More than a year after Twitter and Facebook banned former President Trump from their platform, he is back with his own social network. Last night US time – just before National Day President’s Day – Truth Social has become available to the general public with the promise that it is “free from political discrimination”.
On the platforms he was banned from, Trump had tens of millions of followers. The question is how big it can get now, especially since it competes with big established names as well as other alternatives that have been around for a while.
Trump was banned from Twitter (forever) and Facebook (until January 2023) for his role in the Capitol storming. The violent protest was the last straw for the companies, while critics had long argued that what he said was actually not possible. The messages often remained under the guise of ‘newsworthy’, but around the American elections there were more and more restrictions or warnings were placed with his messages.
In the years of his presidency, Twitter was a very important tool. It quickly became the way he communicated with the world. So, on January 8, 2021, he lost his most effective megaphone; he had nearly 90 million followers. Soon after the actions, Trump called out that he would come up with his own platform.
Looks a lot like Twitter
Truth Social is very similar in appearance to Twitter. There is a timeline, you have a profile and you can follow people. At the moment the app is only available for iPhone owners (not in the Netherlands at the moment). The site is currently inaccessible, it is unclear whether this is due to high demand or, for example, due to a DDoS attack.
In the long run, the platform roughly needs two things that are closely related. First of all, users returning. Preferably daily, but at least a few times a month. They must ensure that their friends and family also switch.
In addition, a lot of money is needed to maintain such a platform. Trump has potentially good papers in that area, writes The New York Times. The company behind Truth Social, Trump Media, wants to merge with another company. Together they have about $1 billion in cash. But that money can only be used if an investigation by regulators is completed into the company Tump wants to merge with.
This is what the Truth Social app looks like:
Ultimately, a platform cannot run on investments forever, there will have to be a revenue model. An advertising model is the most obvious. The more users there are, the more interesting the platform is for companies to advertise.
Platform can delete everything
A key difference between Truth Social and other platforms should be the moderation. The pledge “free from political discrimination” suggests less intervention. The question is what it means in practice. Michael Klos, who conducts research into online freedom of expression at Leiden University, points out that the platform reserves the right in the general terms and conditions to remove everything that you do not like.
Trump’s linking his name to this platform will certainly help draw attention to it. However, the challenge is to stand out from other alt-right platforms. There is Gettr, from former Trump adviser Jason Miller, Gab and Parler, with major investor Rebekah Mercer, daughter of multimillionaire Robert Mercer.
According to Sanne Kruikemeier, assistant professor of political communication at the University of Amsterdam, Trump’s platform serves two purposes. “Reaching your own supporters and getting messages spread outside the platform itself. The latter is even more important for Trump. He wants to reach the largest audience again.”
For this, the former president needs a two-stage rocket, says Kruikemeier. Once published, he needs media to get his message out to the general public. Only now the news value is much less.
Even firmer filter bubble
Kruikemeier is also concerned about the fact that disinformation and misinformation will probably be contradicted much less. “That can create an even firmer filter bubble.” Klos thinks it is not a bad thing if there are platforms where disinformation is combated less, that contributes to the pluralism. As long as it’s not illegal.
In addition, he notes that there is of course the risk that disinformation will turn into illegal activity. The best example of that is precisely the reason Twitter and Facebook denied Trump entry: the Capitol storming.