What you’ll find on Truth Social, Trump’s social media platform for ‘free expression’

The ex-president’s Twitter clone is a growing echo chamber for the right-wing media ecosystem

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 02 May 2022 21:30
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Elon Musk buys Twitter for $44bn
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After world’s richest person Elon Musk announced a deal to buy Twitter for $44bn, another social media platform climbed up the charts of Apple’s App Store.

Truth Social, former President Donald Trump’s platform to “stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” as he described it, is the most high profile among several newer platforms to launch as a direct challenge to mainstream platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, viewed among right-wing figures and users as too constrictive or conspiring to remove their views after they were kicked off for flouting rules about Covid-19 misinformation, violence and harassment.

“Truth Social (terrible name) exists because Twitter censored free speech,” Mr Musk said last week. “Should be called Trumpet instead!”

Within the three months after its launch, the former president’s account posted only once, before the app launched to the public in February: “Get Ready! Your favorite President will see you soon!”

On 28 April, the account posted “I’M BACK! #COVFEFE” with an image of himself using his phone while standing outside his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Over the next few days, he posted more than a dozen times – a mix of video clips from rally speeches, celebrating his television ratings and downloads for his app, lying about election results, and grievances with “fake news” and Democrats.

The app became available for download on 20 February, but most users were added to a waitlist (I was 327,997th in line) to be able to open and begin using the app.

An email on 6 March said “we appreciate your eagerness to join our fight against Big Tech censorship” and provided an update on the app, which phased in users in an effort to “remedy errors in real time” as new users were added.

“We are building a platform to take on Big Tech, but in a fraction of the time. Consequently, we need to ensure the platform remains stable and provides users with the best experience possible,” according to the email. “Our mission is to reclaim the digital public square for free expression. Rest assured, the entire TRUTH team is working around the clock to allow everyone to join us as quickly as possible. There are great things to come. Thank you!”

On 24 April, I was sent a confirmation code via text message to begin using the app.

The app itself is fairly straightforward and recognisable to anyone who has used a social media app on their phone. Posts are called “Truths” and each “Truth” in a user’s feed has a comments section and can be “re-Truthed” or liked, mirroring Twitter interactions.

There are four menu items on the bottom of the screen – a feed that features updates from the accounts one follows, a search function (for both accounts and “Truths”), alerts (app notifications), and messages, where users can directly message one another. That function is not yet available.

Despite billing itself as a platform for “free expression” against the alleged tyranny of companies like Twitter, the accounts recommended to new users are all within the extended Trump universe and singularly devoted to a right-wing media ecosystem.

Once logged in, users are recommended accounts to follow – the former president, his sons Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, former White House social media director Dan Scavino, and Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo and Dan Bongino, among others.

The former president has more than 2 million followers and follows two accounts: the official Truth Social account and an account for the platform’s user support.

Donald Trump Jr has more than 1 million followers and follows 130 people, mostly right-wing personalities, elected officials and candidates and media companies.

The app also recommends users to follow right-wing media companies like Newsmax, Breitbart, One America News Network, The Epoch Times, and Right Side Broadcasting Network – which has filmed nearly round-the-clock coverage of Trump rallies – as well as conservative satire website The Babylon Bee, which was suspended on Twitter for misgendering Rachel Levine, the US Assistant Secretary for Health, a transgender woman.

Once following those accounts, most of the “Truths” that appear on the user’s timeline are not much different, or no different at all, to posts that would otherwise exist on Twitter – low-resolution impact text memes, criticisms of Joe Biden and congressional Democrats, and complaints about “the left” who are having a “meltdown” over the return of “free speech.” Some Truths are just screenshots of posts from Twitter.

A search for mainstream news outlets like CNN returned accounts like “CNN IS A CONSPIRACY.” A recently launched account for The Washington Post has only 67 followers, as of 2 May.

Searches for “Covid” or “vaccines” found “no matching truths” but hundreds of hashtags to “Truths” with rampant misinformation and bogus conspiracy theories.

When it launched in 2018, Parler – which described itself as “unbiased social media focused on real user experiences and engagement” that allows “free expression without violence and no censorship” – quickly developed into a similarly reiterative right-wing echo chamber, dominated by support for Mr Trump.

By fall 2020, the platform carried “Stop the Steal” messaging from across the US to millions of users, including people who organised around the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021.

More than 800 people have been charged in connection with the Capitol riots, many of them leaving a digital footprint through their social media platforms, where the “stolen election” myth and plans to organise for 6 January were prolific, from posts on the pro-Trump message board The Donald to QAnon-hosting 8Kun, on messaging apps like Gab and Telegram, and on mainstream platforms like Facebook groups, Reddit message boards, and across Twitter.

The attack on Congress and violent support online prompted Twitter and Facebook to cut Mr Trump and others from their platforms, while Amazon, Apple and Google shut off access to Parler.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Twitter also removed more than 70,000 accounts that promoted QAnon-related content, spanning conspiratorial posts related to the baseless narrative that the election was stolen from Mr Trump, envisioned as a prophetic figure secretly fighting a Democratic cabal, as part of a conspiracy-driven community often relying on antisemitic and racist tropes and hate speech.

Those users have thrived online elsewhere, convinced they were targeted to be “deplatformed” on Twitter or “shadowbanned” when they tried to return.

Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Twitter account was suspended for violating the company’s Covid-19 misinformation policies. She has continued to post from her congressional account and on platforms like Telegram and Truth Social.

The platform also hosts figures who were banned elsewhere for violating content policies but have since developed followings on platforms like Telegram.

“Thank you Truth Social for calling me this morning and verifying my account,” said conspiracy theorist Ron Watkins, the site administrator of a message board that facilitated posts from the “Q” persona. Mr Watkins is running for the Republican nomination for a congressional race in Arizona, and he has repeatedly denied his connection to QAnon.

Hashtags related to the QAnon slogan “where we go one we go all” are attached to hundreds of recent posts, and profiles dedicated to “the great awakening” – the ascendance of a far-right renaissance with Trump at the helm – and other QAnon-referencing accounts are easily searchable through the platform’s account search function.

Those posts live among others celebrating both the demise of Twitter and Mr Musk’s acquisition, top hashtags complaining about gas prices and inflation, posts praising God, and other posts with users thoughts about current events and global politics, appearing as they would in a Twitter or Facebook search for similar keywords.

Within minutes, Mr Trump’s “I’M BACK” post was shared more than 10,000 times.

“POTUS Trump has broken his silence on @truthsocial!” said QAnon influencer QAnon John of The Patriot Voice to his 16,000 followers. “BQQMS INCOMING!”

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