[SIZE=6]MAGA-world fails to flock to Truth Social[/SIZE]
The former president vowed to turn the social media world upside down with a platform of his own.
But so far, his platform has little engagement and is missing some of Trump’s top supporters.
Former President Donald Trump and his immediate circle have shown little public interest in Truth Social.
His inactivity has been a source of frustration among some allies pushing the app. | John Raoux/AP Photo
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida, speculation of a 2024 presidential bid by former President Donald Trump loomed large.
But fanfare about his Truth Social app that had launched earlier that week? There was hardly any.
Trump mentioned the app in passing only a few times on stage. People including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) name-dropped Truth Social, but there was barely any buzz at the conference about the app.
“Other than [Trump], what makes a platform compelling enough to come back over and over again? How is it different than Twitter and Parler?” said one Republican digital strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about different conservative apps.
After Twitter permanently suspended Trump, the self-proclaimed “Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters” vowed to turn the social media world upside down with a platform of his own. But well more than a year later, his platform has failed to prove it’s ready to cause the kind of disruption he imagined.
Worse, there’s not much public enthusiasm around the current venture. Top figures in Trumpworld are barely using the app — some give the verbal equivalent of a shrug when asked about it — and Trump himself has only posted one “Truth.”
A screenshot of a post by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R.-Ga.) on Truth Social, captured on March 7, 2022. | Truth Social/POLITICO Screenshot
It’s a lackluster rollout that threatens a long-held dream for some on the right: that an app bolstered by the former president’s star power could jumpstart a social media ecosystem with the same power to amplify conservative voices as AM talk radio or Fox News. And it illustrates one of the great hurdles that conservatives have failed to overcome when trying to launch social media empires of their own: Their followers are eager to argue with the opposition, not necessarily to mingle among the like-minded.
“The fun of Twitter is that you can have that interaction with many different communities,” said Erik Finman, a bitcoin investor and Trump supporter who founded a company called Freedom Phone that markets itself to conservatives with an app store not tied to “Big Tech” — a.k.a. Apple or Google.
Truth Social was designed to take on large tech platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter — all of which kicked Trump off their platforms following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. But behind the scenes, many of those close to the former president say they have been left in the dark about the app, its progress, or even who is involved.
And Trump and his immediate circle have shown little public interest in Truth Social. Trump’s inactivity has been a source of frustration among some allies pushing the app. Former first lady Melania Trump is on the app but also announced in February that she will be making another platform, Parler, her “social media home.”
There are no verified accounts on Truth Social for the former president’s adult children Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka, or Tiffany, although there are unverified accounts purporting to be them.
Trump was involved in the initial development of the app, which was built by Trump Media and Technology Group, a publicly-traded media group that aims to capitalize off Trump’s name with entertainment and social media ventures. During a recent radio interview, Trump mused about how he came up with the name “TRUTH.”
But one former Trump adviser said that after being banned from Twitter, Trump has been pleased with the reach he’s gotten with emailed statements that his presidential office and Save America PAC blast to the press.
“I think him doing the press releases — it hasn’t been that bad of an outlet for him. If he wants to write out a three-paragraph scribe where he can go on about any topic, it’s a good outlet for him. They cover it just like they would a tweet,” said the former adviser, who was granted anonymity to talk frankly about Trump’s social media use.
A screenshot of a Michael Flynn “ReTruth” on Truth Social, captured on March 7, 2022. | Truth Social/POLITICO Screenshot
Even so, many expected Truth Social to provide a bigger megaphone for Trump and rally the MAGA base. So far, he hasn’t been big enough of a draw.
Approximately 313,000 people follow Trump on Truth Social — just a fraction of the more than 85 million who once followed him on Twitter. That could be due, in part, to a waitlist to get onto the site that is still hundreds of thousands of people long. But many major players in the conservative world also aren’t on the app. There are no verified accounts for Trump’s former advisers Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, although unverified accounts exist, based on a search Tuesday. While top conservative talk show host Dan Bongino has an account, Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson did not appear in the search.
And the app itself has been tripped up with technical difficulties from the moment it launched for a limited number of users on Feb. 20. For being a social media platform, there is little social interaction among users, say some of the individuals who have joined from waitlists. This raises questions about its ability to compete with major Silicon Valley platforms, even if it can garner the user base.
A spokesperson for Truth Social did not return repeated requests for an interview or comment.
Ahead of the launch, the app did manage to recruit some Trump allies, superfans, and conservative influencers, like Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Close allies were given VIP status and early access to the Alpha and Beta versions of the app. Trump’s right-hand man for social media, Dan Scavino, has made numerous posts on the app, although his reach there is not nearly as far as on Twitter. Scavino currently has approximately 115,000 followers on Truth, compared with his 1.4 million followers on Twitter.
A screenshot of the Truth Social profile of Rep. Lauren Boebert (R.-Colo.) captured on March 8, 2022. | Truth Social/POLITICO Screenshot
The rocky start has raised questions about Truth Social’s viability — especially as it joins other conservative-leaning social media platforms including Gettr, Parler, Gab, and video-streaming site Rumble, all of which are trying to draw Trump supporters with promises of less content moderation.
It’s a difficult market to get into. Meta’s Facebook and Twitter have gigantic user bases, and newer platforms such as Tiktok that have risen in recent years have offered a vastly different type of user experience, rather than just targeting a different audience.
Gettr’s CEO Jason Miller said his app has nearly 5 million users, compared with 2.9 billion on Facebook and 217 million on Twitter. Truth Social has not provided data on how many users are on the app. Waitlist counters put the number of signups at nearly 500,000 on the first two days after its launch, though many of those are still waiting to be let in.
One possible reason for the low user numbers: the echo chamber isn’t really what people want.
As the Republican digital strategist noted, there is less fun in social media when all users share the same political views.
“You can’t get ratioed when everyone is on your side,” the strategist said.
[INDENT]Other than [Trump], what makes a platform compelling enough to come back over and over again? [/INDENT]
[INDENT]How is it different than Twitter and Parler?[/INDENT]
[INDENT]Republican digital strategist[/INDENT]
Truth Social also may not be the most effective way for Trump to engage with the public. Top consultants close to Trump argue that if he once again doesn’t have a filter, it could equate to a return of public relations headaches.
“If you care about Trump winning, you don’t want Truth Social to work,” said another Republican strategist.
Some in Trump circles note that Truth Social is still in the midst of a “soft launch,” and that it takes years for any social media app to get off the ground.
Former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), CEO of Trump Media and Technology Group, has said that after months of delays, Truth Social is expected to be “fully operational” in the coming weeks and expects to attract users who have been booted or turned off by more mainstream platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
“Give us some time and we’ll get it right,” Nunes told Sean Spicer during an interview on Newsmax in February.
Nunes, a longtime ally of Trump, left Congress for Trump’s media group.
But beyond Nunes, nearly a dozen people in Trump circles contacted for this article have been unable to name anyone else working on the app, which was developed in secrecy.
[INDENT]You can’t get ratioed when everyone is on your side.[/INDENT]
[INDENT]Republican digital strategist[/INDENT]
Truth Social is purportedly aiming to “encourage an open, free and honest global conversation without discrimination against political ideology,” according to Trump Media and Technology Group’s website. All of the posts on the platform are known as “Truths” and reposts as “ReTruths.”
It also appears to be trying to give users as close of an experience to the big social media sites as possible. It uses a blue-color design similar to both Twitter and Facebook and copies Twitter’s microblogging features, as seen in Trump’s first post.
Gettr’s Miller argues his app will benefit from Truth Social’s launch. “This isn’t about the competition between Gettr and Truth or anybody else that’s an alternative platform. This is more about taking market share from the big tech platforms,” he said.
For the moment, the proliferation of conservative social media platforms is frustrating even to some in their target demographic.
A screenshot of former President Donald Trump’s first post on Truth Social, captured on March 7, 2022. | Truth Social/POLITICO Screenshot
“Between Gettr, Rumble, Parler — it’s a pain to keep up with all this shit,” said one prominent Republican, who was granted anonymity to describe their frustration with the apps. “People are going to sign up for it, there’s no question about it. … If I can repost [from other apps] to Truth Social, then great, but right now it’s constantly having to remember to cut and paste posts onto [other platforms].”
Matt Navarra, a social media strategist, said there’s no indication that such fringe sites are cutting into the major platforms’ market share.
Navarra said mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter may even be thankful to not have to manage polarizing figures like Trump and Greene on their platforms: “If all that content and all those troublemakers go there, then that’s something someone else has to deal with.”
Ruby Cramer and Bob King contributed to this report.