The Promise and Peril of Trump’s Truth Social
There are legal and moral issues that one observer hopes the techies behind the former president’s new venture have considered.
Conservatives who perceive a liberal bias have long targeted Twitter, and they’ve ramped up criticism since President Trump was banned in January 2021. That would seem to present a ripe opportunity for Mr. Trump’s Truth Social, which is selling itself as a free-speech alternative to Twitter.
One problem, though, is that many “who want to get behind something like Truth Social have a Crayola crayon idea of free speech,” says Jim McCarthy.
The 54-year-old president of CounterPoint Strategies, a crisis public relations firm in Washington, D.C., knows what he’s talking about. Mr. McCarthy gets called when people or companies need a strong counterpuncher after being swarmed by negative media reports. As his sharp Twitter feed shows, he has a particular dislike of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and what he sees as liberal bias.
There are legal and moral issues that Mr. McCarthy hopes the techies behind Mr. Trump’s new venture have considered.
“The rationale for the platform and the customer appeal is that it will enable free speech in a way that other social networks constrict,” he says. “Sounds awesome. But just peruse the federal jurisprudence on free speech litigation and it’s a far more intricate and complex principle than it seems on the surface. Any platform like that is going to face immediate moral dilemmas about where to draw the line — and that comes with criticism from haters and customers alike.”
Mr. McCarthy offers an example: A Truth Social user calls for a flash mob to appear at a store in Beverly Hills. A group forms, breaking property and injuring a bystander. “Now you have a legal and a moral problem on your hands,” he says.
While he is “rooting for” Truth Social, saying a “viable rival to Twitter is very long overdue … the roadside is littered with failed dot-coms — I rode one into the ditch myself — and that’s because it’s way harder than it looks on the back of the napkin.”
Truth Social is a wing of Trump Media & Technology Group, which the former president is launching this year. It had a bumpy first week: The platform was gummed up with technical glitches, a 13-hour outage, and a 300,000-person waitlist. A message to those in the queue read: “Thank you for joining! Due to massive demand, we have placed you on our waitlist. We love you, and you’re not just another number to us. But your waitlist number is below.”
Another conservative who isn’t fully sold on the platform is Jeryl Bier, the editor of the Pluribus, which describes itself as “an online project exploring the rising tide of illiberalism and its recent progeny, cancel culture.“
“On a basic level, more competition in the social media arena is a good thing,” Mr. Bier says, “although it remains to be seen if Trump’s entrant will be able to seriously compete with Twitter and the other big boys.
“As far as Truth Social itself, I find it almost a self-parody in its Trumpiness,” he says. “Instead of ‘tweets,’ users send ‘Truths,’ and a ‘retweet’ is a ‘ReTruth.’ Despite all Trump’s insistence that he speaks for conservatives, ‘Your Truth’ is an extremely postmodern concept.”
Mr. Bier says he “will be curious to see if TruthSocial is able to live up to its promise to be an ‘open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology,’ or whether some user’s ‘Truths’ will be determined to violate the extensive terms of service that of course are part of Truth Social.
“Given that Trump was kicked off Twitter, it will be interesting to find out what Truth Social considers ‘false, inaccurate, or misleading’ and what gets users banned from Truth Social. Often, ‘open, free, and honest’ is in the eye or ear of the beholder,” he says.
Mr. McCarthy thinks Truth Social can succeed, provided it stays within legal guardrails.
“I’ve long wished for a social platform to say that it will aim to follow the federal judiciary’s rulings on First Amendment issues, and perhaps hire some sharp thinkers from that field of the law to steer the course. That way, you could tell both press and government critics, ‘Hey, we are following your rules here and a bedrock body of constitutional law.’”