Jimmy Carter built houses with Habitat for Humanity. George W. Bush learned to paint. Barack Obama hung out with Bruce Springsteen. And Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States, created his own alternate online universe for the MAGA-loving, Big Tech-hating common man. After months of hype, the site was here – and it looked a lot like the thing it’s supposed to replace.
Inside Truth Social, everything once blue was now a bright, jewel-toned purple. Tweets, aka posts, were now “Truths.” Retweets were now “ReTruths,” capital T. And above my username, I saw the site’s default avatar: Twitter’s cream-colored egg icon, the image given to all new users, had apparently given birth to a proud purple eagle. The rest of the site appeared familiar: Replies were still replies. Likes were still likes. Direct messages, still in development, were still direct messages. And Donald Trump was still @realDonaldTrump – followed, as of this writing, by 140,000 people, a tiny fraction of his onetime total audience on Twitter. Only one Truth appeared on his page: “Get Ready! Your favorite President will see you soon! ” he wrote two weeks ago, before the app’s launch. The Truth displayed 7,750 ReTruths, 30,500 likes and 4,700 replies. (Inexplicably, unlike replies on other user posts, none of the responses to Trump’s message were visible to me.)
In my inbox, an unsigned email welcomed me to “our Truth Seeking community.”
Most people are still awaiting entry to this purple-shaded landscape. Eleven days after its launch on Feb. 21, timed for the indistinct federal holiday that is President’s Day, I was welcomed to Donald Trump’s new online home after holding the 169,685th spot on the waitlist. (The line is hundreds of thousands of users long, according to other people waiting to get in.)
The site promises a safe space for “free expression,” encouraging of “all viewpoints,” according to the welcome email, “as we do not discriminate against political ideology.” But inside the app, digital tumbleweeds blew through my feed. The site is a bit slow, and a bit empty. Its stalled roll-out, led by Devin Nunes, the Trump supporter and former Republican congressman from California, has become a source of frustration and confusion in MAGA-world, according to my colleague Meridith McGraw. Republican lawmakers like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy already have accounts and appear to be posting similar or identical content to both Truth Social and Twitter, along with right-leaning platforms like Gettr and Parler. (Apparently, no one is quite ready to turn their backs on an actual audience yet.) But when they do finally get their welcome emails, the thousands of regular Trump fans still waiting in line, eager for their chance to search for truth, will find a Twitter knock-off with no immediately discernible improvement on the original – a vanity project that has yet to prove its utility.
Put simply, there is not much happening on the site.
After setting up my profile under my name, a list of suggested users appeared on the screen: Donald Trump held the number one spot, followed by pages for Truth Social, the NFL, USA Military News, the Daily Mail, Sean Hannity, Kyle Rittenhouse and an account for paranormal news and discussion.
Scrolling down, I saw ordinary users and trolls on the list: @CreepyJeffBezos, @HypocriteTrudeau, @FakeHunterBiden (bio: “Celebrating Hunter Biden’s love for art, prostitutes, and laptops”).
As I scrolled through the list, another notification popped up at the top of my phone. My first follow! “LET’S GO BRANDON TOKEN ($ LGBT) is now following you,” the app informed me. Tapping on the page, I found an account promoting some kind of new crypto offering, the Let’s Go Brandon Token, also described by the anonymous user as “THE PEOPLE’S TOKEN.”
Minutes later, my second Truth Social follow came, hitting the full spectrum of Trump enemies, lest we forget 2016. “HilaryHater [sic] is now following you, ”the notification read. The account’s avatar showed Hillary Clinton sitting on a witch’s broom, flying past a purple-shaded Earth. “Father of 4 grown men,” the bio explained. “Couldn’t be prouder of not having snowflakes for kids.” I followed both accounts back, hoping to strike up some engagement.
On Truth Social’s own account page, @truthsocial, site administrators advised users to please be patient as the platform continued to move through its waitlist and address tech bugs and inconsistencies. The site is the marquee offering of Trump’s tech venture, Trump Media & Technology Group, founded last year as part of a SPAC deal, with $ 1 billion from undisclosed investors, according to the company (which is now reportedly under investigation by federal regulators). Truth Social’s page is filled with memes: a car veering off the highway, away from a sign for “Big Tech” to an exit ramp for “Truth Social”; two doors, one for Twitter, showing a vacant room, another for “Truth Social,” with dozens of people trying to get in. But from the inside, Truth Social feels empty.
The most vigorous conversation on the site seems to be the entirely made-up one that appeared on the mock-ups before the launch. In the images available on the Apple app store, an account called @jack is seen corresponding with a man named Rick, making conversation like “What’s your favorite place to go in the world? You will not believe how beautiful Jamaica is. ” Another mock-up, demonstrating the yet to be unveiled direct message feature, shows @jack asking someone named @jane to ask Truth Social’s moderation team to take down an offensive account. “Are you sure you want to do that?” @jane replies. “I mean it’s a pretty big deal censoring that content. Kinda an overreach… right? ” In the mock-up @jack (perhaps a reference to Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey) writes back, “JUST TAKE IT DOWN!” with a red-faced angry emoji. What the mock-up was meant to demonstrate – a user experience free of censorship, or safe moderation – is unclear. But on the site, there was little engagement between users. In response to a post from Nunes advising “another day with more people joining the platform,” 149 replies included messages of encouragement. “Making Social Media Great Again!” one user said. “It’s already better than Twitter if anyone can read this message !!” said another.
Dan Scavino, Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, appears to be one of the most active users on the site, with 74 Truths and counting. At the bottom of his feed, his first post on the site, published about two weeks ago, showed a picture of a blood-red wave crashing violently on the sea. Above a row of emojis – red heart, white heart, blue heart, American flag, flying eagle – Scavino wrote, “THERE ARE MORE OF US – THAN THERE ARE OF THEM!”
Around 10 am, I Truthed my first Truth.
“Anybody out there?” I wrote.
By the end of the day, no one had responded.