By Emily Bary
Investors will soon find out how much the 'Trump Bump' benefitted the service
Twitter Inc. is leading social-media stocks lower Monday as investors digest a new reality for the services after Twitter permanently banned President Donald Trump from its platform and Facebook Inc. said it would restrict him at least until the end of his term.
The announcement from Twitter (TWTR), which came late Friday, followed a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters midweek. Twitter charged that Trump's tweets after the riot served to glorify violence and went against the company's terms of service (). Facebook (FB) had announced Thursday that Trump would be barred from its platform at least until the inauguration ( ).
Twitter shares are off 6.6% in Monday morning trading, while Facebook shares are down 3%. Shares of Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL)(GOOGL), both of which pulled right-wing social-media app Parler from their app stores ( ) citing lax moderation policies, are off 2.2% and 1.7%, respectively. Shares of Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), which booted Parler from its AWS web-hosting platform, are down 1.4%.
"While the week will certainly be remembered for far more shocking events, it's not lost on us that we may be at the precipice of a change to long-standing internet rules of engagement," Bernstein analyst Mark Shmulik wrote. "Perhaps the limited time left in Trump's presidency eased social media worries of a presidential retaliation, while a more cynical view we've heard suggests that these platforms took actions precisely because of the Democrats' recent Senate win."
Shmulik and other analysts posed several questions after the Twitter ban, including about the impact such social-media actions would have on user engagement and ad revenue, as well as whether the moves would usher in a new regulatory landscape.
"We have always wondered how much of Twitter's growth came from the 'Trump Bump,'" wrote MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson, who has a sell rating on the stock.
He recounted a New York Times podcast from 2018 in which a reporter discussed receiving a barrage of anti-Semitic Twitter activity. "If any of this created societal issues, most Twitter executives didn't appear to care because daily engagement was growing," Nathanson wrote. "Going forward into the next few years, we are anxious to see if Twitter will take a more aggressive stance to cleaning up their platform and what the impact on [monetizable daily active users] will be."
Bernstein's Shmulik argued that Twitter could see a "slight user decline" but faced a bigger risk, from a business perspective, of "engagement erosion."
"Time spent may experience more of an impact. Trump is the sixth most followed account on Twitter, though his tweets had 3-4x the engagement of the other most-followed accounts -- it's not insignificant," he wrote, reiterating a market perform rating on the stock.
On the other hand, both Twitter and Facebook could benefit from an "increase in brand-safe ad inventory," Shmulik wrote, as "Trump" was reportedly the second-most heavily blocked keyword by advertisers, behind "coronavirus."
Evercore ISI analyst Benjamin Black discussed the potential implications from a regulatory perspective. "Until there is a formation of a concrete path forward on regulation, primarily specific legislative plans, mega cap tech stocks are unlikely to be subject to incremental regulatory risk in our view," he wrote, adding that he's "effectively discounted unlimited uncertainty."
Twitter and Facebook had long faced calls to moderate Trump's social-media content more strictly, but Black said that the moves from Apple, Alphabet, and Amazon to pull more backend support from Parler's service illustrated a "separate dimension of content moderation beyond what we typically talk about with respect to social media."
In his view, that raises the question of whether "social media companies have a greater responsibility in moderating content disseminated on their platforms than infrastructure providers have in offering fundamental services to potentially dangerous actors."
Shmulik wrote that regulation "seems likely" but that the recent focus on reforming Section 230 (), which makes it so social-media companies aren't liable for content posted by users of their platforms, doesn't really hit on the main issue here. "Changing the liability laws regarding Internet content doesn't solve the issue of what content is and isn't permitted," he wrote.
Twitter shares have gained 5.8% over the past three months as the S&P 500 has risen 9.6%.
-Emily Bary; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 11, 2021 11:58 ET (16:58 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.