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Wednesday, February 23, 2022
Apple and a boring experience could crush Truth Social
More than a year after Twitter (TWTR) and Facebook parent Meta (FB) ditched Donald Trump, the ex-president is back online with Truth Social. The platform, which opened to the public on Monday, marks Trump’s second attempt at launching a social network since Twitter and Facebook booted him after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump’s first go, a site called From the Desk of Donald J. Trump, sputtered out less than a month after it launched due to a lack of user engagement.
But that site just served as a megaphone for Trump’s own internal monologue. Truth Social, meanwhile, has the makings of an actual social network — albeit one that looks a heck of a lot like Twitter since it uses an open-source Twitter alternative called Mastodon. Still, the platform allows more than one user to post and share content, marking an improvement over the last site.
But just because Truth Social apes Trump’s previous de facto communications tool and allows for multiple users doesn’t mean it will succeed. It’s already facing headwinds beyond early tech hiccups, including Apple’s (AAPL) iOS privacy changes that already hammered social networks like Facebook. And with so many like-minded users — this is supposed to be for Trump fans, after all — it could end up boring its own audience.
“I think this whole thing is far from a sure bet as an actual, ongoing business,” Paul Barrett, deputy director of NYU Stern’s Center for Business and Human Rights, told Yahoo Finance. “My guess is that it's actually going to flame out, but not necessarily before [Trump] makes some money off it."
Apple’s iOS changes could hammer Truth Social
Let’s start with Apple’s iOS privacy changes. In April 2021, Apple introduced a new feature called App Tracking Transparency that makes it more difficult for third-party app makers to track users across the web. And that has translated into serious financial problems for developers like Facebook parent company Meta, which rely on the information gathered by tracking users to sell ads.
During Meta’s latest earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said App Tracking Transparency will cost Meta $10 billion in 2022 alone.
And while Truth Social hasn’t explained how it plans to monetize its eventual user base, it certainly mentions advertising a lot in its terms of service. And, let’s face it, if you’re launching a social media site, you’re likely banking on making money through ad sales.
Apple’s App Tracking Transparency could sting Truth Social even more than it hurt Meta. That’s because while Meta offers its apps on both iOS and Android (GOOG, GOOGL), Truth Social is only available through iOS. You can also get it through a desktop browser, but few people will likely use that.
That means the company won’t be able to lean on Android users to prop up its sales when it eventually launches its ads business.
Truth Social might simply be too dull
Truth Social is being marketed as a kind of anti-Facebook and anti-Twitter where users can post content that would otherwise get them in trouble on those mainstream services. The platform aims to appeal to a specific group: Trump followers.
And because of that, there are unlikely to be many dissenting voices on Truth Social, which, according to Phil Napoli, professor of public policy at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, could hurt the site in the long-run.
“The key question raised by the launch of Truth Social is, how impactful can a social media platform be if its user base is, to some extent, politically homogeneous?” he said.
This homogeneity won’t just spawn an echo chamber; it will also limit the opportunity for users to argue with their so-called “friends.” And that could hurt the site’s growth potential.
After all, The Facebook Papers, a series of documents whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked last year, showed that conflict juices engagement on social media sites. That’s not to say that the site needs to feature a toxic mix of hate speech and knock-down, drag-out brawls, but if everyone on Truth Social is simply recycling each other’s talking points, it won’t be a very compelling service.
“Perhaps because of this limitation, similarly oriented platforms such as Gab and Parler have relatively small user bases compared to the dominant social media platforms, and probably have relatively little potential for growth,” Napoli said.
In the end, however, Trump might not actually care whether Truth Social takes off or crashes like his previous offering. It could all simply be about the potential to make some quick cash.
“There's hundreds of millions of dollars at this point sloshing around here,” Barrett said. “We don't know exactly who has a claim on what ... I don't think he cares whether this thing is going to be working 18 months from now, two years from now."
In the meantime, Trump will make at least some money from his rabidly loyal fan base — even if they do end up liking each other's posts 99% of the time.