The truth is, hosting an online community is hard work, a lesson that former president Donald Trump is learning quickly.
The truth is, Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, a reality he has had a hard time accepting, so much so that he instigated a terrible coup on the US capitol in an ill fated attempt to overturn the election results. He used social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook to agitate his followers in a way that resulted in several deaths, millions of dollars of damage to the U.S. Capitol, and irreparable harm to the well being of the American democracy.
Donald Trump had over 88 million followers on Twitter until he was permanently banned from the platform on January 8, 2021 for his role in instigating the January 6th Capitol riot. He was also removed from Facebook for a number of years for the same reason. Since before his presidency, Donald Trump used these social networks to share his thoughts and beliefs, no matter how outrageous, incorrect and libelous they may have been.
And now, since he is unable to post on any mainstream social network due to his own behavior, Trump is launching a social network of his own. Announcing the Truth Social platform in October 2020, Trump said “I created TRUTH Social to stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech. 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…”
Trump built his audience on sensationalism and extremism, and trying to create a sense of fear and victimization among those followers who agreed with his world view. What Trump failed to understand is that his Twitter audience grew to 88 million people not because almost one third of all Twitter users agreed with him, but rather because he was entertainment. He was the car wreck we could not turn away from when scrolling our newsfeed. We all laughed until it wasn’t funny anymore. We retweeted him in disagreement and shock. We followed him because we could hardly believe it was real. Then he became president, and many saw it as our civic responsibility stay connected to what the leader of our country was saying. Then, mercifully, he was gone.
Though Trump has claimed that Twitter would suffer due to his forced absence, 2021 saw the platform grow by over 43 million users. To maintain a connection to the public, Trump began to use his own website to release Twitter length statements. The interface for these statements is sorely lacking, and with no feedback loop, most of what he says barely registers in the mainstream public community discourse.
Clicking on a “statement” will bring you to a barely decipherable post that was written by Trump quickly and seemingly without much consideration.
And now, though Trump has proven himself to be one of the most popular and effective users of social media ever, his launch of the Truth Social platform reveals that he actually knows very little about creating community online, and the mistakes he is making right before our very eyes serve as a resonant lesson for all online community managers.
Because here’s the truth about social, the truth that Donald Trump will never learn.
Truth 1: Calling a platform Truth Social does not mean that content will be truthful
Every post on the Truth Social platform will be called a “Truth,” and replies will be called “ReTruths.” This suggests that all the posts will be true. They won’t. If there was a platform called Sincere Social, not all posts would be sincere, and if there was a platform called Happy Place, not every post would be happy. While you can mandate behavior to a certain extent through effective community guidelines (more on that soon), any expectation that everything will be truthful will only result in disappointment.
Truth 2: Community guidelines must be enforceable
Trump was removed from Twitter because he violated their community guidelines. He accused Twitter of violating his free speech by banning him from their site, but even a cursory reading of their guidelines makes it clear that users cannot encourage violent extremism, hateful conduct, or harassment. Now, on Truth Social, Trump finds himself being the enforcer. Truth Social users agree that “all registration information will be true, accurate current and complete.” Users cannot “trick, defraud or mislead other users.” The list goes on and on. How will Trump enforce the very things that he could accept being held accountable for in the first place?
Truth 3: An echo chamber is not community
Trump enjoyed a massive following on Twitter because the platform itself encourages conversation and feedback. People bring a wide variety of backgrounds, perceptions, belief systems and complicated opinions. Trump’s Truth Social network will attract exactly two different kinds of users. The first kind of user is the one who will agree with and support everything that Trump says or agrees with. The second kind of user will be the one who will watch from afar and report posts that are newsworthy. Truth Social will barely be an echo chamber. More likely, it will be a place where people are just yelling at the wall, with no one to challenge, disagree, or even listen.
Truth 4: The devil is in the details
There was such an influx of new users when Truth Social launched that people got a message telling them that they are “more than just a number,” and they were told what number in line they were (and that line was often hundreds of thousands of people long). If you got to the place where you could sign up, you were asked to agree invisible items.
Even now, if you go to the Truth Social homepage, you will see a sample user profile that shows a joneworks.studio link. As of the writing of this blog, that link takes users to a Minneapolis Star Tribune article titled “Trump: America’s sorest loser.” It also seems that the image of the user on that profile page was stolen from another website.
The truth is that trust is earned, and users are more likely to use a site where they can see that attention has been paid to every minute and major detail.
The truth is that a healthy, robust online community represents different opinions and perspectives. Users can openly participate in conversation and debate. Disagreement is okay, just as long as it is respectful. Arguments are good, just as long as they contribute to a constructive discourse.
The truth is that what is popular today is often forgotten tomorrow. Time may prove me wrong, but I think that the curiosity and interest that is sustaining the Truth Social network now will soon dissipate, and users will return to those platforms that better represent the town square.
Truth is, I just checked, and the user profile on the Truth Social homepage now links to TruthSocial.com. Glad to know someone is paying attention.