Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced the launch of a media company and a social media platform designed, in his words, to “stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech.” And so far the platform, called Truth Social (of course!), has been as true to form as one could’ve imagined: a ramshackle, derivative project that expresses Trump’s desperate thirst for power and profit.
Trump isn't trying to win over the market by creating a unique media experience.
The janky and rushed nature of Truth Social was immediately apparent. While in his announcement Trump said a beta version is meant to be available to invited guests in November and a national rollout is expected in early 2022, pranksters and curious journalists found what appeared to be an unreleased test version of the site within hours and proceeded to flood it.
Immediately people snatched up VIP handles like “donaldtrump” and “mikepence.” The person who grabbed “donaldjtrump” swiftly pinned a photo of a pig defecating on their profile. That site has been pulled offline, but at least one other test version has been circulating, as well, suggesting striking technical vulnerabilities.
As Washington Post tech reporter Drew Harwell notes in his analysis, the website is a crude, uncreative knockoff of Trump’s favorite social media platform — and it is also somehow already violating licensing codes:
The site looks almost entirely like a Twitter clone: A user can post Truths, which are like tweets, or Re-Truths, which are retweets. There’s also a news feed, called the Truth Feed, a notification system so users can know “who’s interacting with your TRUTH’s,” the social network’s App Store profile states.
The site’s code shows it runs a mostly unmodified version of Mastodon, the free, open-source software launched in 2016 that anyone can use to run a self-made social networking site.
Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko told The Post Thursday that Trump’s site may violate Mastodon’s licensing rules, which require developers to share any modifications and link to the original source code. Rochko said he has contacted the company’s legal counsel to make a determination.
Using a link to what appeared to be another test site that hasn’t been taken down, I was easily able to create a profile. Given its extreme similarity to Twitter (although with a strikingly drab color scheme) it wasn't hard to navigate. But when you publish posts you don't hit "Tweet" — you hit a button that says “TRUTH!”
Every post from every user is a “Truth,” not because of the substance of what someone is saying, but by virtue of where they are saying it.
In addition to the vapid design, it was easy to sense the next step in Trump’s project to lay waste to the idea of shared reality. Every post from every user is a “Truth,” not because of the substance of what someone is saying, but by virtue of where they are saying it: Trump’s social media space. This principle is key to Trump's authoritarian paradigm, in which truth is not tethered to reality or reason, but instead to the will to power and tribalism — something is true because my tribe and I want it to be true.
The site's technical woes and uninspired design might not deter new users, because Trump isn't trying to win over the market by creating a unique media experience. Instead he's looking to create a unique ideological space. Trump’s media group claims it wants to create a “non-cancellable global community,” by which it means a social media platform that is populated solely by people on the right, and establishes little to no regulation surrounding abuse, disinformation, calls to violence and bigotry.
The crux of the matter, however, is to create a forum where Trump has free rein to speak as he wishes to and be adulated for it. "We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced," he wrote in his announcement. "This is unacceptable."
Trump’s new media venture ticks all the classic Trump boxes: money, power, ego. If it's successful, it could be an asset in keeping his potential 2024 aspirations alive. But whether his base finds the site to be a tolerable experience remains an open question.