Former U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)held at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas, on August 06, 2022. Credit – Brandon Bell—Getty Images
Donald Trump’s social media company, TRUTH Social, is struggling with a host of financial, legal, and technical issues that threaten its very future. But its biggest problem, according to analysts, is something the company initially assumed would be its biggest draw: Trump himself.
Social media networks that quickly capture large audiences tend to appeal to people across boundaries of age, location, economic status, race or political affiliation. But TRUTH Social, co-founded by the divisive former president, is targeting a very specific and much narrower audience, hampering its prospects for growth.
“Because TRUTH Social is an echo chamber, mainly for Trump followers, it doesn’t have the same kinds of diversity of opinion and content that make mainstream social media platforms appeal to the masses,” says Ryan Neville-Shepard, an associate professor of communication at the University of Arkansas who researches American political rhetoric. “And if it doesn’t appeal to the masses, it’s not going to be extremely profitable.”
TRUTH Social did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.
The company’s app has yet to be approved for Google’s Play store. The holdup stems from the social network’s lack of sufficient content moderation, according to Google, a problem that plagues other conservative-leaning platforms, too.
The free-speech conundrum
TRUTH Social advertises itself as a refuge for free speech. But its content moderation policies have consistently created issues for the site. TRUTH Social has come under fire both for filtering seemingly innocuous posts and hosting violent ones.
“When we have platforms like TRUTH Social where there’s not moderation to the extent that we see in other places, people are going to push the boundaries of that,” says Shannon McGregor, an assistant professor of communication at the University of North Carolina who researches the role of social media in political processes.
There have already been alleged incitements to violence on the platform. Earlier this month, posts appeared from an account using the name Ricky Shiffer. That’s the name of the man authorities say attempted to breach an FBI field office in Cincinnati, before he was killed by law enforcement. Ahead of the attack, the account posted a “call to arms” on TRUTH Social and told people to “get whatever you need to be ready for combat.”
Content moderation at scale is challenging for even the biggest and most experienced platforms, says McGregor: “We see these problems everywhere. But we see them more often on platforms where content moderation is not a priority and there aren’t resources dedicated to it.”
These issues quickly can spiral into financial trouble for tech platforms. A lack of moderation can start to alienate both users and advertisers if it opens the door to violent content, says Neville-Shepard.
“Who wants to advertise on a platform that has a lot of extremist views?” he says. “It’s not a great business model.”
The trouble with TRUTH Social’s ties to Trump
TRUTH Social is in a unique position compared to other alternative right-wing Twitter clones like Gettr, Parler, and Gab because its success inherently hinges on Trump’s popularity, says Neville-Shepard. “If Trump declines, so does his platform,” he says.
The Washington Post reported on Saturday that while the FBI’s recent search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate initially fueled a surge of user activity on TRUTH Social, in the days since, U.S. site traffic has declined to about 300,000 views per day, according to estimates from online analytics firm Similarweb. That’s way down from the nearly 1.5 million U.S. views it logged on the day of its February launch.
Trump himself has fewer than 4 million followers on TRUTH Social, a fraction of the following of more than 80 million he had on Twitter before being permanently banned in January 2021. That means that far fewer people are seeing what Trump has to say about topics like the Jan. 6 hearings and the FBI affidavit used to raid Mar-a-Lago.
There’s a disconnect between TRUTH Social becoming a profitable business and also serving as a megaphone for Trump, according to Neville-Shepard. “The question is whether or not they can expand their audience,” he says. “But the dual purpose of the platform shows they’re probably distracted about what their business goals really are.”
Amid the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) ongoing investigations into both Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot and his handling of classified White House documents, Fox Business reported on Friday that TRUTH Social’s finances may be in “significant disarray.” The report alleged that, among other problems, TRUTH Social owes conservative web-hosting service RightForge around $1.6 million in contractually obligated payments.
Meanwhile, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings from Digital World Acquisition Corp., the special purpose acquisition company set to take TRUTH Social parent Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG) public, TRUTH Social still has no guaranteed source of revenue six months after its launch. Digital World has previously disclosed that SEC and DOJ probes into its planned merger with TMTG could “materially delay, materially impede, or prevent the consummation” of the deal.
Ultimately, TRUTH Social’s downfall could create an opportunity for another alternative right-wing platform to rise in its place, says Neville-Shepard. “The conservative platform that will do the best is the one that can draw the most conservative influencers,” he says. “Trump tends to be the conservative influencer taking all the attention on social media, but he probably only has influence as long as he’s in politics. Another platform could still easily be lifted up by other influencers on the right.”