Trump sparred with the likes of Twitter and Facebook despite his immense popularity on those platforms. His fiery rhetoric ultimately got him booted from them.
President Donald J. Trump has left the White House with a legacy of railing against the tech world despite relying on the reach of Facebook and Twitter to spread misinformation and inflame the public. It was a clash that ultimately led to his expulsion from those social media platforms.
President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in during his inauguration ceremony on Wednesday, putting an end to the Trump era, which was marked by bitter partisan fighting and the sowing of discord -- much of it taking place on social media. The transition will be happening under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected roughly 24 million people and killed nearly 400,000 in the US, and an assault on the US Capitol by right-wing extremists who stormed the building after a Trump speech.
The violence in DC, which led to Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat blocking Trump from their platforms, capped off a volatile four-year stretch notable for Trump's love-hate relationship with technology. With nearly 87 million followers on Twitter, the septuagenarian was a master of social media, often disrupting news cycles and upending presidential norms with sudden, often typo-prone tweets. Yet he constantly railed against the perceived slights from Twitter, Facebook and Google, which struggled to quell disinformation -- some of it perpetuated by him. In the days after the election, a significant number of his tweets and Facebook posts were flagged by both companies as misinformation.
The president's use of his personal social media account -- and especially his ability to rally followers through Twitter -- played a key role in Trump's surprise ascension from real estate magnate, whose businesses filed for bankruptcy six times, and star of the reality show The Apprentice to the Republican nominee for the country's highest office. He stunned the nation by defeating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College in 2016, despite losing the popular vote by a margin of 2.9 million. Trump's social media presence remained a key tool in his bid for reelection this year.
The 2016 election, and questions about Russia's influence on the results, raised concerns among lawmakers and voters about the negative impact of social media on society and our lives. Alongside this dynamic was an uneasy relationship between Trump, 74, and the tech industry, which fluctuated between photo ops with top tech executives and clashes over disagreements in principle.
Trump's early days as president featured overtures to the business community. He held numerous public and private meetings with technology executives including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as well as the leaders of the wireless carriers. In May 2017, he formed the American Technology Council to modernize how the US government operates, and he often touted his relationship with corporate America.
But Trump butted heads with tech companies on numerous occasions. A month after the council was created, Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord, a pact between nearly 200 countries to curb global warming. In response, tech giants such as Apple, Google and Microsoft, alongside a coalition of businesses and civic organizations, said they'd still respect the terms of the deal. Tesla CEO Elon Musk quit the council because of Trump's move. (Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris accord on his first day in office in January.)
Two months after that, Trump failed to call out neo-Nazis over protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to the death of a woman and the injuring of 19 other people. That failure prompted several tech executives to walk away from presidential councils, including then-IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, who left the now-disbanded Strategy and Policy Forum, and then-Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, who resigned from a manufacturing council.
The White House's plans to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which gave undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children protection from deportation, also drew the tech industry's ire. Companies including Apple employed some of those DACA recipients.
In 2018, tech executives denounced the treatment of families who illegally crossed the border, including US officials separating children from their parents.
Trump always fired back. As president, he alleged without evidence that social networks were censoring conservative voices, something the companies have denied. And as part of that back and forth, he sought to curtail protections for internet companies granted under a law known as Section 230, issuing an executive order to have it revised. It's a push he made especially as the election race heated up.
Trump has also championed deregulation, helping a number of industries, including internet service providers such as Verizon and Comcast. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, spearheaded the dismantling of net neutrality, a move that's still undergoing a legal challenge.
Trump's aim to protect US businesses also led to his tussles with China over trade. He squashed a deal for Broadcom, then headquartered in Singapore, to buy US-based Qualcomm, because of concerns over the loss of 5G intellectual property. In May 2019, he banned Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from using any US technology, essentially cutting the company off from the key parts of Google's Android operating system, because of worries that China could use Huawei phones and equipment as a way to spy on American individuals and businesses.
The White House under Trump had also considered boosting support for 5G networks, and had at one point floated the idea of a nationalized 5G network. A raft of Republicans and the telecommunications and tech industries criticized the notion as unrealistic, with deployments by the carriers already underway.
In July, Trump issued an executive order requiring TikTok to sell itself to a US company or risk getting shut out of the market, again citing security concerns, over how much data the short-video app collected on US citizens. The move forced ByteDance, the app's Chinese parent, to work out a deal with Oracle, which had Trump's blessing.
Trump entered 2020 battling a hearing that led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives. The Senate later acquitted him of the charges.
But his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a turbulent 2020 -- which included nationwide protests over the treatment of the Black community, triggered by the killing of George Floyd; wildfires that ravaged the West Coast; and hurricanes and floods hitting the South -- will make up a large part of his legacy.
The coronavirus, in particular, devastated the US, forcing a shutdown of the economy in March and the loss of tens of millions of jobs. COVID-19 infections in the US account for one quarter of all cases around the world, while countries such as Singapore, New Zealand and South Korea managed to contain the deadly virus' spread.
Trump, by his own admission to journalist Bob Woodward, downplayed the threat of the virus early on, saying in recorded interviews that he didn't want to cause a panic. He repeatedly made the claim, in public, that the virus would "go away" in warmer months. After he pushed for states to reopen businesses, the country saw another spike in cases over the summer. A third wave emerged in late fall and early winter, with cases in the US surging to between 100,000 and 300,000 a day.
Trump also faced criticism for his lackluster support of masks, despite the universal recommendation of medical professionals as to their effectiveness in halting the spread of the virus. That anti-science stance that was consistent with how he approached regulations during his presidency.
Trump first donned a mask publicly in July, four months after the pandemic appeared in the US. In September, Trump contradicted the recommendation of Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that people should wear masks. When asked about Redfield's comments, he said he hoped masks help and that they "probably do," but that some people "feel that masks have problems." His stance has encouraged many to dismiss the idea of wearing masks.
At the first presidential debate, Trump mocked Biden's frequent use of a face mask. Days later, Trump disclosed that he'd tested positive for COVID-19, throwing an already unpredictable election for another loop.
But while the coronavirus problem endured for months -- and will continue to do so -- the other stain on his legacy occurred just hours after he instigated a mob of far-right extremists and QAnon supporters that overran police and stormed the US Capitol as Congress was certifying the results of the president election.
The incident had arguably been building for months, as Trump used social media to foment anger and chip away at the credibility of the elections, forcing social media to flag his posts both during and after the elections.
The violence in DC proved to be a turning point, with social media companies opting to ban him after weeks of flagging or hiding his posts. It also spurred several big companies, including some in the tech industry, to freeze campaign contributions, and some companies targeted lawmakers who objected to the certification of the election results. Apple and Google removed Parler, a conservative social media network popular with Trump supporters, from their app stores, and Amazon ceased hosting the service.
While Trump has publicly denounced any violence, there remains concern about potential violence around Inauguration Day in all 50 state capitals and in Washington DC, leading to the National Guard being called out.
Trump had asked for a big send-off for his departure from the White House on Wednesday morning, but it was an understated moment as he walked to the presidential helicopter with his wife, Melania. He will not attend Biden's inauguration ceremony.
He won't be able to tweet about it either.