Following Donald Trump’s permanent ban from Twitter in 2021, the former US president decided to launch his own social network, dubbed Truth Social, which he claims will “stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech.” As it goes live today—Presidents’ Day in the US—here’s what that means.
Why Did Trump Start a Social Network?
Why would Trump want his own social network? Just look at his (former) follower counts. Before his Twitter account was taken down, Trump had nearly 90 million followers, and he has 34 million followers on Facebook, which also banned him until at least January 2023.
If there’s one thing Trump loved before and during his presidency, it was posting on the internet. According to an archive of his past tweets, Trump tweeted over 30 times a day on average by the end of his time in office. After he was banned, he returned to the internet with a short-lived blog that posted Twitter-like updates.
Instead of walking away from the millions of people who hang on his every word, Trump believes he can take control of the conversation and move those followers to Truth Social. If he can get even a small percentage of the people to follow him, this experiment will be a success for him.
Who Runs Truth Social?
(Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)
There are two entities behind Truth Social. The first is Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), which was formed in February 2021 by Donald Trump. The company also uses the name T Media Tech LLC in some places. As of January 2022, former US Rep. Devin Nunes serves as the organization’s CEO.
The other company involved is Digital World Acquisition Corp. (DWAC), a publicly traded SPAC founded by Miami banker Patrick Orlando. The two entities have entered into a merger agreement in order to make TMTG a publicly traded company. However, the combined entity has been under SEC investigation for potentially skirting securities laws.
The plan for TMTG, as a publicly traded company, would be to offer alternatives to mainstream media and social networks. Aside from Truth Social, the company is also working to launch a news network called TMTG News and a video-streaming service known as TMTG+. All three of these products will center on conservative viewership.
Who Is Truth Social For?
(Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
Do you belong on Truth Social? If you have to ask, the answer is probably no. This platform was not intended as a replacement for mainstream services like Twitter or Facebook. Rather, it’s another social media platform designed to fight against a perceived “woke culture” and less about content moderation or accessibility.
Similar platforms have popped up over the years in an attempt to attract the attention of alt-right, far-right, extremist, and fringe groups. These spaces—such as Gab, Parler, and Telegram—have courted the right to varying degrees of success, and failure, as hate speech proliferated. Even Trump’s former political advisor, Jason Miller, created his own right-wing social platform called Gettr back when Truth Social was just a rumor, but it has its own problems. Truth Social has formally partnered with Rumble, a video platform popular with the far right.
In an initial statement about his platform, Trump said Truth Social will have no “shadow-banning, throttling, demonetizing, or messing with algorithms for political manipulation,” which can be read as a reference to the de-platforming that has happened to many alt-right figures on mainstream social media sites over the years.
“We will not silence our fellow citizens simply because they might be wrong—or worse, because we think that Americans ‘can’t handle the truth,’” Trump said. Notably, though, the site’s terms of service says your account can be suspended if you make fun of the platform.
Truth Social will no doubt be courting the people who use these rival platforms, as well as those who once followed Trump on Twitter and Facebook.
Why Does Truth Social Look Like Twitter?
This is what Truth Social looks like
Truth Social bears more than a passing resemblance to Twitter, but that’s not just because Twitter was Trump’s platform of choice. Truth Social was created using an open-source license from Mastodon, which itself was initially created as an alternative to Twitter.
After a test version of Truth Social was released in October 2021, it was determined that Truth Social simply used a recolored version of Mastodon’s 3.0 theme. Most of the service’s functionality is identical to Twitter. Instead of Likes, they are called Truths; instead of retweets, they are Re-Truths. The news feed is called the Truth feed, and so on.
What Is Mastodon?
Mastodon is an open-source, decentralized, microblogging social media platform. It’s built on the ActivityPub protocol that allows multiple, independently run servers to communicate with each other and other ActivityPub services. This network of interconnected servers and services is shorthanded as the Fediverse, of which Mastodon is only just one part.
In practical terms, this means someone using the “official” and largest Mastodon server, mastodon.social, can see posts and interact with users on the infosec.exchange server and others. They can even follow the posts of users on the Pixelfed social image sharing platform.
Integral to Mastodon is an ad-free ethos; the service recently incorporated as non-profit and individual servers are run at the cost of the admins. As such, it lacks many of the privacy-eroding tools found on other social media platforms, such as algorithmic feeds and user tracking.
Mastodon also places great emphasis on content moderation and accessibility. Individuals and servers can block users and whole domains, and the text of posts is often not searchable. Content warnings and image descriptions for screen readers are built into the platform, and the community encourages their use.
With 4.4 million users, Mastodon is tiny compared to centralized, ad-driven services such as Facebook or Twitter. But it has done surprisingly well as an open-source underdog. In 2021, it launched its first official iOS app and plans are underway for an Android app. Thanks to the news generated by Truth Social, more attention will likely be drawn to the open-source social network, for better or worse.
Why Did Mastodon Threaten to Sue Truth Social?
This is what Mastodon looks like
Truth Social is based on Mastodon, and that’s perfectly acceptable. Mastodon’s open-source license allows developers to use, modify, and distribute their software as they see fit. However, those who use that license—GNU Affero General Public License v3.0 (AGPL-3.0)—must disclose that their project is based on Mastodon. They must also make the code, and any modifications publicly available for anyone to download.
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The initial Truth Social website did not mention its connection to Mastodon or make any of the source code available. In fact, the platform claimed that its source code was proprietary and owned by the company. Viewing this as potential copyright infringement, Mastodon threatened to sue if Trump did not comply in 30 days.
To avoid that lawsuit, Truth Social acknowledged it is based on Mastodon. Now, if you head to the Truth Social website, you can click Legal Docs at the bottom of the page and select Open Source to download a ZIP file containing Mastodon’s source code.
How Do I Sign Up for Truth Social?
A beta test for the iOS app was supposed to start in November 2021, but invites only went out this month to about 500 people, Reuters reports. As of Feb. 21, you can now download the iOS app from the App Store; an Android version is “coming soon,” according to the Truth Social website. When you sign up, you’ll be asked to provide an email address and phone number.
Will Truth Social Be Safe to Join?
Although it’s built on Mastodon’s code, Truth Social may be configured not to communicate with other Fediverse services, effectively making it an island. Mastodon also has powerful filtering, moderation, and blocking tools built in and available to both admins and users. These may not be available in Truth Social.
On the Truth Social iPhone app page, much of the lengthy description is given over to Truth Social’s aspirations to be a “big tent” social media platform. It describes a metaphorical wedding with guests who are libertarian, conservative, and, yes, even liberal, but all having a good time in the big tent. However, a hands-off approach to content moderation and an already-established association with far-right ideology makes it doubtful that Truth Social is destined to be a bastion of high-minded discourse.
It may be instructive to look to other, similarly positioned far-right social media platforms. The Southern Poverty Law center says that Gab is “known for hosting white supremacist content.” The BBC said of Parler: “It is the home of many posts that would either be flagged as misleading or removed by major platforms—on topics like the election, COVID-19, child trafficking, and vaccines.” If that sounds safe to you, you’ll fit right in.
Similarly, some far-right sites have struggled with security. Gab was hacked and the attacker leaked 70GB of user data. Parler had a major security vulnerability that allowed hackers to download and distribute nearly all of its publicly available content. And a hacker previously gained access to the Truth Social website, causing others to join the service prematurely and wreak all kinds of havoc.
Max Eddy contributed to this story.
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