Technology

Trump’s Truth Social gets off to a rocky start

Former President Trump’s platform Truth Social has made little impact on the social media market roughly two weeks after launching on the Apple app store, with hundreds of thousands of potential users stuck on a lengthy waitlist.

The nascent social media platform initially roared onto the scene, capturing the top spot for free downloads on the Apple app store market. But after less than 20 days, Truth Social finds itself far down the list at 116, right between the app for DoorDash drivers and a game in which a genie guesses internet celebrities.

The explanation for the precipitous drop is fairly straightforward: The app has been inaccessible for most users, while the ones who have been admitted have had little to be excited about.

Trump Media & Technology Group CEO Devin Nunes did previously caution that the app would not be “fully functional” until the end of March. 

But the platform’s rocky start cannot be wholly dismissed and is likely indicative of problems to come.

“The reality is that even under the best of circumstances, with good faith and expertise, and a non-divisive premise, social media platforms are hard to launch. Most of them are not successful,” said American University communications chair Aram Sinnreich. 

“You take a highly divisive premise and you add a kind of tepidly, minimally involved figurehead, and you have unaccountable money behind it, and you try to do something that even big industry leading companies have failed to do in the past, and you’ve basically cooked up a recipe for failure before you even start,” he added. 

The vast majority of people who signed up after the initial beta launch have not been able to access the platform. Users have instead been added to a lengthy waitlist, which has not budged; reporters for The Hill who created accounts 10 days ago, for instance, still have 790,000 potential users ahead of them on the list. 

A spokesperson for Trump Media & Technology Group did not respond to a request for comment on timing for opening up access to more users.

Truth Social sent waitlisted users an update on Monday, saying it is “steadily welcoming new users” in a “phased rollout.” But the message did not include a time frame for when users should expect to be let on. Some users who have signed more recently have been told the wait will be at least two weeks.

Difficulties onboarding new users are likely to only be compounded when the app becomes available on Android devices.

Jennifer Grygiel, an associate professor of communications at Syracuse University, said the long wait times are likely a sign the platform was rushed, and not part of a strategic move.  

“If it was something they were serious about launching, they should have had enough service base and things to onboard people quickly. I don’t think this queueing is a sign to show how much people want to get in there,” Grygiel said.  

“I think that if anything, [Trump is] trying to spin the underpinning flaws, the architecture of this platform to explain away why it’s looking like a ghost town in there, and why the platform has been so clunky,” they added. 

Feedback from users that have been able to access the platform has not been positive either.

As some reporters with accounts have catalogued, active discussion on the platform has been limited. Trump, whose presence is a key differentiator between Truth Social and other right-wing platforms, has still only posted on the platform once.

Several of the other high-profile lawmakers and conservative commentators on the platform have done little more than copy and paste posts from Twitter.

One user who was given early access to the platform told The Hill that technical issues and lack of activity have led him to stop using it regularly. 

“[Lag] is the main reason … also though, excitement wears off a bit when all of your friends are on the wait list and can’t get in,” he said.

Trump is reportedly angry about the launch, sources told The Daily Beast. Publicly, however, he has dismissed the app’s shortcomings and pointed to the waitlist as a sign of high demand. 

“I think it’s been an incredible success. We have hundreds of thousands of people trying to get on, and we’re doing it very slowly,” Trump said at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference. 

Regardless of its rough first weeks, Truth Social may have already given Trump a boost in a potential 2024 presidential campaign because of the data that can be gleaned from sign-ups, Sinnreich said. 

“Those million people who are currently waiting for their profiles to be populated on the website, they may never actually see that profile come to light, but they’ve already given their personal information to the platform. And so as a data harvesting platform, it’s already successful,” Sinnreich said. 

“I’m not sure what they’re going to end up doing with [that] data, but based on past practice it seems pretty likely they’re going to use it to do more fundraising and social media outreach when the campaign launches,” he added. 

To say nothing of challenging the major social media platforms, Truth Social has so far done little to unseat the apps that already cater to right-wing users.

“Truth Social frustrated many would-be users with its unceremonious rollout,” Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who closely follows right-wing online discourse, said in an email. 

“Though some die-hard supporters have stated publicly they’re holding out for further developments of the app, its botched launch has prevented it from creating any kind of seismic change in the alternative platform landscape for now,” he added. 

Installs dipped slightly for former Trump campaign aide Jason Miller’s Gettr and the video platform Rumble when Truth Social became available, according to estimates shared with The Hill by Sensor Tower. Meanwhile, Parler, the most like-for-like Twitter clone among the right-wing alternatives, actually saw its installs increase from 19,000 to 31,000 in the two weeks before and after Truth Social launched.

Among companies vying for right-wing users upset with mainstream platform content moderation rules, Truth Social is “late to market,” Grygiel said. 

“I think the challenge is that those spaces are already established,” they said.

There is still time for Truth Social to turn things around. But unless technical issues with user onboarding and performance can be resolved and Trump’s account becomes more active, Truth Social could end up little more than a blip on the social media landscape.

“I’ll be shocked if Truth Social somehow emerges as an important platform for anything, even as an official communications channel for a Trump campaign,” Sinnreich said.

Tags Devin Nunes Donald Trump Social media Truth Social

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