Nothing better sums up Donald Trump — as businessman, as reality TV star, as politician — than a 404 error. As an entrepreneur, Trump was famed for overpromising and overdelivering. Producers of The Apprentice have claimed that his persona as a billionaire business mogul is a “scam” they created.
Trump’s latest gambit looks to be no different. It is already plagued with glitches, placing users on waiting lists and hoping to be “fully operational” by the end of March. The company claims that the high demand is responsible for the problems.
TRUTH Social is but the latest attempt by the far-right to monetize support through social media. Platforms like Parler and Gettr have each tried to dethrone Twitter as the destination for conservative voices. It all ended about as badly as you’d expect.
Parler found itself offline for much of the first half of 2021 after Google, Amazon, and Apple stopped hosting the platform for allowing violent, threatening posts in the run-up to the January 6th insurrection. Meanwhile, Gettr has banned one right-wing pundit for using a racial slur against Black people and has banned the racist term “Groyper” from its platform.
Indeed, history suggests there is as much appetite for Trump’s TRUTH as there were for Trump Steaks. I’m old enough to remember Menshn, the right-wing gadfly Louise Mensch’s foray into social media. Like most pretenders to Jack Dorsey’s throne, it went the way of the Fail Whale — the cartoon cetacean from the halcyon days of Twitter — and disappeared, existing now only in the digital graveyard that is the WayBack Machine.
Whether this is arrogance or ambition on the part of Trump is in the eye of the beholder. This kind of gambit, though, is classic Trump. In the 1980s, he tanked the United States Football League with his hubris.
Back then, Trump bought a team (the Generals) and then insisted that the USFL compete with the NFL in the fall instead of the spring. Lacking the resources and network contracts of the NFL, the USFL suffered. At Trump’s urging, it sued the NFL under antitrust laws and — in the definition of pyrrhic victory — won a $3 settlement which bankrupted the USFL.
Is TRUTH Social another example of Trump’s Icarus complex? The Trumps themselves seem to acknowledge the deck is stacked against them. Last week, Parler announced that former First Lady Melania Trump has entered into “a special arrangement for her social media communications” and will exclusively use their app. That’s right: even Donald Trump’s own wife doesn’t trust his TRUTH.
And none of these apps — not TRUTH (even once the bugs are worked out) or its competitors — can compete with the behemoth that is Twitter. According to analysis published last month by the Washington Post, following Trump’s ban from Twitter in January 2021 platforms like Gab, Rumble, Parler, and Gettr saw a surge in popularity. “But those audiences have barely grown in the year since,” the Post reports. “in some cases, they even declined.”
Right-wing influencers who saw steady growth in their audience on Twitter found their platforms severely diminished on the alt-right alternatives. Those who have dutifully followed Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene and others to these apps are their most loyal acolytes. They’re preaching to the choir, and they are increasingly doing it in a vacuum.
And therein lies the problem. One can certainly debate whether Twitter has gone too far in policing speech — I think it has — but no one can argue that it markets itself as an echo chamber. You can still find robust debate and a plurality of thought and belief. Imperfect as it is, it still functions as a modern-day agora.
When viewed in this context, TRUTH Social and its predecessors are seen for what they are: far-right safe spaces. They are marketed and intended as platforms where one can espouse the most outrageous conspiracy theories or their vilest bigotries without challenge, reproach, or consequence.
If Twitter is a modern agora, Gettr is a 1970s biker bar, or a Trump rally held in cyberspace. (Tomayto, tomahto.) As The Verge reported last year, shortly after Gettr launched, “multiple hashtags with racist and anti-Semitic slurs hit the app’s trending section… and multiple reports found a torrent of porn.”
How does an app that purports to be dedicated to free speech at all costs confront hate speech? That’s a problem Twitter has yet to solve, and it doesn’t look like Gettr, Parler, or TRUTH Social can do it any better. Because of that, I can’t see these platforms lasting long term.
After all, part of what made Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so successful is how inclusive they were. They appealed to the widest possible audience in order to attract as many users as possible. And it worked because, if we are all being honest with ourselves, part of what draws us to social media is interacting with those who disagree with them. There’s a reason the algorithm keep us outraged. If we are arguing in the comments or tweeting our disgust, we are using the product. Social media has won.
A social media platform where everyone agrees with you sounds great in theory, but it quickly becomes boring in practice. TRUTH Social may experience a boost of initial interest, but I anticipate it will quickly go the way of the USFL — a pale imitation of an established stalwart that Trump will crash into oblivion, walking away with about $3 before declaring it a success.