Why it’s hard for Trump to shake the IT giants’ monopoly even with a “suitcase of money”

MOSCOW, 23 Dec 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

A year of Donald Trump’s desperate struggle for the right to express his opinion on social networks leaves no doubt: in the digital age, anyone can be excluded from social life. The blocking of the ex-US president on popular Internet platforms proves this.

“We live in a world where the Taliban is widely represented on Twitter, while your beloved president has been censored!” – Trump’s recent cry of despair speaks of the intensity of the struggle.

But he isn’t giving up. Aiming for new elections, Trump has accumulated more than a billion dollars to create his own network “TRUTH Social”. Its launch in early 2022 is intended to challenge the “tyranny of tech giants”, from Twitter to CNN. However, legal and technological barriers are unlikely to allow the billionaire to defeat the multi-billionaires who rallied against him.

And it makes you think. If it is possible to silence the ex-president of the United States, then what can ordinary users expect?

Here’s the background. On January 7, 2021, after the riots on Capitol Hill in Washington, the current US President lost his Facebook and Instagram accounts, where he had 33 million and 25 million subscribers. Then Trump’s Twitter account (89 million subscribers) was closed. The networks attributed this to “the risk of the further incitement to violence”.

In the same days, Trump lost access to Twitch, Snapchat, YouTube and other social services. It is characteristic that a number of US civil organisations like “Free Press” even scolded social networks for the “belated ban”. Having lost the podium at a key moment, “Big Donald” tried to use the new “Parler” network. But first Google and Apple removed this app from their stores, and then Amazon stripped it of hosting.

Trump’s entourage began to look for alternative sites. One of them was the website opened in January and stalled in July 45office.com. The May project “From the table of Donald Trump” turned out to be even less tenacious. The “Gettr” social network launched in July was hacked on the very first day, and then saturated with illegal content. Trump’s attempts to restore Twitter and Facebook accounts through the courts have not ended in anything.

Realising that freedom on the web is expensive, the former US president began accumulating funds for a completely new social network. The scale was truly “Wall Street”: it was there that the threat to Big Tech, the “TRUTH Social” project, was supposed to be born.

On the stock exchange in the USA, special absorbing companies (Special-purpose acquisition company, SPAC) are used for such cases. They are also called “dummy companies – investors buy their shares before they acquire assets. Only then, with the millions raised, SPAC acquires some private company through a merger.

One of these “dummies” turned out to be “Digital World Acquisition Corp”, created in December 2020 by a Florida banker. In early September, it went public, raising $293 million. Thunder clattered on October 20, when the NASDAQ exchange found out who “Digital World” decided to merge with. Its chosen one was “Trump Media & Technology Group” (TMTG), founded by Trump in February 2021. Almost $300 million from “Digital World” were now intended for it, and in total the ex-president’s firm was estimated by the parties at 875 million, which they were going to increase to 1.7 billion due to the growth of shares. And they really grew by 1650% in two days. At the same time, the parties announced the November beta launch of the long-awaited social network.

“TMTG was founded with a mission to give a voice to everyone,” Trump said. “I am glad that I will soon start sharing my thoughts on TRUTH Social. Everyone asks me why no one opposes Big Tech. Well, we’ll start soon!”

But Big Tech was not going to give up the monopoly on information.

Claims from third parties followed. The NGO “Software Freedom Conservancy” stated that “TRUTH Social” violates the license for open source programs, such as the “Mastodon” platform. Then the platform itself demanded from Trump that he stop appropriating the fruits of its labor. As a result, the creators of the social network had to share their source code and at the same time to puzzle over how to protect it from trolls, who on the very first day registered an account on it named “donaldjtrump” with a photo of a defecating pig.

Soon the “heavy artillery” entered the battle. Senator Elizabeth Warren called on the US Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate the merger of the two companies, seeing a violation of the law. The audit was also initiated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Everything suggests that Trump’s business plan is hanging by a thread. Perhaps this explains why the beta launch of “TRUTH Social” has not yet taken place.

But prosecution by courts and commissions is still half the trouble. Trump will have to support the work of his social network among a hostile IT environment. “RightForge”, a company specialising in conservative websites, undertook to provide hosting for it. However, the distribution of mobile versions of “TRUTH Social” is impossible without the goodwill of Google and Apple. Negotiate with them? Unreal.

In addition, “TRUTH Social” is designed for an audience of only about 80 million Americans and is conceived only as a clone of Twitter. It does not carry anything breakthrough that billions of users around the planet could buy into.

Conclusion: even a billion dollars and the name of the ex-president are not enough to shake the monopoly of IT giants in the United States. “TRUTH Social” alone is not able to withstand Facebook, Twitter and Google. Relying on it, it is almost impossible to win the 2024 election – other resources are needed for this.

But the programmed failure of the ex-president is also a message to the rest of humanity, including Russia. If you are going to seriously compete with global centres of power, you need something more than a “suitcase of money” and a program code for a “mastodon”. To win such a struggle, there is a need for at minimum a real, not speculative, economic reserve, a whole series of breakthrough technologies, a serious human resource and, of course, a grandiose image of the future that can guide hundreds of millions of people.

Elena Panina – Director of the RUSSTRAT Institute

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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