Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an associate professor in the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, writes about issues affecting women and social media. She was spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.
Former President Donald Trump’s new social network, Truth Social, is flailing. It was supposed to be “fully operational” by the end of last month, according to its parent company’s chief executive, former Rep. Devin Nunes of California. But now, it’s plagued by a lack of content, technical issues and the resignations of top executives.
The outcome is eminently unsurprising: any social network set up by a figure as polarizing as Trump is practically guaranteed to fail.
Truth Social has now fallen to a dismal 35th place among social networks on the app store, according to market research firm SensorTower. Some members of the company’s own leadership seem to be realizing the effort is a bust.
According to Reuters, the senior executives in charge of Truth Social’s technology and product development, Josh Adams and Billy Boozer, have left the company. (Adams did not respond to a request for comment and Boozer declined to comment to Reuters on his departure.)
Some users who have tried to sign up say they haven’t been approved. And some content about major brands on the app doesn’t seem to be coming from the brands themselves, according to CNN.
When CNN asked a spokesperson for the wallstreetbets community on Reddit whether they were controlling the content about their community on Truth Social, the response was telling.
The spokesperson said that Truth Social was “running the account as an RSS feed under our subreddit name” and while Truth Social had offered to allow the community to run its account itself, the offer was “declined” because “a core tenet of our community is remaining apolitical.”
The response reveals that people and organizations recognize that participating in this social network is a political act – one that directly aligns themselves with the former President and all he has come to represent. Sixty-one percent of American adults, who according to a March 2022 Marquette Law School poll, hold an unfavorable view of the former President, likely would not find that an attractive premise.
Truth Social and Trump Media and Technology Group, the app’s parent company, didn’t immediately respond to a request from CNN for comment.
Trump, let’s recall, is famous for using social media to tweet what congressional investigators believe was essentially an invitation to extremists to storm the Capitol last year. The former President has denied any responsibility for the January 6 insurrection. As a result of the attack, he’s been permanently barred on Twitter and suspended for at least two years by Facebook.
Trump also refused to accept that he lost the 2020 presidential election – and even tried to overturn the results, through failed litigation, pressure on election officials and pressure on his vice president.
And he’s been widely recognized as a man who makes misogynist remarks, calling everyone from Vice President Kamala Harris to Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen “nasty.” He also has a history of attacking minority groups – from Latino immigrants to Muslims. In his book, “Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It,” Helio Fred Garcia found that after Trump verbally attacked groups, including Hispanics and Muslims, hate crimes against them increased.
In short, to sign up for Truth Social is to lend legitimacy to the former President and his behavior. It’s no wonder that a lot of companies and people aren’t clamoring to do so: they recognize that joining would cause self-inflicted reputational damage to themselves by mere association.
As a result, it simply isn’t possible for this social network to take off on a significant scale. After all, the value of a social network to a user depends in large part on how many other people are using it. If users can’t communicate with a lot of other people and groups because they aren’t on the platform, joining becomes a less attractive proposition.
The idea that the value of something like a social network increases as its number of users increases is known as Metcalfe’s Law. Even if you don’t discuss politics on a social network with a relative or friend with whom you disagree, you still might like seeing pictures of their kids growing up, or benefit from being able to contact them to arrange a carpool to soccer practice or plan Thanksgiving dinner.
While it’s remarkable that a social network started by a person who bills himself as a successful businessman and who previously served as leader of the free world appears to be plagued by so much mismanagement, that’s not the ultimate root of the problem here.
The insurmountable obstacle Truth Social faces is that Trump’s reputation has undermined its chances of long-term success.
Most Americans do not want to associate with anything he creates. And a social network on which you can’t actually be social or network with many people is destined for failure.