes, and every time he types anything under 140 characters, the media goes fucking bananas over it. A few number crunchers estimated that Donald Trump received over $2 billion worth of free media space during the presidential campaign, and it’s a good bet a lot of that came from coverage of his filterless Tweets.
Are people flocking to the site en masse to witness the trainwreck though? It’s hard to say without asking everyone, but according to Statista, from the 4th quarter of 2015 to the 1st in 2016 (when the campaigns really began to get interesting), monthly active users for the application bumped from about 305 million to 310, and has slowly crept upwards to 317 in the most recent estimates.
And Donald Trump's 'fanbase' has almost doubled in just 6 months, now nearing close to 20 million followers. One million more and he has Kendall Jenner beat.
This isn’t Twitter’s doing either. It isn’t out there innovating social media or releasing grand schemes to keep people around. It’s treading water with its head barely over the surface, relying on people like the Kardashians and Bieber to bolster interactions with the community. The one unique thing it had going for it was Periscope, a live feed. It lasted a few months, until Facebook kind of became the leader in 'going live' overnight, making Twitter's option obsolete.
How long can this really go on?
The company sometimes tries to do the right thing, but oftentimes it just can't. Banning unwanted people like Martin Shkreli and Milo Yiannopoulos for breaking the company's terms of service is fine, but booting Trump for the bizarre things he says? Even the employees know that's not an option.
“Banning is definitely a conversation that people are having, but only because we have to have the conversation,” a current employee of Twitter told The Verge recently, speaking under anonymity. “It would take something really deplorable for a ban, and I highly doubt even Trump is that stupid.”
“It’s not gonna happen,” another said. “You just can’t do it."
Trump can’t save Twitter, it’s probably already doomed. But he’ll delay the inevitable, for sure. At least for the next 4 years, if he keeps Tweeting, there are going to be millions around the world anxious to sign up and engage. Four years is a long spread in Internet time though, and who really knows what's right around the corner for mass communication.
Then again, maybe he has it right where he wants it: