By Philip Pearson
In answer to whether it’s possible for the Far-Right to create a social media platform that doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own false promises, our esteemed 45th President offers us Truth Social! The social media platform that will, by design, reinstall Trump to the center of his own media narrative while also managing the greatest feat of all for Right-Wing social media, to find a balance between “Free Speech” and mainstream acceptance.
It’s a harder balance to achieve than one might expect.
Trump’s as yet non-operational Twitter copycat platform promises to be “America’s Big Tent social media platform that encourages an open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideaology,” yet it follows directly in the footsteps of other Right-Wing Twitter clones like Gettr and Parler, both of which collapsed almost immediately under the weight of their own false promises. And the primary false promise of a platform like Parler or Gettr, (or as is yet to be determined, but very likely for Truth Social, too), is that radical “Free Speech” is an attractive element of social media for average, everyday users. “Apps like Parler and Gettr offered their conservative users an attractive mirage:” notes Verge columnist Casey Newton, “a free-speech paradise where they could say the things they couldn’t say elsewhere. It never seemed to occur to anyone that such a move would only select for the worst social media customers on earth.”
Yes, what doesn’t seem to occur to the Trumpist founders of these Alt-Right platforms (Parler was funded by massive Trump doner Robert Mercer, while Gettr was begun by Trump aide Jason Miller) is that they require users and content beyond those who are attracted by the promise of being able to say and post anything they like, no matter how racist or just plain false. And those users, and that content, exist in a media universe that just isn’t interested in being constantly exposed to radical “Free Speech” (read, here, totally unmoderated opinions and misinformed content). In fact, the opposite appears to be true: as put by Adam Kovacevich in this Tweet, “People want Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to moderate their services to create a positive [user] experience – free of hate and disinformation.”
And even with its slick graphics and new CEO (hello, former California congressman Devin Nunes!) Trump’s Truth Social doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to understanding this fundamental paradox than Parler or Gettr before it. Despite that Truth Social’s mission statement claims it will be “America’s Big Tent” platform, Trump’s own statement announcing the company read: “We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced. This is unacceptable. I am excited to send out my first TRUTH on TRUTH Social very soon.”
Meanwhile, Nunes, the company’s totally unqualified CEO, (who the LA Times described as “Devin Nunes, the thin-skinned dairy farmer who has filed defamation lawsuits against the Washington Post, CNN, Hearst, NBC, McClatchy and someone pretending to be his cow on Twitter”) described the public need for Truth Social in the following terms: ““The time has come to reopen the Internet and allow for the free flow of ideas and expression without censorship. The United States of America made the dream of the Internet a reality and it will be an American company that restores the dream. I’m humbled and honored President Trump has asked me to lead the mission and the world class team that will deliver on this promise.” Note, we’re still talking primarily about sidestepping so-called “censorship.” Nothing from either one about creating a platform where people can just enjoy being online.
And maybe that’s what Trump and his cronies fail most thoroughly to understand when it comes to these new social media ventures is that for the huge majority of Trump’s (admittedly) many followers, just following Trump on social media was enough politics for one day in their timelines. They maybe didn’t like to miss whatever the Former President was incensed about today, but after that it was back to baby pics and Cats in Costumes and Basketball highlights and everything else. So while it’s possible that Truth Social really will make good on its promise to deliver a social media platform that’s free of “censorship,” if it does, you can rest assured it will collapse under the weight of its own “free speech” paradox, just like Parler and Gettr did before it.