On Wednesday, Donald Trump announced the launch of his long-awaited social media company, TRUTH Social. “I created TRUTH Social and TMTG (Trump Media and Technology Group) to stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” Trump said in a press release. “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.”
It’s a quote that gamely sums up TRUTH Social’s raison d’être: Donald Trump is not allowed on Twitter, therefore he needs another place to post. For a couple of weeks earlier this year, Trump tried his hand at micro-blogging but, like so many people in the early part of the twenty-first century, quickly ran out of steam. He still sends out near-daily quasi–press releases that are styled as tweets but these, too, have tended to gain little traction in the social media transom. The failures of these efforts point to TRUTH Social’s other goals. One is to make Donald Trump the center of the conversation in a way he hasn’t been since Twitter snatched his account after the January 6 insurrection. The other is to make Donald Trump a boatload of money without providing a useful—or perhaps even functional—product.
TRUTH Social only really makes sense if you think about it that way. Otherwise, it’s one of the dumbest ideas ever. The site is, essentially, a clone of Twitter—albeit a version of Twitter that presumably won’t ban Donald Trump. On this ersatz platform, “tweets” are referred to as “truths,” a reference to its principal benefactor’s most renowned quality.
It is launching into a space that is already extremely crowded: Twitter, it goes without saying, already occupies a massive social media presence, but there are already some well-known right-wing upstarts, such as Gab and Parler, competing to hoover up those who want to be able to engage in hate speech without having to deal with the occasional suspension. One of TRUTH Social’s most important rules is that you are not allowed to make fun of TRUTH Social. This strikes me as a bad business idea largely because most good tweets are ultimately about the fact that Twitter is terrible. (The other good tweet is Mina Kimes’s post about “returns on capital continuing to exceed the growth rate of overall wages and output.”)
TRUTH Social’s product is predictably terrible: Within hours of its announcement, users had found a sign-up link and were able to register accounts including “mikepence” and “realdonaldtrump.” The user “donaldjtrump” sent out a “truth” of a famous scatalogical meme involving a pig before getting shut down. None of this suggests that Trump or his colleagues at TRUTH Social and TMTG are prepared to deal with what actually comes with running a social media site: dealing with trolls and hackers, policing content, or making money.
It’s not clear what the business model of this new venture will ultimately look like. The company claims to be valued at $1.7 billion—a figure that appears to have more or less been plucked out of a hat—but there’s no sense of where its revenue is going to come from. An entertainment company as well as a social media company, TRUTH Social falls under the larger umbrella of the new TMTG—one could say that it aims to be bigger than Twitter, bigger than Fox News—hey, why not bigger than Disney and Google, too? (TMTG really does claim that it will run a news site that competes with CNN and an entertainment company that will compete with Disney.) Whatever this is, it isn’t a real company.
This ultimately may be the point, however. TMTG is going public as a special purpose acquisition company. As Bloomberg’s Matt Levine notes, “Ordinarily that would be risky: The SPAC investors have withdrawal rights—they can take back $10 per share in cash instead of leaving it in the pot for the merger—so the company might not get any money. Here, it is not risky. The reason it is not risky is that people who like Trump will buy the stock.” Ultimately, the company is closer to a meme stock than a technology company.
Trump has been searching for years to find a way to monetize his political popularity; he has, similarly, been griping for years that others were able to profit from his presidency while he was merely constrained to overcharging the Secret Service and running a hotel that doubled as a bribe-collection depot. TMTG and TRUTH Social aren’t really products per se—and they might never exist. All odds are that TRUTH Social itself will crash and burn in spectacular fashion. But that might not matter if this firm simply exists as a vehicle for monetizing Donald Trump’s name, likeness, and intellectual property—and Trump will probably make money from it even if it shits the bed.
In this sense, it’s actually the perfect Trump business: It doesn’t do anything, failure is guaranteed but doesn’t matter, other people may very well end up suffering, but he, somehow, will end up just fine. The fact that it is also a vehicle for an endless stream of drivel and hot air masquerading as a crucial bulwark for free speech only makes it better. It’s a terrible company, but unlike the presidency, it suits Trump to a T.