Aug 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search ignites the right

Illustration of a stack of documents with a lit fuse
Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The FBI’s execution of a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago has driven outsized conservative social media attention, triggering the wide sharing of news stories and driving tens of thousands of new users to former President Trump’s Truth Social app.

Why it matters: Trump faces serious potential legal implications after the FBI's seizure of 11 sets of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago. But in the near term, it’s fueling Republican echo chambers’ defense of him and attacks on the FBI.

Driving the news: Downloads of Trump's Truth Social spiked to nearly 88,000 in the week following the raid — more than any other week (measured Monday-Sunday) since the first two weeks of the app's launch in early May, according to data shared with Axios by Apptopia, a mobile apps analytics firm.

  • After Trump was banned from Twitter, his social media app has become a place where he funnels his often divisive responses to the news of the day and for users to coalesce around extremist narratives.
  • “It's not people saying, ‘Let's have a reasonable discussion about this‘ or ‘let's see what happens;’ it's, 'Let's kill FBI agents,’" said Jon Lewis, an extremism researcher at George Washington University.

By the numbers: For the past week and a half, outlets across the political spectrum have closely covered the FBI search. But conservative-leaning sites are getting some of the most engagement from their stories on social media.

  • Fox News had more social media interactions (comments, likes, shares) on its stories about the raid than any other outlet between Aug. 8-17, according to data from social analytics firm NewsWhip.
  • It was followed by Business Insider, Breitbart, CNN and then the Daily Wire.
  • In general, stories posted about the FBI's execution of the search warrant garnered far more social media interactions at the time the news broke than other recent news, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) visit to Taiwan.

Between the lines: Coverage of the FBI raid gave most cable news networks a viewership boost, and Fox News saw particularly high ratings.

  • Most news sites saw traffic bumps in response to the search during the second week of August.
  • For Breitbart, those spikes were particularly high following the raid, according to news analytics company SimilarWeb.

The big picture: Right-wing outlets can turn stories with inherently damaging revelations about Trump on their head with narratives that fuel outrage among conservative ecosystems.

  • One in 10 of the top 100 stories shared on social media referenced the GOP's narrative that the FBI search shows government bias against Trump, and several noted right-wing efforts to label the country as a "Banana Republic," per Newswhip.

The bottom line: Outrage often leads to higher engagement online.

  • "When people seek out information about the raid, most likely they're only looking to corroborate what they already believe, one way or the other," said Ethan Porter, assistant professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.

Go deeper:

Why all those Trump documents exist in the form of physical paper

Trump's 2024 boost

Presidential Records Act and Trump search explained

Go deeper