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The Technology 202: Trump is considering building his own social network. But it might not get him what he wants.

Trump is considering starting his own social network after Twitter permanently banned him on Friday. 

The scramble reflects the president's struggle to find a new channel of communication after heavily relying on 280-character missives to govern for the past four years, as my colleagues Tony Romm and Josh Dawsey reported. Trump teased the plans for a new social network in a tweet posted to the official @POTUS account Friday night, which was later removed by Twitter. 

Brad Parscale, Trump's former campaign manager, encouraged the president on Saturday to strike out on his own. “I believe the best avenue for POTUS is to use his own app to speak to his followers,” he said. If Apple or Google block the service, Parscale added, Trump has “a clear path to a victorious lawsuit against them.”

Trump's communications problems illustrate the dampening of the president's digital megaphone as more tech companies distance themselves from the president's rhetoric that incited the violence last week at the U.S. Capitol, where a police officer and others were killed. 

Many initially expected Trump would turn to Parler, a clone of Twitter with more lax content moderation policies that caters to Trump supporters. But now the company's CEO is warning Parler risks of going out of business as a wide variety of tech vendors cut ties with the social network, after some of its users glorified the Capitol riot. Amazon suspended Parler from its web-hosting service over the weekend, taking the social network offline indefinitely — or at least until it can find a new hosting company. Apple and Google last week also removed Parler's apps from their stores. 

Trump may face his own hurdles in starting a social network.

Experts expect Trump could get his own social network up and running within a matter of weeks with the assistance of technologists. But it would be a costly and time-consuming endeavor — and come with some limitations Trump didn't face when using Twitter and Facebook. 

Trump likely would not enjoy the same reach he had on Twitter. 

It's likely only the outgoing president's followers and a handful of reporters and political junkies would follow him to a new social network. That would be a far more limited audience than the broad swaths of people that saw the president's rhetoric on Twitter, where he had 90 million followers from around the world. Trump has also been indefinitely banned from Facebook.

“Twitter gave him access to every reporter in the country and the ability to troll the libs and get on cable news within minutes,” said Nu Wexler, a communications consultant who previously worked for Facebook, Twitter and Google.  “I don't think he would get that on his own social network. It would be an echo chamber of just his supporters.”

Republican politicians might follow Trump to a new social network, but it's unclear if they would give up their powerful accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Many who joined Parler remained on Twitter and Facebook. 

Trump starting his own social network could lead to a greater splintering of social media. 

“It’s very hard to build a new network,” Yochai Benkler, the co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, told my colleagues. “Maybe he’s so big and important he could get some millions of people to join a network. The economics will make it much more insular and internal. … Networks benefit from being an option for people to reach lots of different people.”

He could face some of the same infrastructure challenges as Parler. 

Experts do not expect Trump would have a strong content moderation system for his own social network. That could open up Trump to some of the same challenges as Parler. 

“Trump is not likely to institute a very robust content moderation practice over his own social media network, provided that comes to life,” said Dipayan Ghosh, a former Facebook adviser who leads the Digital Platforms and Democracy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School. “As we've seen with regard to his behavior with Charlottesville and the Proud Boys, he engages anyone who is willing to stand up and say I'm for Trump.”

Given their moves in recent days, it's unlikely that the three largest cloud providers — Amazon, Microsoft and Google — would be willing to host a Trump social network, especially given the political scrutiny they're expected to face under a Biden administration. 

Already a wide variety of vendors that helped power Trump's online presence are cutting ties with the president. Stripe will no longer process payments for Trump's campaign website and fundraising efforts, as the Wall Street Journal reported. Shopify took down online stores affiliated with the president. 

However, it is possible that Trump could find foreign infrastructure companies and vendors  willing to work with him, Ghosh said. 

The very regulation Trump advocated for could come back to haunt him. 

Trump has called for a foundational Internet law known as Section 230 to be revoked — and conservatives are expected to continue that charge after he leaves office. But if the former president were to launch his own social network, a repeal of Section 230 could open him to legal jeopardy.

Danielle Citron, a professor at University of Virginia Law School, warned a repeal of Section 230 could leave Trump open to defamation lawsuits and an array of other possible charges.

“So he would hate the world he says he wants,” she said. 

Section 230 protects website operators from lawsuits for the posts, videos and photos that others share on their services, and also shields them from legal action over their content moderation decisions. Republicans say they're emboldened to overhaul the law in light of Silicon Valley's recent action against Trump. 

Trump still has plenty of other ways to get his message out to the American public. 

Whether or not he starts his own social network, experts say the president will still find ways to get his message across. And Trump might find it's cheaper and less time-consuming to use existing channels. 

Trump could easily grant interviews with friendly media outlets like Newsmax or One America News. He also has a vast trove of phone numbers and email addresses that could support his efforts to directly communicate with voters. 

“They'll use those outlets before they try to build their own social network,” Wexler said. 

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Twitter said its concerns about a “secondary attack" contributed to its decision to ban Trump's account. 

The company warned that plans of “future armed protests” were spreading on Twitter and other online services in a blog post, my colleagues Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell and Marissa J. Lang write. The company warned it could hit the Capitol as well as state government buildings the weekend of Jan. 16-17. 

Calls for protests on the days leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden have been spreading on social media for weeks. These demonstrations are expected to build up to what organizers are calling a “Million Militia March” on Jan. 20 as Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris are to be inaugurated. 

“We all knew that tens of thousands of extremists would converge on D.C. Wednesday, so there’s no excuse for the resourcing failure,” Brian Harrell, a former Trump administration Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary for infrastructure protection, who is now chief security officer for Avangrid, an energy company, told my colleagues. “Law enforcement was ill-prepared for an event the entire country knew was coming, and one that [the president] has been signaling for weeks. ... It’s shocking.”

The recent calls to action have included violent talk and vows to bring guns to Washington in defiance of the city’s strict weapons laws. A new analysis of such posts by Alethea Group, an organization combating disinformation that draws its name from the Greek word for “truth,” uncovered abundant evidence of threatening plans on a range of social networks, from Facebook to niche conservative sites. 

Cellphone records and other technologies are playing a critical role in efforts to arrest Capitol rioters. 

The infrastructure at the government complex can turn any connected phone into a tracking device, my colleagues Craig, Drew and Spencer S. Hsu report. 

Congressional investigators and federal prosecutors can also find devices and users who may have connected willingly or automatically to congressional guest WiFi networks — unless rioters made a point of deactivating their devices or leaving them behind during the takeover.

The many hours of videos, which were initially shared on social media by the rioters themselves, could be a fertile data set for facial recognition. Few people wore masks, and many scenes were captured for several minutes with good lighting. The technology is less accurate on people with dark skin, but the majority of people invading the Capitol appeared to be White. 

“Some people were being very blatant and flippant about it, smiling for the camera — those people are going to be very easy to find,” said Doug Kouns, a retired FBI special agent and founder of the Indiana-based private-investigation firm Veracity IIR, told my colleauges. “I worked with the bureau for a long time, and when I watched that play out I got the same hollow feeling in my stomach as on 9/11: How is this happening? They’re going to use every resource they can to bring these people to justice.”

But Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, warned the use of facial recognition in this situation might bolster a technology that is routinely deployed by police and immigration agents to surveil people of color.

“It’s always in these moments of crisis that people are more willing to accept government overreach,” said Greer, who drew a parallel to the increased surveillance infrastructure that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

CES is still happening this week, minus the germs and massive crowds. 

The world's largest technology show is going virtual in its 54th year, my colleague Heather Kelly reports. But it's difficult to translate the ridiculous TVs, robot stunts and gadget demos that took over Las Vegas in past years into a digital event. 

“So far, this year’s CES appears to be a bunch of news releases, live-streamed announcements at odd hours, Zoom panels and video ‘experiences,’ all coordinated to come out the same few weeks,” Heather writes. “There are new products, but finding them is different, and proving they exist and work is difficult.”

Some companies are going rogue and simply posting product announcements on their own during the same time. Typically companies pay thousands of dollars for floor space at the show to present their products, but this year they're shelling out between $1,200 and $85,000 to be exhibitors at the all-digital conference.

“I think the normal energy and excitement is going to be muted because we’re physically not there,” Tuong Nguyen, a senior principal analyst at Gartner, told Heather. 

Much of the appeal of CES is having people from around the world gathering in the same location and networking. CTA organizers say they’re attempting to re-create some of that feel in the 2021 version. 

“We’re trying to take some of the serendipity that happens during the in-person CES — that chance encounter with a new partner or an innovative product you see while walking the show floor — and bringing it to the digital venue,” says Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association.

More from CES: 

CES goes full pandemic with smart masks, stickers to detect covid and the biggest WiFi update in years (Geoffrey A. Fowler, Heather Kelly, Dalvin Brown and Rachel Lerman)

Rant and rave

Steven Sinofsky shared a fascinating trip down memory lane, in honor of the 14th anniversary of Steve Jobs unveiling the iPhone:


One solution for keeping you motivated during workouts: A digitally enhanced reflection (Dalvin Brown)

Bookmark this

He Created the Web. Now He’s Out to Remake the Digital World. (New York Times)

Before you log off

Meet Qoobo, a robot that acts like a lap cat. It's one of the many products debuting at CES this week:

The fur-covered robot from Japanese company Yukai Engineering is like a lap cat with a swishing tail but without the head, legs or aptitude for destruction. (Video: The Washington Post)