Donald Trump launched his long-awaited social media app Truth Social last week, enticing users with promises of a platform free from “discrimination against political ideology”.
But with the technology issues plaguing the platform and early criticism of its content policies, the rollout is already raising questions about its future.
Even though social media has been instrumental in his rise, Trump has for years accused platforms like Facebook, Twitter and others of censorship. In 2021, he was permanently expelled from most major venues for his role in instigating the Capitol insurrection. In response, he promised to start his own business, creating Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG) and positioning his new company as a champion of free speech.
“Our main goal here is to give people back their voices,” said former Republican U.S. Congressman Devin Nunes, who became TMTG president earlier this year, adding that the app offers “the opposite of some freaks Silicon Valley technologies that tell people what they want”. brainstorm and decide who can or cannot be on the platform.
But experts say Trump’s new venture faces an uphill battle to attract users to a crowded field and faces mounting regulatory issues.
A difficult start
Truth Social was available to select users in a test phase since early last week, and became available to the general public in the Apple App Store late Sunday evening. The app quickly became the most downloaded free social networking app. But even as it grew in popularity, it ran into a number of technological setbacks.
Early adopters reported receiving error messages when trying to create accounts. Many of those who were eventually able to sign up said they were unable to access the app, being told they had been placed on a waiting list of hundreds of thousands.
Others reported that the app’s “Terms of Service” page was down, and the company confirmed that it experienced a partial 1 p.m. outage on Monday related to “app launch traffic.”
As of Wednesday morning, Trump’s account on Truth Social had just under 50,000 followers, according to The New York Times. On Thursday, users reported being told they were the 600,000th in line to join.
Nunes told reporters that the app would be “fully operational” in the United States by the end of March, several months after the launch date the former president announced when announcing the platform.
“A big part of Trump’s appeal is conflict”
For observers, the delay and technological challenges came as no surprise. “Since Trump wants to run for office again, the app’s timing is driven by political goals — not platform readiness,” said Jennifer Grygiel, professor of communications at the Syracuse University.
Truth Social has been seen as an attempt by Trump to reclaim the massive power of his past social media empire. The former president, when he was removed from Twitter, had a direct line to speak to his 88 million followers. At its peak, a single tweet from Trump could start a cable news cycle and rock the stock market. Trump’s “first message” on Truth Social read “Get Ready! Your favorite president will see you soon! Whether his new platform will provide him with the megaphone he’s been looking for remains to be seen.
Truth Social will have to compete against bigger social media players like Facebook and Twitter, which have had years to build their loyalty.
Meanwhile, new “free speech” startups, including Parler, MeWe, Gettr and Rumble, are taking the field and vying for a similar group of social media users.
The user base of these platforms, and the one Trump monitors, seek out partisan feeds, but such activity may not be good for business, said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the Stern Center for Business. and Human Rights from New York University.
“A big part of Trump’s appeal on social media is conflict,” he said. “The right often comes back to this idea of ’owning the libs’ – well, there won’t be any libs to own on Truth Social, which begs the question, why is this going to be interesting?”
Others have pointed out that Truth Social’s supposed main selling point — that it’s an anti-censorship alternative to “mainstream” media — doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. These skeptics point to the app’s terms of service – which Techdirt’s Mike Masnick says means the site will be “one of the most aggressive when it comes to content moderation”.
In its rules, Truth Social promises to remove any “false, inaccurate, or misleading” content and states that users must “have the written consent, release, and/or permission of each identifiable person” in every post. .
‘Everything has a scam angle’
Truth Social may face additional challenges. The platform bears an uncanny resemblance to Twitter, with an almost identical layout but different labels, swapping terms like “truths” for “tweets” and “re-truths” for “retweets”.
Twitter declined to say whether it plans to pursue a lawsuit against Truth Social for copyright infringement.
Trump Media also faces financial and regulatory hurdles to access millions of dollars in funding. In 2021, it announced a merger with Digital World Acquisition Corp (DWAC), a special purpose acquisition company, through which he is likely to receive $293 million in cash.
But the merger has stalled pending scrutiny from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
TMTG has raised an additional $1 billion from private investors, which also won’t be available until the DWAC deal closes — which could take months, according to regulatory filings.
These mergers and deals have led some to say that Truth Social, like many Trump companies in the past, is nothing but a shameless cash grab.
“Everything Trump does has a more awful angle,” Barrett said. “We may all be spinning the wheel wondering how the app is going to affect Trump politically, or as a potential vehicle for his reclaiming social media, when it might just be there for a quick profit.”