Five questions ahead of Trump’s social media launch
Former President Trump’s new social media platform is expected to be released to the public on Monday.
There are still many unknowns about how Truth Social will work and whether it will successfully compete with the major platforms or their conservative alternatives.
More than a year after Trump was suspended from Facebook and Twitter, the platform may play a key role in outreach to his base as he considers a 2024 presidential run.
Here are five things we’ll be looking for when Truth Social launches:
What will the platform look like?
Truth Social is set to be available on the Apple App Store starting Monday although CEO former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has previously said it will not be fully operational until late March.
According to a beta tester given early access, the platform isn’t quite ready for primetime just yet.
“The app still has a lot of issues,” Ben Rabizadeh, founder and CEO of the social investing platform Story Trading, told The Hill Friday. “The major issue with the app is it’s slow, it’s laggy.”
Users were asked to post, like and repost other content to test the platform’s bandwidth Thursday evening, a capacity experiment which made items load even slower.
Rabizadeh described the layout of the platform as visually similar to Twitter, Trump’s preferred platform while he was in office.
“The design is clean,” he added. “When you look at a screenshot it looks like Twitter but when you use it the flow is a lot different.”
Some of Twitter’s features like direct messaging have not yet been set up, while others like quoting someone’s “truth” appear not to be available on the platform.
Videos uploaded to Truth Social are hosted by collaborator and YouTube competitor Rumble.
Using Trump’s followers on the platform as an estimate, as of Friday there were roughly 1.8 thousand users signed up.
Among those were lawmakers including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.); media figures like Fox’s Maria Bartiromo and Charlie Kirk; and conservative figures such as attorney Jenna Ellis to Kyle Rittenhouse.
Twitter cofounder and current Block CEO Jack Dorsey has a username reserved but does not appear to have claimed it.
What level of content moderation should users expect?
Truth Social has styled itself a beacon of free speech amid what its founders see as a sea of liberal social media platforms censoring conservative voices.
But just like platforms attempting to play that role before it, Truth Social will likely be confronted with the reality sooner or later that it will have to moderate some content if it wants to be hosted on major app stores and retain advertisers.
Parler, the Twitter alternative currently preferred by conservatives, was pulled off the Apple and Google app stores and dropped by Amazon’s web hosting services shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection. The platform ultimately folded and offered a version for iPhones that bars hate speech.
As of Friday, Truth Social’s community guidelines tab redirected to a dead truthsocial.com link. And while the users picked to test the platform have so far been posting excitedly about the app, it’s almost certain that users who join once its public will try to push limits of acceptable content.
Experts will be closely watching what rules the platform ends up adopting when that happens.
“The main thing I’m curious about is whether whoever is running this platform is going to allow it to devolve into a site for conspiracy theorists and white supremacists,” Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, told The Hill.
Can it compete with the giants?
The decisions by Facebook and Twitter to suspend Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection was seen as potential watershed moment for alternative social media platforms to capitalize on the frustration of his supporters.
And while there was an initial spike in downloads and activity on fringe networks, they remain dwarfed by the Silicon Valley companies.
Parler has been the most successful at gaining users. The app has been downloaded roughly 11.3 million times as of this week, according to Sensor Tower data shared with The Hill.
Getter, launched by former Trump campaign aide Jason Miller in July, has reached 6.6 million downloads, and Rumble has reached 4.6 million downloads, according to the data.
But mainstream platforms with their hundreds of millions of users have continued to keep their dominance in the space, even amongst notable right-wing figures who criticize their policies. Early Rumble investor and Fox host Dan Bongino, for example, has threatened to leave Twitter several times over what he says is censorship, but remains active on the platform.
One factor that could give Truth Social an edge over the other right-wing-oriented platforms is Trump.
The former president has not signed up for any new social media and still has immense pull among his millions of supporters. Trump’s statements continue to make headlines, and if he starts posting them on Truth Social instead of distributing them via email, media attention will most likely follow.
What does Trump stand to gain?
Trump has been reaching for ways to galvanize his base since he was pulled from Facebook and Twitter last year. He’s yet to join one of the alternative platforms, and his blog site that launched in May shut down after just 29 days.
But Truth Social gives Trump a platform to directly speak to his voters — and raise money.
“I think we’ll have to see what they ultimately unveil and how successful that will be. But clearly, this is all about keeping his name in the Republican voter bloodstream so that he continues to have the option to run,” GOP strategist Doug Heye said.
The platform could also offer Trump a way to maintain influence in Republican primaries heading into the midterm elections.
“It’ll also potentially be useful to him in state and congressional races where he seems to be very concerned about his loyalist candidates fortunes,” Barrett said, noting the president’s support for a challenger to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).
If you’re a candidate Trump has supported, the platform lets you “have a conversation with [Trump’s voters] through him,” Heye said — but that’s all contingent on how successful the venture is.
Who’s involved with the platform?
Nunes, a key Trump ally, will lead Trump’s media company.
The former representative was poised to chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee if Republicans win the House in November, but Nunes said in December he would resign from Congress to be CEO of the new company.
“The time has come to reopen the Internet and allow for the free flow of ideas and expression without censorship. The United States of America made the dream of the Internet a reality and it will be an American company that restores the dream,” Nunes said in a release announcing his position as CEO of the company.
Shortly after Nunes announced he would be joining as CEO, Trump’s media company announced it inked a deal with Rumble to provide video and streaming for Truth Social.
Financier Patrick Orlando is also tied to the venture as the head of the blank check company, Digital World Acquisition Corp., that has partnered with Trump Media and Technology Group.
In December, Trump’s company said it secured $1 billion in backing from a “diverse group of institutional investors,” before going public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).
The efforts have had a rocky start even before launching. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating the planned merger, Digital World disclosed in a filing in December.