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GOP Social Media Experiments Fail (In Part) Because They Break The Troll/Amplification Cycle

from the don't-feed-the-trolls dept

We’ve noted for a while that Trump’s alternative social media platform, Truth Social, isn’t doing particularly well. Being a Trump product, the platform (surprise!) began with a lot of money slushing around that wasn’t spent in any coherent way. It’s also just generally glitchy and terrible. And it’s not helped much by the fact that after all of his whining about social media “censorship” (read: minimal accountability for saying stupid and sometimes dangerous things), Trump doesn’t even use the product.

Then there’s been the slow realization by the company that it still has to deal with the headaches of reality and content moderation at scale, which we’ve also noted isn’t going particularly well. If you want a platform that isn’t just a pit of bile and illegal content, you have to have moderation standards, which is why Parler, Gab, and now Truth Social (which muzzled some racist drivel by right wing dirty ops shitlord Roger Stone last week) have barred obnoxious people from doing dumb and sometimes illegal things.

Truth failed to gain traction even with the National Republican Senatorial Committee spamming its support for the platform like a feverish street corner huckster:

Putting the corruption, grift, and technical incompetence aside (and there’s a lot to put aside), when the political mainstream press discusses the struggles of Social and other GOP social media platforms, one of the top arguments explaining why they fail is because echo chambers are just no fun:

“I think the challenge that a lot of these newer ones have is to not be an echo chamber for people who hold similar beliefs,” said Alex Weber, a content creator who was embraced by conservatives online after posting videos criticizing mask mandates, vaccine mandates and the mainstream media. “I think why Instagram and Facebook and all these are so impactful is because you’ve got all different types of people.”

While that’s true to a point, it misses a key part of the failure. The problem isn’t just that such groups corral like-minded people into groups made specifically for them. Hell, huddling with like-minded people is 80 percent of the reason Reddit was created and a major reason for its success.

No, one of the major reasons such projects fail is because they break the GOP’s troll and inadvertent amplification cycle. How many times does a right wing personality say something grotesque, racist, or otherwise terrible on Twitter only to have it hate retweeted countless times by numerous people, usually partisan opposites, who think they’re dunking on, correcting, or punishing the content?

The entire success of modern GOP discourse is based on trolling. On any given day on Twitter and Facebook, there’s a ceaseless array of left wing and centrist accounts hate retweeting every idiotic and racist thing Fox personality Tucker Carlson says, expanding distribution of his viewpoints exponentially.

Right wing celebrities like Ann Coulter have paid their mortgage for 30 years by intentionally saying stupid and controversial things, then soaking up free advertising as the outraged amplify said stupid and controversial thing to a significantly larger audience that might have never seen it otherwise.

Twitter “dunks” work to amplify dodgy and shitty trolls in much the same way. There’s just a countless array of folks who think they’re “helping” by dunking on terrible takes, when they’re only really amplifying those terrible takes to a much broader audience. It’s utterly counterintuitive, and in some cases punished by engagement and ad engines (across both online and traditional cable media), to do anything else. Controversy sells. Nuance does not.

So while platforms like Truth Social are stumbling because they’re badly made by incompetent people who aren’t magically immune from the challenges of content moderation, they’re also stumbling because they break a cornerstone of online right wing discourse: trolling to amplify propaganda. A room full of terrible trolling propagandists has nobody to troll but themselves. And what fun is that?

Most of the Section 230 and “conservatives are being silenced” discourse is falsely framed as a conversation about free speech in punditry and the press. In reality, what the modern Trump GOP wants is the mandated carriage of propaganda. The dominant U.S. press simply can’t help but frame Trump GOP concerns of censorship as legitimate, which speaks to the propaganda’s effectiveness.

It’s why the GOP freaked out when DirecTV made the ordinary business decision to kick the conspiracy and fantasy channel off of its lineup. It’s why the GOP despises “big tech’s” belated and often sloppy attempt to clean up race-baiting GOP propaganda on their platforms. It’s why the party adores media consolidation at the hands of Sinclair, and the steady destruction of genuine local news reporting.

The modern Trump GOP can’t just come out and admit their goal is mandated carriage of bigoted propaganda designed to rile up low-information Americans, so they have to dress it all up as something grander, including the Trump GOP’s performative support of “antitrust reform” (read: an attempt to gain leverage over tech giants to mandate the carriage of, you guessed it, propaganda).

Shifting demographics and a fading (and dying) electoral base aren’t great news for the modern GOP, which increasingly alienates a big chunk of independent voters with unhinged behavior and positions. As a result, like many global authoritarian movements, they’ve been forced to embrace online propaganda, fabricated culture war, and victimization porn to agitate and befuddle the public.

The idea that doing absolutely anything to rein in race-baiting propaganda in online or traditional media is “censorship” or the “silencing of conservatives” is itself propaganda, and it would be lovely if the broader discourse and press would wake up to this fact before we’re all drowning in many of the even uglier aspects of rank authoritarianism.

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Comments on “GOP Social Media Experiments Fail (In Part) Because They Break The Troll/Amplification Cycle”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Look, look at what they did/said!

And that, ladies gentlemen and others is why the phrase ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ exists.

When someone is only interested in taking a dump in the middle of the room and getting as many people as possible disgusted by it loudly commenting on the color and smell is only helping them out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I fear I must disagree: The techdirt comment section is every bit the social media venue that bulletin board systems were in their day.

The only two features that Techdirt lacks over Twitter or Facebook are the size and the lack of structure (I’m presuming, here, because I’ve never really engaged with Facebook).

That latter, though, does concede your second point, the lack of a wider audience.

Still drives me up the wall when people who should know better fall for obvious baiting. … and yes, even when the person falling for it is myself.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: [ Missing Features ]

The only two features that Techdirt lacks over Twitter or Facebook are the size and the lack of structure

Also, I think their feedback, such as ``like”, is said to work. This is admittedly hearsay.

I have first-hand knowledge that what we have here on Techdirt (flag, insightful, funny) are broken, at least using Firefox w/o javascript. Come to think of it, preview is also still broken.

Anonymous Coward says:


As an old-school troll, I regret to inform you that the new wave of politically (and racially, in America’s case) motivated shitstains will not adhere to that.

With old-school trolls, we don’t particularly care if we get ignored. We will either get fed or we move on to other things.

If this was pre-2016, I’d agree with you. Old-school trolls still can find amusement in being idiots together in games and such.

These shitstains, on the other hand, will return to their echo chambers and “cry” about being ignored by even the old-school trolls, and that fucking outrage feeds their victim complex and other psychological bullshit.

And we’re seeing the effects now. Some of the more vocal ones have admitted they want to fucking murder the rest of us on places outside of here. January 6 happened and they managed to get away relatively scot-free.

Ceyarrecks (profile) says:

what was that about Propaganda?

it need be said, for any re-teller of stories, CONTEXT & History are always key, lest the simplest or most gross event can be trivialized or framed in a delusion of grandeur.

Case in point: “virus deaths in red states” linked in above story.

Where does that detail come from? its root?

How about with the “No Child Left Behind” venue

(and similar, akin to the ancient policy of “NONE but Royalty[those in ruling power at the moment] are allowed to learn to read & write” for it is said the less educated are easier to delude.)

of assuring none learn the absolute benefit of proper nutrition, and how so many are dead due to believing the lie of “all you need to eat is as much carbohydrates (bread, cake, cookies, candies) as you can to be healthy!”

Ian Williams says:


Well, first of all, if you use a link for what it was intended, and go and read the material there, you’ll see that’s it’s root is in a number of studies comparing policies, between red and blue states, and other studies examining the role of COVID misinformation, and it’s it’s exaggerated acceptance on the political right.

Secondly, given the clear demographic trends in COVID fatalities, it’s laughable to blame much of the mortality on nutritional guidelines of the last 20 years or so, given that the majority of people who died of COVID, came of age and learned about nutrition back in the days when America was the “Great” that the MAGA crowd want to have “Again” and good nutrition was “Steak and Potatoes and eat your vegetables” https://www.statista.com/statistics/1191568/reported-deaths-from-covid-by-age-us/

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Koby (profile) says:

Desperate For Failure

Truth failed to gain traction

Parler was launched in 2018, so it took 2.5 years before it almost reached critical mass and got censored into the ground by big tech. Perhaps Truth Social will not succeed, and it doesn’t yet have an android app. But it does have plenty of time to gain traction. You need to wait a little longer than 45 days to write a post mortem.

-Getting censored proves that your opinion is the strongest.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


Getting censored proves that your opinion is the strongest.

Yes or no: If Twitter bans an account linked to Al-Qaeda that only posts political opinions which violate neither American laws nor Twitter policies, does that make Al-Qaeda’s opinions the strongest?

Anonymous Coward says:


and it doesn’t yet have an android app

Oh, that’s only part of the comedy…I remember when they were hawking the ‘freedom phone’ to you fools. Damn fucking sure it’s NOT running IOS. But I digress. They can always use the website, right?

Wrong. It’s beyond not having an Android app, pal.

It also doesn’t have a website to use the service.
It also doesn’t have some key leadership roles filled, given recent departures.
It also doesn’t have the free speech friendly terms of service, a key grievance, if I recall correctly.
It also doesn’t have the use of TFG (or his wife, for that matter).
It also doesn’t have a userbase that’s much over 500,000.
It also doesn’t have a way to onboard those who signed up a month or so ago.
It also doesn’t appear to have a QA department, as literally, no one worth a shit would sign off on releasing the app as-is.
It also isn’t using the massive amounts of money behind it to hire coders.

You still think it’s too early for a post mortem? Because I’m starting to have second thoughts about Trump’s proclamation that he’s a stable genius. People that smart usually wouldn’t release the functional equivalent of a 1990’s era application.

That One Guy (profile) says:


Getting censored proves that your opinion is the strongest.

I don’t see why you always feel the need to remind people you support terrorists, bigots and assholes of every stripe, I can assure you peoples’ memories aren’t that bad but if it’s that important that people remember that about you knock yourself out I guess.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Remember when horse with no name insisted that Prenda would appeal, and they would win? He knew full well his best hope for copyright law was in the hands of a trio of douchebags. Throwing his lot in with gutter trash was the only move he had, because anything else would be an admission of the failures of the copyright system he worships.

Same with Koby. The constant stammering, the unyielding faith that just because someone disagrees with him, it must therefore justify his position, is intentional desperation. It’s the sign of someone who has no more moves left to play and has to rely on some imaginary sky friend to bail him out.

bhull242 (profile) says:


Parler was launched in 2018, so it took 2.5 years before it almost reached critical mass and got censored into the ground by big tech.

It got removed from Amazon’s cloud services because they failed to comply with the guildlines that everyone that uses it has to agree to. Same with the removal of the app from Apple’s App Store and Google Play. It had literally nothing to do with how big it got; if anything, it was instigated by the insurrection, not by the size of Parler. It also wasn’t censorship; people don’t need a separate app to access Parler on any device at all; a browser is sufficient. And nothing was stopping Parler from using some other cloud service, which they currently are.

It’s also worth noting that Parler was never as glitchy or unused as Truth Social currently is.

and it doesn’t yet have an android app.

So what? Again, you don’t need an android app to access any social media platform. That has nothing to do with how successful a platform is. Heck, an android app isn’t even that hard to program compared to the main website, and in my experience, a lot of platforms work better from the browser than from its dedicated app.

You need to wait a little longer than 45 days to write a post mortem.

This isn’t a post mortem. This is an evaluation of how well it performed at launch and about similar platforms. 45 days is plenty of time to see how well it’s doing from launch and to draw comparisons to other platforms.

And again, Truth Social is doing relatively poorly compared even to Parler or Gab soon after they launched.

Getting censored proves that your opinion is the strongest.

That’s not actually true. By that logic, Neo-Nazis, al Qaeda, ISIS, pedophiles, and other similar extremists who are “censored” by just about everyone would have the strongest opinions by far.

Seriously, you’ve already been called out on this multiple times before; this is a terrible talking point. This seems to be a mix of a misunderstanding of the Streisand Effect and the martyrdom fallacy as I call it, and it simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

PaulT (profile) says:


“Parler was launched in 2018, so it took 2.5 years before it almost reached critical mass and got censored into the ground by big tech”

Interesting rewriting of history. But, the main amusing thing about this approach is that Parler has many options to launch themselves without “big tech” being involved at all, yet they opted to host themselves on AWS, and ignore all the warnings they had about the T&Cs they were breaking.

You’d have thought that all the big strong individuals would not make them completely dependent on “big tech” if they were going to protest them.

“Perhaps Truth Social will not succeed, and it doesn’t yet have an android app”

Why? It’s built from off the shelf components, and an Android app doesn’t need permission from other people to be distributed and installed. What’s stopping them, apart from the obvious fact that it’s intended to grift morons like you before disappearing into a cloud of “waah big tech” propaganda to make you feel better about your inability to succeed?

Kinetic Gothic says:

This isn’t a post-mortem, it’s a intake report of a patient who’s showing signs of being critically ill, the two reported symptoms being it’s inability to actually get it’s would be users onboard, and it’s creator’s apparent hesitation at putting it to use. Lab tests are showing other clinical signs of disease as well. Life expectancy is unknown and dependent on factors beyond it’s control, such as it’s creator’s continued political relevancy, which may remain in doubt due to his induced monomania regarding the events of Nov 4.

-an opinion may be the “strongest”, because it’s what people most want to hear, not because it has anything to do with reality.

Ian Williams says:


Also, blaming COVID deaths on the Wasteland of American Nutrition in no way gets the GOP off the hook, from congressional declarations that “Pizza is a Vegetable” to their support of Big Ag through billions in crop subsidies, the GOP has done much to make sure that unhealthy food is cheaper and more widely available than healthy alternatives.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Yeah the whole big tech witch hunt isn’t getting them the views like before.
They’ve gone back to the tried and true ‘teh gays are coming for your babies!!’

rubs between his eyes
Y’all can’t learn, I’m starting to think its genetic.

I read a story lately that whypipo cared less about covid once they found out it was hitting blacks harder.
That right there sums up ‘Merica, my life can be absolutely shitty as long as ‘those’ people are worse off & I will vote for people who will actively put me at risk as long as they stick it to “those’ people worse.

Seen in my photo collection….

Aren’t time zones amazing?
In Australia it’s tomorrow.
In Europe it’s tonight.
And in the US, it’s 1942 where minorities, women, and the LGBT are still under assault by old white men.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Not just social media:

The Splinters Of Our Discontent: A Review Of Network Propaganda

Second, nothing in the book discounts the indisputable fact that individuals and media entities on the left, and even in the center, have their own sins and excesses to account for. In fact, the more damning media criticisms in the book are aimed squarely at the more traditional journalistic institutions that made themselves more vulnerable to disinformation and distorted narratives in the name of “objectivity.” Where right-wing media set out to reinforce conservative identity and narratives?doing, in fact, what they more or less always promised they were going to do?the institutional press of the left and the center frequently let their superficial commitment to objectivity result in the amplification of disinformation and distortions.

Third, there are philosophical currents on the left as well as the right that call the whole notion of objective facts and truth into question?that consider all questions of fact to represent political judgments rather than anything that might be called “factual” or “truthful.” As the authors put it, reform of our media ecosystems “will have to overcome not only right-wing propaganda, but also decades of left-wing criticism of objectivity and truth-seeking institutions.” Dedication to truth-seeking is, or ought to be, a transpartisan value.

Chris Snyder says:

no troll is boring..

GREAT article, and it’s true because those people get charged by chaos, controversy, “owning the libs”, etc. I’ve never seen such a large group of people whose existence is based on misery, which they want to spread around.. it all comes down to misery likes company.

George Will best describes these self-made, perpetual ‘victims’ of government and society:
“There seem to be a large number of Americans who are only happy when they’re unhappy. They seem to find life affirmed by being furious all the time. I don’t know why.”

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:


“George Will best describes these self-made, perpetual ‘victims’ of government and society:
“There seem to be a large number of Americans who are only happy when they’re unhappy. They seem to find life affirmed by being furious all the time. I don’t know why.””

Because being constantly aggrieved means constantly having your body flooded with adrenaline – and that shit is addictive.

I’d suggest googling “What the science of addiction can tell us about Trump”. With the DHS finding that reformed white supremacists suffered actual withdrawal symptoms trying to give up on hating it’s not strange that there is, by now, a significant proportion of the US citizenry who are literally addicted to being aggrieved and angry.

Those are the first victims of the decades-long attempt by the GOP to persistently cater to and try to further instill fear and anger in their base.

WarioBarker (profile) says:

Shocked, I tell you. Shocked.

The modern Trump GOP can’t just come out and admit their goal is mandated carriage of bigoted propaganda designed to rile up low-information Americans

Doing that would be a refreshing bit of honesty, which is also why it’s not gonna happen…although given the past few years or so I’m pretty sure that even if the GQP was honest about their intentions they’d still get tons of votes.

one_of_seven_billion_or_so says:

The logic of the author Karl Bode is spot on about troll amplification driving the reactions/retweets. get my name out there mind set. Trump is the king troll of all times as well as one of the most needy egos to ever prowl the earth.

All he did (thank god that is past tense) was type some crap about whatever then hit send and get retweets to feed that 3 year old trapped inside that old mans body.

Truth Social and TMTG seem to be a grift, vaporware type con. If TMTG is going to compete with Disney and Apple and Google and all the other “established” media powerhouses they better get much better at whatever the hell it is they are trying to do right now. Personally I think it will fail. It doesn’t have solid business facts supporting any of it. Trump loves to sell sell sell. It is the biggest, the greatest, in all of history, never been done before, huge. He has no substance and neither does the TMTG company.

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