The trouble with Truth Social's war on Big Tech

STORY: Truth Social brands itself as a social media platform that’s the anti-Twitter, and the exclusive home of Donald Trump.

Its prospects depend on monetizing Trump supporters’ rage over alleged Big Tech censorship of conservative views.

Donald Trump: "In addition to their malicious attacks on free speech these Silicon Valley tyrants are also attacking our democracy itself.”

But as it turns out, it’s hard to build a social network to take on Big Tech… without the help of Big Tech.

The company behind Truth Social has struggled since its founding.

Trump Media and Technology Group, or TMTG, has faced a range of technological, recruiting and business challenges.

And the “exclusive” deal with Donald Trump? It’s actually not so exclusive.

Reuters interviewed 16 people with knowledge of TMTG’s operations. All of them spoke on condition of anonymity. We also reviewed public filings from the company that plans to merge with TMTG to inform our reporting.

This account offers a glimpse into Trump’s secretive enterprise.

Truth Social launched in February 2022.

It had 2.8 million downloads as of June 1st.

But its story really begins on January 6th, 2021, when Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Helen Coster, Reuters media correspondent: “After the January 6th Capitol riots, President Trump was banned from Facebook and Twitter for allegedly glorifying or inciting violence associated with the Capitol riots. And he lost his access to the American public and his ability to connect with them via social media. So shortly after, he was pitched on a new venture that would restore his access to the American public.”

The two people who pitched the idea to Trump were Wes Moss and Andy Litinsky.

They’re both former castmates on “The Apprentice,” the reality TV show that featured Trump before his presidency.

Moss is also a managing partner at a wealth management firm in Atlanta.

Litinsky previously worked at Trump’s TV production company and hosted a conservative radio show. He currently works as a media and technology consultant, and is no longer involved with TMTG.

Sources say Moss and Litinsky effectively ran TMTG before it hired CEO Devin Nunes, a former Republican congressman and dairy farmer.

That means between the three of them, there was no one with notable tech experience or knowledge about software development.

Helen Coster, Reuters media correspondent: “We have found that a big part of the company's challenges leading up to launch and to this day stem from the lack of tech experience on the upper ranks. That coupled with the fact that they were embarking on this challenge of building a tech company without relying on the biggest players in the industry, such as Amazon Web Services.”

Amazon Web Services is the cloud-computing unit of tech giant Amazon.

The servers are essentially remote computers that provide the storage and data-processing power to run websites.

Helen Coster, Reuters media correspondent:“In its effort to stand up to Big Tech, TMTG needed to avoid using Amazon Web Services. And the issue with Amazon Web Services is that it is a cloud service provider that is used by many, many big tech companies. It's a market leader.”

"The app relied eventually on servers from two companies: Rumble, which is a Canadian company that hosts video and has hosted Devin Nunes and other conservative figures on its site for a long time, and RightForge, which is a tech infrastructure company that also markets to conservatives.”

“And so at launch, Truth Social had both of those cloud services in place. But there were issues with Rumble's cloud servers as well as with the configuration of both of them working together that led to this massive waitlist. Hundreds and thousands of users staying on a waitlist for weeks after launch. So in many ways, the launch was something of a disaster. And sources say that if they had been able to use an AWS or a bigger company, they likely would have been able to avoid that problem.”

A Rumble spokesperson in a statement denied that the company’s servers experienced technical issues when Truth Social was launched.

A company spokesperson for RightForge did not respond to a request for comment.

TMTG has also struggled to woo skilled tech workers, according to people with knowledge of the recruiting efforts.

The company sought to avoid potential corporate partners and employees perceived as politically liberal.

The feeling is mutual: many engineers want nothing to do with the Trump company.

Some staffers who did sign up have hidden their work at TMTG, and avoided any mention of their new jobs on their social media bios.

Helen Coster, Reuters media correspondent: “It was a challenge to speak to people who knew about this venture because of the level of secrecy that surrounds it. To give you an example, TMTG is not listed in directory assistance anywhere. There's a number on the website when you call it's disconnected. We know that there is a communications director but that person does not have any publicly available contact information. So there is a tremendous amount of secrecy involved with this venture, and that speaks to people's desire to shield their involvement with it because of potential blowback that could happen in an industry that, again, is so dominated by left-leaning people in San Francisco."

Big money is riding on Trump’s active participation in Truth Social.

But questions have been raised about his commitment to the company.

Helen Coster, Reuters media correspondent:“For a venture that bears Trump's name, Trump Media and Technology Group, Trump has had this very interesting, early lack of commitment to it. Truth Social launched in February and for months after launch, Trump did not appear on the site. He did not post and started posting more frequently only in May. And now he's been a very active poster on this site. But even more interestingly is in a May 16th public filing by the Special Purpose Acquisition Company that is taking Trump Media and Technology Group public in a merger. We learned some really interesting details about Trump's, quote unquote, exclusivity arrangement with Truth Social.”

“In political content, Trump can post anywhere on any other platform, not just on Truth Social. On non-political content as per terms of his deal with Truth Social, he has a six-hour window of exclusivity so he can post content on Truth Social and then he can post the same content anywhere else six hours after. This is all really interesting because it just shows that this venture that's so predicated on Trump's involvement and where Trump is such a draw for his legions of followers, that he might actually be engaging with users on other platforms at a later date, which is really something of a threat to Truth Social and its reason for existence.”