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This article was published on March 22, 2021

Why Trump’s social media network will be an epic failure

A Trump-branded social media network? What a nice birthday present for the FBI

Why Trump’s social media network will be an epic failure

I’ve seen a lot of dumb startup pitches in my day, but a Donald Trump-branded social media network takes the stupid cake.

All I can figure is, we’re exactly two months away from the FBI’s birthday and team Trump’s determined to get the old agency the perfect gift this year. Or maybe Trump just really likes losing money

For those out of the loop here’s a video of Trump’s spokesperson discussing the matter yesterday:

Here’s the meat of Miller’s rambling:

I do think that we’re going to see President Trump returning to social media in probably about two or three months here, with his own platform. And this is something that I think will be the hottest ticket in social media, it’s going to completely redefine the game, and everybody is going to be waiting and watching to see what exactly President Trump does.

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I honestly don’t think Trump’s stupid enough to launch his own social media network (Miller prefaced things with “I do think”). I’m more inclined to believe we’ll see Gab or Parler or something similar relaunched with a Trump partnership.

But, I really hope Trump starts his own network. As a journalist, it’s always nice to say “I told you so.” And, as mentioned, the FBI would love it. I just don’t see how anyone with a basic understanding of the tech market could imagine, even for a second, that this is a viable concept.

Here’s why:

  • If the network was technically sound, innovative, and viable without Trump, you’d have to be an idiot to launch it with him. Trump automatically cuts your potential US user base in half, and it gets worse in markets outside the US.
  • A Trump social media network has to be uncensored (or else, what’s the point?). But you can’t be both anonymous and uncensored if you want to avoid being completely disrupted by trolls, bots, and bad actors.
  • If it doesn’t allow anonymous signups, the FBI will park on it. And it’s safe to say a Trump network won’t have the resources to fight off the US government like Apple does.
  • Without self-regulation, an online business is unsustainable due to the limited number of hosts available at the scale necessary to support enough users to generate a profit.
  • There aren’t enough hardcore conservative advertisers for a Trump-branded social media network to operate under the traditional ad-based social media paradigm.

The core problem with a Trump network is the same with any advertising-based endeavor: you get more flies with honey than you do by trying to convince people the US government has been overthrown by a conspiracy against you.

It might sound like I’m trying to make a joke here, but I’m not. That’s the problem. Trump’s brand is built on convincing people he’s the rightfully-elected president of the United States without any evidence to support that claim. The number of advertisers willing to pay money to support that idea is bound to be slim.

The only upside here is that Trump’s really popular and people love to see what he’ll do next. The downside is that, at any moment, he could be associated with another violent coup attempt. Even if only indirectly, until he recognizes the absolute legitimacy of the current US government, he’s going to be inseparable from acts of violence committed in his name by those who believe his baseless lies.

And as long as that’s the case, his social media network won’t be able to exist on traditional advertising revenue.

Sure, there are other ways to fund a social media company. Trump could tap big-time conservative investors or come up with a subscription-based model. But none of those are sustainable beyond a few months.

Social media companies need massive user bases in order to be profitable. And if you’re already limiting your audience to people who don’t find Trump distasteful, it’s kind of silly to then further limit it to people willing to pay for social media.

Trump may have conservative support at the upper echelons, but his core supporters are the blue collar people who donate to his political causes. Like tithing at church, these supporters may not give in large amounts but they give often. And, also like tithing at church, the relationship completely changes when there’s a cover charge to get in.

You can’t keep a social media network running on VC investment alone, so without advertising bucks or a massive subscriber base, the network’s already doomed. Plus, it’ll have bigger problems than just convincing donors or users to shell out for the privilege of supporting Trump:

But let’s put on our imagination hats and our clown noses and pretend like a Trump-backed social media network could generate a profit. The next problem: Trump’s brand is anti-censorship.

Unfortunately for team Trump, the reality of operating a social media network is that you have two choices: either ban people from screaming “fire” in a crowded theater or live with a paradigm where a large percentage of users are only there to yell “fire” in crowded theaters.

If you don’t have rules against harassment, you’ll have nothing but harassment. That’s just internet 101. You can’t stop people from arguing. And, unless you ban liberals or censor anti-conservative rhetoric, you’re going to have a platform that’s inundated with people who oppose Trump, his views, and his supporters.

The alternative is a censored network endorsed by Donald Trump – which would be hilarious, really. Especially since conservatives are notorious for not understanding what the right to Free Speech is. 

Credit: XKCD

So, uncensored? Team Trump will have to do what no other platform has managed: find a company willing to host an uncensored social media network. Which probably won’t happen, at least not in the US.

It’ll have to at least have some rules that, for example, prevent the solicitation of minors, the promotion of violence, and the sale of illegal weapons and drugs. And, as Parler found out the hard way, even if you have policies against illegal activities and the promotion of violence, you have to demonstrate you’re capable of handling it quickly when users breach your terms.

Trump’s going to need one hell of an AI team to create some powerful content moderation algorithms. It’s one thing to brand your network conservative, it’s another to associate it directly with the face of the right wing conspiracy-theorist movement. That’s quite a target for bad actors.

In order for the Trump-backed network to do the bare minimum to obtain long-term hosting, it’ll end up being just as “censored” as Twitter and Facebook.

And we haven’t even gotten to what happens when the US government gives the Trump network the same treatment it’s given Apple for years. When every court with a hate crime in its district in the entire country starts subpoenaing the network’s entire database of user records, team Trump better be ready for a never-ending fight against law enforcement.

But, hey, don’t let me talk anyone out of signing up. It might sound like a bad idea on paper, but when you look at it from the FBI’s point of view: what could possibly be better than a social media network that aims to gather millions of anti-government conspiracy theorists in a single website?

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