It may not have had the most strongest of starts, but when a former US President launches their own social media site it’s going to command attention none-the-less. Following his removal from Twitter, Donald Trump recently launched Truth Social a new social media network that, in time, the former POTUS, hopes could rival the tech giants.
The root of Donald Trump’s desire to take on the tech sector is partly personal (alongside being banned from Twitter, the Trump Organisation is also banned from ecommerce giant Shopify). Alongside this however, Truth Social represents the latest salvo in the battle between established social media companies who see their responsibility as being to manage information flows and fight misinformation in particular, and then smaller, upstart companies that pitch themselves as being on the side of greater freedom of speech.
The power of social media
Truth Social once again gives us an insight into the contemporary power of social media. Twitter is often compared to the public square of old, the place where ideas and conversations can flow freely. To be excluded from that realm then – whether for the wrong or right reasons – can seriously impact the reach of a politician, business or anybody else that wants to reach and audience.
The digitalisation of US politics means that another presidential bid would require a significant social media presence. Truth Social states that it will be a ‘Big Tent’ social media platform, where no views will be discriminated against based on their political ideology.
Is Truth Social the new Parler?
While Truth Social is possibly the most high-profile social media upstart on the block (down to the celebrity of the founder) it is far from the only new business to emerge as a competitor to Twitter.
Truth Social follows other ‘free-speech’ social media platforms such as Parler, Gab and Telegram. It has been created using open-source technology from Mastodon, which itself was created as an alternative to Twitter. As a result, it looks similar to Twitter and so, for average users who perhaps aren’t overly concerned by the ‘free speech v misinformation’ debate, there may be little on Truth Social to attract them away from Twitter.
If it’s to succeed Truth Social will need to develop a clear USP and something which makes it a viable alternative to Twitter, for everyday users rather than just for people who see it as a political tool. This is one of the problems which has impeded Parler, it has become a site for like-minded political actors, therefore alienating more mainstream and casual users.
Is Truth Social destined to fail?
While many commentators remain sceptical as to the long-term viability of Truth Social, Donald Trump is renowned for his media brand building and, love him or hate him, he’s a brand that everyone can engage with in some way.
Trump’s brand recognition and the loyalty of his supporters should give it a competitive advantage over other platforms such as Parler, that currently share a similar space. The public appetite for free-speech alternatives to Twitter has been limited, with Parler struggling to attract and retain users. These issues remain highly topical however, with more and more people becoming aware of the debate around ‘cancel culture’, a genuine rival to Twitter and similar could yet emerge. History tells us that monopolies often have a limited life-span.
If Truth Social wants to succeed where others have failed, it will need to show that it has the ability to move beyond a narrow-politicised niche and begin attracting mainstream users.
Truth Social faces many challenges then if it’s to become a genuine competitor to the exiting social media giants. Amongst those challenges will be the hostility of the existing tech companies (Parler for example was delisted from app stores which, while it may have proved the point that free speech, also served to restrict access and therefore market share) and the divisiveness of the Trump brand.
In order to succeed then Truth Social will need may need to take a step back from the Trump brand, or at least live up to it’s ‘broad tent’ claims and ensure the platform becomes home to a range of voices from politics and beyond. If it can do this, and have a legitimately more open and interesting conversation than is happening on it’s rivals, then who knows, perhaps Truth Social could succeed where others have failed!