Truth Social was officially launched on 21 February 2022. The launch marked the return to social media of former US President Donald Trump, whose regular, no-holds-barred social media use helped define his days in office. After a year of relative quiet since his removal from many online platforms, much of the discussion surrounding his latest venture focuses not on the views he holds and the plans he has, but on issues surrounding the launch of the app itself.
Truth Social and the potential for misinformation
The app was launched to provide a platform not only for Trump, but for all those who feel disconnected with mainstream social media, believing it discriminates against freedom of expression and fails to respect and allow all viewpoints. Other apps, such as Parler, Gab, and Gettr have all been launched in the past few years with similar aims and target audiences, and Truth Social’s apparent goal is to become the leader in the field.
These apps have attracted plenty of people with extreme views who share a distrust in traditional sources of information. Although Truth Social’s “Big Tent” approach has the stated aim of bringing together people to share different viewpoints to have robust conversations across the political spectrum, it is perhaps more likely that a platform launched by a political figure will largely attract people with similar ideologies to its founder.
Many of those who are disillusioned with mainstream social media consider it too politically and culturally sensitive, believing it often bans or “censors” controversial narrative to the extent that free speech is limited. By positioning itself as a platform for those who feel censored by mainstream social media, Truth Social may attract a large number of users with extreme political perspectives, with the associated danger that it could become a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and misinformation.
Truth Social’s bumpy launch and plans for the future
The Truth Social app shares striking similarities to Twitter, but uses different labelling and terminology. “Posts” are called “Truths”, “Retweets” are labelled “ReTruths”, and the “Newsfeed” is known as a “Truth Feed”. But despite the emphasis on truth and freedom of speech, within the terms of service users are forbidden to “disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the site.”
It is currently available only as an app and not as a fully-fledged website – and only on Apple devices, having not yet been launched on Google Play for Android devices. Its userbase is presently limited to the USA and Canada, although there are plans for it to become “fully operational” in the near future.
The early days of the app have been plagued by outages and people having to sign up to waiting lists. Donald Trump himself has been almost silent on the app, and the lack of content is prompting some people to leave. Before being banned from Twitter after the 2021 Capitol riot, Trump had around 90 million followers, but his following on Truth Social is still in the low hundreds of thousands. And the app has fallen from the number one download chart position on the App Store immediately after launch to its current position just inside the top 100.
Trump is reportedly furious with the problematic rollout, but several legal issues may be even more concerning to the platform’s leadership. The app is owned by a SPAC merger between Trump Media & Technology Group and Digital World Acquisition Corp. The merger is being investigated by the SEC for possibly skirting securities laws. In addition, the app’s brand name could land itself in trouble in the EU, where there are at least two existing registered Truth Social trademarks. Finally, the owners of the Mastodon open-source software that was used to build the website have threatened to sue, because Truth Social failed to acknowledge its use of the software (although this has since changed, so a lawsuit has likely been avoided).
The effort-to-value ratio of analysing data from Truth Social
Truth Social is only available through the app. For users in the UK, the website consists of a front page announcing that it is currently only available for US-based users, followed by an “access denied” error message. With the possibility that Truth Social could become a target for bad actors (Trump has had websites hijacked before), this error message may be off-putting to potential users who fear a data breach.
For individuals and companies seeking to gain data on the frequency and sentiment of online posts about them, Truth Social in its current form poses some difficulties. This is largely due to its app-based rather than web-based format: data can be gathered more easily, at higher volumes and in greater detail if there is a web-based version. While it is still possible to gather and analyse data from an app such as Truth Social, it is more difficult than it is for the more established social media platforms with web-based versions.
Coupled with the fact that Truth Social’s user base is still comparatively small, in some cases, it may not be worth the time and effort involved for data analysts to extricate and analyse data from the app. Those of us in the reputation management space will be watching closely to see whether the effort-to-value ratio changes here, which would occur if, for example, Truth Social were to launch a web-based version of its platform, or if the app’s usage were to rise significantly.
It remains to be seen whether Truth Social’s users will wait for the service to mature and work through its launch problems and phased approach. For a social platform to thrive, it needs a volume of engaged users regularly contributing unique and interesting content, as well as adding commentary to the posts of others. This requires time and effort that people may not be willing to invest if they do not see rewards in the form of a growing following, traffic to (and engagement with) their posts, and the ability to find interesting content from others in the community. With even the app’s founder failing to engage in the platform on a regular basis, Truth Social will need to develop rapidly if it is to compete in the social media space.