Former President Donald Trump and his team declared Wednesday night that they would soon launch a “media powerhouse” that would help them triumph in their long-running war against Big Tech. But within hours, pranksters found what appeared to be an unreleased test version and posted a picture of a defecating pig to the “donaldjtrump” account.
The site has since been pulled offline — evidence that Trump is likely to face a daunting challenge in building an internet business that can stand on its own.
Banned by all major social networks after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Trump has for months agitated to regain the online megaphone that once blasted his voice around the world. In a presentation released Wednesday by his new media company, Trump Media & Technology Group, his team hailed the new social network as the first tentpole for a Trump-led media, news and internet empire that would one day compete with Disney, CNN and Facebook.
But the site’s early hours revealed lax security, rehashed features and a flurry of bizarre design decisions. An open sign-up page allowed anyone to use the site shortly after it was revealed, sparking the creation of the “donaldjtrump” account and the pig posting. A Washington Post reporter was able to register and post under the account name “mikepence” without any stops in place. New sign-ups were blocked shortly after.
A Trump Media and Technology Group spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The site looks almost entirely like a Twitter clone: A user can post Truths, which are like tweets, or Re-Truths, which are retweets. There’s also a news feed, called the Truth Feed, a notification system so users can know “who’s interacting with your TRUTH’s,” the social network’s App Store profile states.
The site’s code shows it runs a mostly unmodified version of Mastodon, the free, open-source software launched in 2016 that anyone can use to run a self-made social networking site.
Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko told The Post on Thursday that Trump’s site may violate Mastodon’s licensing rules, which require developers to share any modifications and link to the original source code. Rochko said he has contacted the company’s legal counsel to make a determination.
Mastodon would not be able to take the site down in case of a violation, Rochko said, because users can host the software on their own servers. “Such independence is one of the selling points of the platform,” he said, but “it is not an independence from the law, so avenues to take action still exist through legal proceedings.”
Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. promoted the social network on Fox News on Wednesday night, saying the “platform for everyone to express their feelings” would be in “beta testing” for the next few weeks and would stage a full launch in the first quarter of next year.
The social network’s rollout bears little resemblance to the caustic, attack-filled attitude that defined Trump’s years on social media. Truth Social’s listing on Apple’s App Store said the site will be a place for families with “varied opinions” to come “together to have an amazing time and share their viewpoints of the world.”
The company boasted that the site will showcase the basic features that have been expected of social networks for nearly a decade, including the ability to create a profile and post news stories, photos and videos.
The site’s terms of service, however, list some rules that would hamstring Trump himself. The site will ban, for instance, “excessive use of capital letters” — a hallmark of Trump’s online screeds.
Though the site portrays itself as a refuge for free speech uncensored by Big Tech, Trump’s site will ban any content that would “disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the Site,” the terms state.
They also show that the site hopes to benefit from something on which Trump has long criticized Big Tech: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects companies from legal liability for the content their users post.
Trump last year threatened to veto a massive (and unrelated) bill for military spending unless Congress repealed the long-standing law, which Trump said should be “completely terminated.”
The company is “not responsible for … any Third-Party Content posted on, available through, or installed from the Site, including [its] content, accuracy, offensiveness, opinions [or] reliability,” the site’s terms of service state.
Trump has long blamed Section 230 as part of allegations that the tech companies are biased against conservatives, especially after his posts in which he sought to mislead the public about election fraud were flagged as misleading.
The company said it also reserves the right to “refuse, restrict access to, limit the availability of, or disable” a user’s access or contributions. Trump has vilified other tech companies for banning his accounts using that same right.
Truth Social’s listing on the App Store includes mostly inoffensive examples of posts that users might share, such as, “What’s your favorite place to go in the world? You won’t believe how beautiful Jamaica is.”
But it also includes logos for companies and, in one image, an entire fake post by the carmaker Chevrolet, which declared it was “going electric.” A spokeswoman for General Motors, which owns Chevrolet, told The Post on Thursday morning that the company has “no affiliation with this platform.”
Patent and trademark filings show the company in July trademarked “Truth Social” and “Trump Plus,” the latter of which was forecast to one day possibly cover TV shows, podcasts, movies and “online video games.” The company also applied to trademark terms such as “truthing,” “post a truth” and “retruth,” filing records show.
The company’s presentation shows Trump still relishes the fame and following he amassed over years on social media. Three of the roughly 20 slides repeat Trump’s peak Twitter following, of 89 million accounts, to support its argument that the former president could still help galvanize the “conservative media universe.”
Trump’s attempt this summer to win online audiences, however — a blog, “From the Desk of Donald Trump,” heralded as a “beacon of freedom” — was discontinued after only 29 days. Trump advisers said he was upset by reports from The Post and other outlets highlighting its scraggly traffic count.
Trump’s lawyers earlier this month pushed for a federal court to force Twitter to reinstate his account, saying the company held “power and control over political discourse in this country that is immeasurable, historically unprecedented, and profoundly dangerous to open democratic debate.”
In the Truth Social announcement, Trump’s team said the site would be owned by Trump Media & Technology Group, a vaguely defined company headquartered at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Florida.
The Trump company said it was merging with Digital World Acquisition, one of many “blank-check” companies used for financial maneuvering, and would be publicly listed for trading. The statement valued the company at $875 million, though it was unclear how that number was reached.
The company said it intended to launch a video streaming service that would include news, entertainment, documentaries and sports, saying, “The American public is seeking ‘non-woke’ entertainment, and TMTG+ will provide content for all to enjoy.”
The company said it would compete with Netflix, Hulu and Disney+ but gave no information as to how. The slide, however, did include an old photo of Trump giving a big trophy to a sumo wrestler.
The site is likely to undermine other conservative-friendly social media alternatives, such as Gettr, Gab and Parler, that have sought to win over pro-Trump audiences.
Gettr, led by Trump’s former senior adviser Jason Miller, in a statement Wednesday congratulated Trump “for re-entering the social media fray.” Miller’s company had been angling to officially partner with Trump but “just couldn’t come to terms on a deal” with the “great deal-maker,” the statement said.
The Gettr statement also revealed lofty ambitions for other media properties, including a “GVision” short-video network and a “GETTR Pay” payments system. Its bare-bones social media site, however, has faced its own issues, including a launch that was plagued with terrorist propaganda and cartoon pornography. “Let the downloads begin!” the statement said.