“Not only are people going there, getting news and information and finding it accurate, but they also feel at home there,” says Galen Stocking, a computational social scientist with the Pew Research Center who has studied Truth Social and other alternative platforms.
Truth Social is both a replica and the antithesis of Twitter-like social network Mastodon. Focused on dialog and respect instead of ads, profit, and virality—meant to disincentivize trolls—Mastodon grew slowly. Mastodon also has heavy moderation capabilities, allowing server administrators to act on hate speech and other inappropriate content. It’s volunteer-run and crowdfunded, and many users encourage liberal use of the platform’s “content warnings” on posts about everything from sex to politics to news.
Then there’s Mastodon’s code. As Truth Social was under development in 2021, the Software Freedom Conservancy accused it of violating a free and open source software licensing agreement for taking Mastodon’s code. Anyone can use Mastodon’s code, but they must make the source code public. Truth Social called its code “proprietary,” which violated the licensing agreement. It later quietly added an open source section to its website, acknowledging the open source code and Mastodon.
Alongside its growth, Truth Social is dealing with a financing snag: Some $1.3 billion in funding is entangled with a merger between Trump Media and Technology Group, which owns Truth Social, and Digital World Acquisition Corp. Federal prosecutors and regulators are investigating the deal, which could push Digital World to liquidate and the funding to evaporate. The clock was ticking with a December 8 deadline for the merger, but shareholders of Digital World voted on November 22 to delay the merger until 2023. Trump Media has also reportedly eyed partnerships with right-wing social media sites Rumble and Parler.
That’s exactly the kind of problem something like Mastodon can avoid. It’s founded on an ideal of decentralization, meaning it cannot be bought and manipulated by one person because the network is made up of more than 7,700 independent servers. Mastodon has had explosive growth since Musk bought Twitter, and now has 2.4 million active monthly users, up from 381,000 the day the deal closed.
Truth Social is not decentralized, and it boasts several conservative celebrities but orbits around Trump and his brand. (He has 4.6 million followers on the platform.) Trump Media and Technology Group did not respond to requests for comment on the site’s size, how it has grown amid recent events, or whether Trump will return to Twitter.
Trump has a vested interest in standing up Truth Social, so his indifference in returning to Twitter when Musk first bought the platform and floated the idea made sense. But now that he’s running for president in 2024, it may be difficult and detrimental for Trump to resist the lure of 88 million followers awaiting him on Twitter, compared to fewer than 5 million on Truth Social. Still, he’s staying away, for now. “I hear we’re getting a big vote to also go back on Twitter,” Trump said Saturday. “I don’t see it because I don’t see any reason for it.”