News from Nowhere: Top Trumps
Where is the truth in Trump’s ‘Truth Social’ platform when he excuses whoever exposes his lies of lying?
On December 5, it was announced that the Trump Media & Technology Group had raised $1 billion to fund the launch of the former American President’s social media platform at some point next year. They are calling the site ‘Truth Social’ – presumably on the grounds that, as a name, ‘Antisocial Lies’ might meet with some consumer resistance.
This announcement was not immediately greeted with universal glee. After all, during a month in which Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister has been caught out in more lies about what happened at last year’s Christmas parties than a philandering businessman might inflict upon his long-suffering wife, we may feel like we hardly need yet another rambling chauvinistic narcissist lecturing us on what he perceives to be his exclusively valid take on the truth.
Yet, having been banned from both Twitter and Facebook, Donald Trump heralded his big news as a landmark moment in his crusade to fight what he described as ‘the tyranny of Big Tech’. One may assume he means by this ‘tyranny’ the eventual (and, some might say, belated) decisions by those social media companies to remove his untruthful, harmful, and hate-filled content.
Mr. Trump’s new corporation has been valued at $4 billion, although it should be noted that, shortly after the announcement, news emerged that both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority had launched investigations into the relationship between that business and the shell company established to merge with it and take it public. It may also be observed that the inflated initial valuations of many digital start-ups do not reflect their true worth, as investors in Theranos are now very well aware. It might further be recalled that Donald Trump has a long history of overstating the value of his assets, both financial and personal.
The day after Trump’s announcement, a Republican congressman called Thomas Massie was widely condemned for tweeting a festive photograph of himself and his family all wielding military firearms in front of their Christmas tree, alongside the message ‘Santa, please bring ammo’. This was just a few days after a school shooting in Michigan which resulted in the deaths of four teenagers, when a student embarked upon a killing spree, allegedly armed with his father’s gun.
The following day, it was reported that survivors of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim population (more than 10,000 of whom were murdered by military forces in 2017) had initiated legal action against Facebook for its responsibility in the proliferation of hate speech which promoted the perpetration of acts of violence against this persecuted minority. Mark Zuckerberg’s organization was, in other words, being accused of complicity in genocide.
The issue of freedom of political expression in social media is evidently an extremely complex, sensitive, and divisive one, and it is not clear at this time that Donald Trump – despite his avowed ambitions to create a platform ‘without discrimination on the basis of political ideology’ – is the person best placed to resolve it.
Following his attempts to incite violent insurrection in his own country, Mr. Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook in January this year. He has also had material removed or barred from Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Shopify, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, and YouTube. He tried using Parler, but that app was then blocked by Amazon, Apple, and Google.
It took acts of apparent treason against the constitutional democracy of his own country to prompt the eventual silencing of Donald Trump by these tech giants. These platforms can hardly be accused of having been impatient with Mr. Trump or hesitant to harvest the revenues generated by his massive online followings. Yet, prior to these blanket bans, Donald Trump had hardly acted the shrinking violet on social media. Indeed, for years his posts had frequently been both dishonest and highly inflammatory.
Donald Trump’s social media strategy has always lain at the heart of his populist political success. ‘Without the tweets, I wouldn’t be here,’ he told London’s Financial Times in April 2017. ‘I don’t have to go to the fake media.’ In September 2017, Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, told the BBC that Donald Trump’s election represented a symptom of a broader malaise: ‘The quality of the information we consume is reinforcing dangerous beliefs and limiting people’s respect for truth. That’s what’s making us all dumber.’
One 2017 study demonstrated that, immediately prior to 2016’s presidential election, stories favoring Trump were shared 30 million times on Facebook – compared to only 8 million shares for stories supporting Hillary Clinton. Another study that year showed that, during the last three months of the race to the White House, American Facebook users shared, liked, or commented on related mainstream news stories on 7.3 million occasions, but that they engaged with fake news stories even more – 8.7 million times.
In January 2018, the Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump had averaged more than five public lies or misleading claims for every day of his first year in office. This was after all the American President who had (amongst other things) retweeted both American and British Islamophobic propaganda (in March 2016 and November 2017), had announced a non-existent terrorist incident in Sweden (in February 2017), had (in January 2018) declared himself ‘the least racist person’ anyone might meet (after making overtly racists remarks), had accused Barack Obama and the British secret services of bugging his office, and had exaggerated the extent of his portion of the popular vote, his inauguration crowd, and his legislative achievements, as well as the size of his nuclear button, in the process of taunting North Korea to the brink of war.
This was also the President who had berated CNN, the BBC, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the media as a whole for peddling what he has repeatedly dismissed as fake news. He had on numerous occasions specifically condemned as liars those who exposed his lies. He even (in a moment of utterly surreal egomania) went so far in October 2017 as to have claimed to have himself invented the word fake: "I think one of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with is 'fake'. I guess other people have used it, perhaps, over the years, but I’ve never noticed it."
On January 4, 2018, the Washington Post reported that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had informed journalists that "the President believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact, when it certainly and clearly is not." The Post published their account of this briefing beneath the headline ‘Sarah Huckabee Sanders kills irony dead, once and for all’. This, after all, was the world leader who had famously responded to criticisms as to his failure to fact-check a blatantly fraudulent Islamophobic video which he had reposted with the strange defense that ‘all I know is what’s on the internet’.
This, then, is the man who is promising to break through the barriers of ideological censorship to create a platform that will bring the light of his version of the truth to the rest of the world. This is the man who attempted to use social media to overthrow the lawful electoral processes and democratic institutions of his homeland. This is the man who has made it his business to post to his credulous audiences intentional disinformation crafted into vicious messages of hate. He is, in short, the most dangerous gatekeeper that one might imagine the social media sphere could ever get.
Republican congressmen may tweet the most appallingly bellicose Christmas greetings imaginable; social media companies may be accused of acting as accessories to genocide; Trump himself may have used these platforms to provoke an armed rebellion in his nation’s capital in an attempt to overthrow democracy itself. Through childish provocations launched against sovereign states in both the Far East and the Middle East, he (more than once) even came close to starting World War III. The scale of the chaos he has caused has been incalculable. But one thing’s for sure: if Trump’s new online platform does what he wants it to do, the malicious mischief seen so far will seem like nothing more than an amuse-bouche. The worst could still be to come.