When Donald Trump announced his soon-to-launch social media platform, Truth Social, the reactions it received ranged from delighted to skepticism to terror. Opinions of the pundits aside, the creation of a new major social media platform is an ambitious endeavor and Donald Trump’s team has their work cut out for them if they want to make this platform a global success. The uphill battle they face is multifold. Statistically speaking the social media platform is far more likely to fail than succeed, but Donald Trump does have a few advantages that many fledgling platforms don’t. So, let’s examine the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What gives the former president an advantage in a crowded field is that he has both name recognition and a cult of personality to bank on. His followers and supporters tend to be die-hard in their love and admiration of the former president. Where he goes, they go, and no other social media platform has that. The world doesn’t see droves of people attending rallies and swearing fealty to Mark Zuckerberg (at least, beyond Silicon Valley). Zuckerberg doesn’t have flags depicting him riding into battle on a dinosaur wielding a machine gun.
Trump’s name and brand recognition are what the Trump Team is betting on to make it successful. They are already predicting 75 million subscribers will sign up, which roughly mirrors the number of votes he received in the 2020 election. While that estimate is high for an initial launch of a social media platform, it would stand to reason that at least a few million of his most ardent fans will sign up initially and slowly grow there. For context, Facebook (now Meta) has over 3 billion users, so even if Truth Social achieved 75 million users, it really doesn’t dent Facebook’s vast international reach.
Truth Social is essentially a Twitter knockoff with little to no content moderation. The platform will be using the open-source social media software Mastodon and already Mastodon has publicly threatened legal action against Truth Social because they claim the new platform is improperly using their source code. Mastodon has the look and feel of Twitter and uses a very similar layout by default. Posts on Truth Social will be called “Truths” just as Twitter has “Tweets.”
Donald Trump claims this will stand up to the “tyranny” of Big Tech. His new platform is designed to combat the “censorship” that many of his followers believe they have experienced on Facebook and Twitter. Already, this will turn off many non-Trump supporters because only Trump conservatives feel more censored on those mainstream platforms than any other demographic. Most people do not angrily post their thoughts online that get them possibly into trouble; however, many who have been “censored” have been because they have shared demonstrable misinformation or disinformation that the platform has flagged and attempted to slow down its spread. By default, Truth Social will then be a haven for rampant disinformation, misinformation and have no checks on its spread. That’s a terrifying prospect for the creation of an extremist echo chamber.
Furthermore, the general population is not looking for a new platform to adopt. Unlike the niche population that follows Donald Trump, most platforms cater to everyone providing their terms and conditions are adhered to. Given the divisiveness of Donald Trump, much of the general population will not adopt this platform.
Niche platforms that cater to Trump’s typical followers are already available and they’re not doing that well. Parler, which started out as a generic platform to compete with Facebook and Twitter, turned into a conservative alternative after accusations of censorship has had a lot of troubles. After having their entire user database hacked and exposed to the world in the wake of the January 6 2021 Capitol attack, it came to light that much of the violence was planned on that site. Amazon then dropped them as their infrastructure provider and when they came back online with a new verification system, many left the platform. As of June 2021, Parler was getting a dismal 11,000 downloads a month.
Gab is another platform that was a champion of zero censorship which ramped up the white supremacist population on the platform. Gab was apparently OK with this as their founders have made positive statements on this subject in the past. This had the net effect of turning off many conservatives who were not extremists. Apple even went so far as to ban their app from the App Store.
I personally sign up for every new social media platform that launches, not just to check it out but also to look at the security controls each is running. My Gab account lasted less than a week after personally viewing multiple anti-Semitic posts by multiple users, graphic images of racism, and even an open invitation to a white power rally on the east coast.
Gettr was a social media platform launched earlier in 2021 by Trump White House staffer Jason Miller. Miller was hoping that this would be Donald Trump’s new platform of choice. Anticipating that move, many top conservative leaders set up accounts there including congresswoman and QAnon conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, noted Stop The Steal attorney Sidney Powell, and more. And then, due to weak cybersecurity controls, every single account was hacked within a week of the initial launch. That platform has failed to gain any traction whatsoever, outside of ISIS extremists.
Truth Social would therefore be a fourth option catering to conservatives and extremists. This is a U.S.-based niche population that cannot compare to the general global population. Unless Truth Social attempts to consolidate all these platforms into itself, the only thing they have going for themselves are those who want to read everything Donald Trump has to say or post.
Donald Trump’s online influence has been steadily declining. After getting banned from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Donald Trump set up a blogging site that failed miserably. Virtually no one was reading or sharing this at any real level and Donald Trump’s Google trends analysis showed he was getting his lowest amount of coverage since 2015 before he announced his candidacy. He’s not the president anymore and that will hurt the draw to Truth Social.
Truth Social won’t be any fun for conservatives either. Think about it this way: How can a Trump follower “own the libs” when there are no libs to own on the site? When everyone around you believes what you believe then no vigorous debate really occurs, and if you’re
able to post anything you wish (except for disparaging remarks about Truth Social itself, which is codified into Terms and Conditions users must accept before use) then it becomes rather a boring place. In today’s world of combative politics and extremes, people find safety among like-minded people and with that support take the offensive position against those they disagree with. Truth Social will have none of that back and forth and I speculate it’s also why the numbers for Parler, Gab, and Gettr haven’t exploded either.
By its very nature, Truth Social will keep millions of people misinformed. Since Truth Social claims to have no filters, its users (and foreign intelligence operations masquerading as users as basically every major platform has experienced) are free to post whatever they wish. Misinformation will be rampant – – such as the idea that 5G cell towers are activating the brain chips that were in the COVID-19 vaccinations – will be posted as a “Truth” and there is nothing stopping it from spreading to those who are conditioned to see that message and believe it. At least on Facebook, a user’s friend list will typically include people that will call them out on these demonstrably false claims. On Truth Social, there are no friends like that.
But that is not the worst of it. Like Parler, Gab, and Gettr, Truth Social will attract a fair share of extremists and racists. These platforms have been recruiting tools as well as coordination tools for actions like the January 6 attack. Because Truth Social will attract conservatives, the chance of turning right-wing users into more extreme versions of themselves is a real possibility.
No one goes from “normal” to “extremist” overnight. It’s ideas that skew just a little bit further right and then gradually get more radical over time – slowly evolving into extremist logic. It’s the artificially inflated sense of urgency that pushes towards violence. It’s the constant echo chamber that tells people that democracy can be saved by only one man: Donald Trump.
These conditions are right out of the authoritarianism playbook. With no oversight, this platform could become a breeding ground for those who think that an armed civil war with their neighbors is inevitable. Opponents in debate cease to be opponents and are dehumanized to the point that they become enemies.
Can Truth Social actually be a serious competitor to Facebook or Twitter? No.
Can it be used for ill effect on society? Yes.
Will it stand the test of time? We’ll see how Donald Trump does in the 2024 election.