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.