Trump's Truth Social is about to join a crowded field

For months, former President Donald J. Trump has promoted Truth Social, the soon-to-be-released flagship app of his fledgling social med...


For months, former President Donald J. Trump has promoted Truth Social, the soon-to-be-released flagship app of his fledgling social media company, as a platform where free speech can thrive without the constraints imposed by Big Tech.

At least seven other social media companies have promised to do the same.

Gettr, a right-wing alternative to Twitter founded last year by a former adviser to Mr. Trump, markets itself as a haven from censorship. It’s similar to Parler – essentially another Twitter clone backed by Rebekah Mercer, a big Republican Party donor. MeWe and CloutHub are similar to Facebook, but with the pitch they promote unrestrained speaking.

Truth Social was supposed to go live on Presidents Day, but the start date was recently pushed back to March, although a limited test build was unveiled recently. A full deployment could be hampered by a regulatory investigation in a proposed merger of its parent company, the Trump Media & Technology Group, with a publicly traded company blank check company.

If and when it opens, Mr Trump’s app will be the newest – and most visible – entry into the tight universe of social media companies that have sprung up in recent years, promising to build an internet parallel after Twitter, Facebook, Google and other mainstream platforms started cracking down on hate speech.

Millions of users have signed up to these so-called alt-tech or alternative platforms, lured by the promise of a space free from what they see as censorship of conservative voices. However, the business case for these companies has already proven to be flawed.

“There’s an audience and a market, but it’s not huge,” said Shannon McGregor, a journalism and media professor at the University of North Carolina who has studied social media platforms. “Most people don’t want an all-goes version of the internet.”

Most alt-tech start-ups pursue the same group of users, many of whom might spend only a fraction of their time on social media on politically partisan causes. Additionally, right-wing pundits who attract large audiences already have large, well-established online fanbases on mainstream social media, making them unlikely to completely switch to a new platform unless they have not been frozen.

And since most mainstream Silicon Valley investors don’t rush to fund alt-tech, the growth of these companies depends on the small group of backers investing in partisan causes.

Rumble, which was founded in 2013 to compete with YouTube and is the oldest of these alternative social media companies, recently announced that its revenue has nearly tripled in the past year. Still, for the first nine months of 2021, his earnings were under $7 million. By comparison, YouTube made nearly $9 billion in advertising revenue in its most recent quarter.

Alternative platforms claim to have registered tens of millions of users. Most of these companies’ user numbers – or how they define users – are difficult to verify because they are often not independently tracked. But they are unlikely to pose a serious competitive challenge to mainstream social media platforms, which boast billions of users, experts said. For example, there are over 1.9 billion daily active users of Facebook and 211 million daily active users on Twitter who see ads.

Many people who claim to crave a social network that meets their political cause are often not ready to give up Twitter or Facebook, said Weiai Xu, assistant professor of communications at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Thus, major platforms remain important vehicles for “partisan users” to get their messages across, Xu said.

Gettr, Parler and Rumble took to Twitter to announce the signing of a new right-wing personality or influencer. Talk, for example, used Twitter for post a link to an ad that Melania Trump, the former first lady, made her platform her “social media home”.

Alternative social media companies thrive primarily on politics, said Mark Weinstein, the founder of MeWe, a platform with 20 million registered users that has positioned itself as an option for Facebook.

“The problem with Truth Social, Gettr and Parler is that they are competitors of Twitter and are echo chambers for a narrow political spectrum,” Weinstein said. “Echo chambers don’t have broad appeal.”

Rather than prosecuting users for their political beliefs, MeWe targets people who want to protect the privacy of their online posts, Weinstein said. MeWe’s basic plan is free, but it charges certain subscription services. His start-up has raised $24 million from 100 investors.

But since political causes drive the most engagement for alternative social media, most other platforms are quick to seize these opportunities. This month, CloutHub, which has just four million registered users, noted its platform could be used to raise funds for the truckers protesting from Ottawa.

Mr. Trump was not far behind. “Facebook and Big Tech seek to destroy the Freedom Convoy of Truckers,” he said in a statement. (Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said deleted several groups associated with the convoy for breaking their rules.)

Trump Media, Mr. Trump added, would let truckers “communicate freely on Truth Social when we launch — coming very soon!”

Of all the alternative technology sites, Mr. Trump’s venture may have the best chance of success if launched, not just because of the former president’s star power, but also because of his financial clout. In September, Trump Media agreed to merge with Digital World Acquisition, a blank check or special-purpose acquisition company that raised $300 million. The two entities raised $1 billion from 36 investors in a private placement.

But none of that money can be tapped until regulators complete their investigation into whether Digital World flouted securities regulations by planning its merger with Trump Media. In the meantime, Trump Media, currently valued at over $10 billion based on Digital World’s stock price, is trying to hire people to build its platform.

He led recruiters to contact former Parler employees, according to documents seen by The Times. In the screening questions, recruiters sought to learn more about “social media touted as alternatives to Facebook/Twitter, such as Parler and Gab”, and asked candidates if they thought Truth Social would have difficulty earn money or moderate content on its platform.

Devin Nunes, the former Republican congressman from California whom Mr Trump chose to serve as his company’s chief executive, declined interview requests.

Toronto-based YouTube rival Rumble has raised a relatively large sum of money from investors including billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel and Trump supporterand the venture capital fund of Mr. Thiel’s protege, JD Vance, who is running for a seat in the Ohio Senate.

Rumble also plans to go public through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. SPACs are shell companies created solely for the purpose of merging with an operational entity. The deal, arranged by Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald, will give Rumble $400 million in cash and a valuation of $2.1 billion.

The website said in january that it had 39 million monthly active users, up from two million two years ago. He has entered into various content agreements, including a to provide video and streaming services to Truth Social. Representatives for Rumble did not respond to requests for comment.

At least one other social media start-up hopes to capitalize on the former president’s popularity among conservatives to grow its business. Gettr, which started on July 4 and is run by former Trump adviser Jason Miller, had hoped to land Mr Trump before he decided to open his own business. In January, Gettr announced it was “the place to watch” Mr. Trump’s recent rallies.

In a written statement, Mr Miller said the former chairman was welcome “to join GETTR whenever it is ready”. The site claims to have five million users and a cash flow of tens of millions of dollars. In a recent interview, Mr. Miller denied a previous claim that Gettr had raised $75 million.

Speak, the platform popular with Trump supporters, is still reeling from its role after violent protests at the US Capitol in January 2021 by thousands of angry Trump fans. Talk app downloads plummeted 88% last year after Apple and Google removed it from their app stores and Amazon shut down web services after the riot, according to SensorTower, a digital analytics firm.

Parler, which in January said it raised $20 million from investors, has since returned to the Apple Store. However, internal unrest continued. Last year Parler fired Jean Matze, one of its founders, from his position as general manager. Mr Matze said he was fired after an argument with Ms Mercer – the daughter of a wealthy hedge fund executive who is Parler’s main backer – over how to handle extreme content posted on the platform .

Christina Cravens, Spokesperson for Talk, said the company has always “prohibited violent and inciting content” and invested in “content moderation best practices”.

Content moderation will also be a challenge for Truth Social, whose main star Mr Trump has been unable to post since early 2021, when Twitter and Facebook kicked him off their platforms for incitement to violence linked to the result of the 2020 presidential election.

With Mr. Trump as the main poster, it was unclear whether Truth Social would increase subscribers who would sign up simply to read the former president’s missives, Mr. Matze said.

“Trump is building a community that will fight for something or whatever he stands for on this day,” he said. “It’s not a social network for friends and family to share photos.”



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Newsrust - US Top News: Trump's Truth Social is about to join a crowded field
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