Trump's soon to be new social media platform, "Truth Social," won't be operational for a few months-- although you can pre-order it on the Apple app store and get on a waiting list-- and it's already a joke. Yesterday, the NY Times reported that a private test version of it had already been hacked, creating fake accounts for Señor Trumpanzee, Mike Pence, Steve Bannon-- who's been in the news again lately, Ron Watkins, the nut who created QAnon and is now running for Congress, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter.
Using a false “donaldjtrump” account, hackers posted images of defecating pigs, wrote expletive-laced rants aimed at Mr. Dorsey and inquired about the whereabouts of the former first lady Melania Trump. Images of the hackers’ handiwork were circulated on other social media platforms.
In interviews on Thursday, the hackers, who are affiliated with Anonymous, the loose hacking collective, said the effort was part of their “online war against hate.”
...In exposing the innards of Truth Social ahead of its launch, hackers demonstrated that Mr. Trump’s soon-to-be-released social network had lax safeguards and left open the ability to spoof anyone, including the former president.
...The activity forced the Trump Media & Technology Group’s app developers to bar new accounts and eventually shutter the development platform. (The New York Times viewed screenshots backing up hackers’ claims.)
The breach and its aftermath did not stop shares of Mr. Trump’s SPAC company, Digital World Acquisition, from surging as much as 400 percent to $52 per share on Thursday, after Wednesday’s news of the merger that would launch Mr. Trump’s social media platform.
Insurrection on Steroids: Damon Linker (This Week) wrote that "If this platform actually materializes-- a big 'if,' given Trump's history as a con man full of bluster about business propositions that ultimately come to nothing-- it will be a very big deal. First of all, because it would give Trump a way to circumvent the cordon sanitaire Twitter and Facebook have erected around him since the Jan. 6 insurrection. Once again, the former president would have a highly effective way to communicate directly to his supporters and receive obsessive coverage from mainstream media outlets on a daily or hourly basis. But even more significantly, the Trump app would bring us one step closer to the scariest 2024 scenario anyone has proposed. That's a series of events in which a narrow Trump loss that year is followed not just by a re-enactment of the Capitol riot, but by copycat protests around Washington, D.C., and in state capitals around the country as votes are being counted and results certified, with Trump himself (or trusted and more reliable members of his entourage) directing the movements of those protesters in real time through the app everyone involved will have on their smart phones. That would represent a big new step in the direction of full-on political disaster."
The media venture itself appears to be real, backed by investment money that will allow Trump to form a company called the Trump Media and Technology Group, with the social media platform (modeled on Twitter) one of its arms. The money to found the company is supposedly coming from a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called Digital World Acquisitions.
As the New York Times notes, SPACs "are an increasingly popular type of investment vehicle that sells shares to the public with the intention of using the proceeds to buy private businesses." Digital World was incorporated shortly after Trump's loss in the 2020 election. Its chief executive, Patrick Orlando, is a former derivatives trader at Deutsche Bank, the only mainstream financial institution willing to do business with Trump in recent years. Digital World held an initial public offering on the Nasdaq stock exchange in September, raising about $283 million, with several major hedge funds buying shares. That's where the money is coming from for the launch of Trump's venture.
The plan, at the moment, begins with a pre-sale of the app through Apple's App Store. (It is already available there.) The app will be open to invitees in November, with the full social media platform launching and opening to the public next year. All of this could easily come to nothing, or merely sputter and fail, as so many Trump ventures have done down through the decades. The man has proven himself a master of precisely one aspect of business, which is branding, often with little substance behind the hype. That could certainly turn out to be the case here.
We'd better hope so-- because an app that Trump can use to communicate directly with his most impassioned supporters through their smart phones is one crucial element of the nightmarish vision sketched by Curtis Yarvin in his two-hour podcast conversation with former Trump National Security Council official Michael Anton last May. I wrote a column about that conversation back in July, and it's worth reminding ourselves of precisely what Yarvin, a software developer and former alt-right blogger, advocates.
Yarvin calls himself a monarchist, but it's more accurate to say he favors dictatorship-- the seizing of emergency powers by a strongman who, backed by populist (though perhaps not majority or plurality) support, uses those powers to smash the resistance of the bureaucratic-administrative state and its ostensible allies in civil society, including the mainstream media, the universities, and "woke capital."
It's a fantasy of Caesarism, in which the right wins a total victory over its opponents. But that doesn't mean it's a fantasy completely disconnected from reality. Yarvin-- who has since appeared as a guest for over an hour on Tucker Carlson Today, the online daytime interview program run by the prime time Fox News host-- has many concrete suggestions for how his would-be Caesar should go about turning himself into a tyrant. One of them involves the use of social media to mobilize supporters around the country.
Though on the podcast Yarvin begins by speaking of a nameless Caesar, he soon lapses into describing this social media interface as a "Trump app." As I put it in July, quoting Yarvin's words on the podcast, Trump would used this app
to communicate directly with his 80 million supporters on their smart phones, using notifications to tell them that "this agency isn't following my instructions," which will prompt them to rally at the proper building, with the crowd "steered around by a joystick by Trump himself," forming a "human barricade around every federal building, supporting Trump's lawful authority." Where maybe 20,000 people stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, millions responding to the Trump app would be much more effective — a modern-day version of the paramilitary groups that ensured Lincoln's safety during the hard-fought, dangerous 1860 campaign for president that preceded the Civil War (and the president's subsequent suspension of habeas corpus and shuttering of hundreds of newspapers).
This scenario seems to presume Trump is already ensconced in the Oval Office and attempting to maintain control after a loss, as he was last January. But of course, if he runs in 2024, he will be on the outside looking in, with Joe Biden or Kamala Harris seeking to defend a win from the White House. In that scenario, a Trump app would come in especially handy, as Republican-controlled secretaries of state and state legislatures prepare to decide on whether to certify vote totals or authorize recounts, on what rules will govern such recounts, and on whether and how to allocate electors. Protests arose spontaneously in many places in the post-election period last time. A Trump-controlled social media app, with no external private or public restrictions or oversight, could help the losing candidate foment and direct such protests three years from now, with an eye to encouraging more extreme acts in defiance of long-established democratic norms and laws.
This doesn't mean these efforts would be successful at making Trump the winner after a loss. What they would do is help him sow electoral chaos. In this respect, it's especially apt that Yarvin refers to the paramilitary units that played a role in the 1860 election, since they foretold, not the advent of tyranny in America, but the outbreak of the Civil War. Something similar-- a postmodern, high-tech blending of the Troubles in Northern Ireland with elements of the 17th-century English Civil War and Spanish Civil War of the 1930s-- is the real tail risk confronting the United States today.
Conservative Timothy Collins from Real Money is one of several financial news commentators who see this effort as part of another Trump grift, like Trump University. "The value of the deal with Digital World Acquisition (DWAC)," he wrote yesterday, "was up to $1.7 billion, which was $875 million for the enterprise value and an additional $825 million in shares based on performance. This gave the TMTG a total valuation of up to $1.7 billion. With shares trading near $50 as of this writing, that enterprise valuation is now over $5 billion (5 x $875M + $825M)... I haven't had the opportunity to review much on the deal because we don't have a lot of information out there outside of soundbites that criticize liberals. At the very least, the marketing angle and target audience is clear. The question I have is will this find advertisers? I would imagine some but in the early going, it will be dangerous for big name companies to put big dollars behind advertising on this platform. The company will draw $293 million in cash from DWAC but is it worth over $2 billion? My gut says no but I can't be certain until we get some SEC filings to review. It's not shortable and there are no options, so you either buy or sit this one out. With shares up well over 300%, I'm sitting it out because we could rise or fall 50% by the close tomorrow form the current price. I kinda think we will. Hang on, this is going to be a crazy stock for some time to come."
Writing for Politico last night, Jack Shafer noted that "There’s nothing new about the comic grandiosity of TMTG’s ambitions, revealed in its corporate slide deck. It only conforms with Trump’s long-held belief that 'truthful hyperbole' is the key to selling real estate-- or any of the crap products (steaks, mattresses, water, men’s wear, vodka, perfume, eyeglasses, coffee) Trump has hawked to resistant customers. Trump is a moderately successful businessman when he sticks to his specialties-- real estate and hotels. But all those overpriced, shoddy namesake products failed in the marketplace because Trump didn’t know how to compete with people who really understood those businesses. We can expect Truth Social and the other world-beater enterprises TMTG proposes to likewise be sucked into the void because Trump 1) has no clue about how to run media or tech properties and 2) lacks sufficient appeal.
Will enough people go through the motions of signing up for a new social media app just to taste Trump’s insights? His blog’s failure to capture scant attention tells you two things: The Trump audience gets its minimum daily requirements of Trump coverage from the regular media, and nothing he created on his blog started a queue for more of the same, let alone a stampede. Trump succeeded on Twitter in part because he was unique, but mostly because Twitter already had convened an audience for him to entertain. There’s no evidence he can convene such an audience all by himself.
What’s more, are we really expected to believe a media and tech start-up with the pocket-change of $293 million in the kitty and overseen by a 75-year-old man can outduel Fox, CNN, Disney and Microsoft? According to this Reuters report, the financier who steered the merger that created TMTG has an uninspiring track record when it comes to making big deals. (For more on TMTG’s formation, see @BillSPACman’s exhilarating thread.) When Trump dies, the Trump cachet will go with him to his cemetery. Does anybody really want to make a long-term investment in a company so identified with one person, who isn’t getting any younger?
Obviously, Trump will attract some followers. Equally obviously, he’ll make some news pop. But it’s not like Trump possesses some exclusive insights that will make him the unavoidable Baby Yoda of 2022, when Truth Social is scheduled to start. Ben Shapiro is out there vending the same wares, as are Dan Bongino, Tucker Carlson and the whole right-wing mediasphere.
For the better part of his career, Trump has been frequently characterized in the press as a grifter, somebody who preys on people for a living. That’s a tad unfair. Trump’s reputation for milking consumers with slapdash goods and bamboozling investors has been so well established for so long that anybody who buys from or invests with him must first ignore the ample evidence arguing against dealing with him. It’s too early in TMTG’s story to call the company a grift, even if, as the Washington Post puts it, TMTG appears to be little more than “a vaguely defined company headquartered at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club in Palm Beach.” Based on TMTG’s public statement, there’s no clue the company has a product ready to sell, unique technology or even name recognition to trade on. (You can, however, download the Truth Social app, but the beta site doesn’t go live until November.) That Trump can only start something so small to take on businesses that are so large indicates that his reputation for business failure has finally caught up to him. Billionaires and other truly moneyed folk must not have returned Trump’s calls. It’s an old story: Eventually, every grifter runs out of people to grift.