Noah Bookbinder is the president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and a former federal corruption prosecutor.
Before, during, and after the January 6 attacks, Donald Trump turned to social media to energize supporters with the “Big Lie” that he had won the 2020 presidential election. Nearly two years later, Trump has a new platform to enact the same old playbook. With Truth Social emerging as a megaphone for misinformation and extremism, tech companies that are serious about upholding their publicly professed commitments to prevent the promotion of violent content must ban Truth Social from their online stores.
Back in April, and again in August of this year, my organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), called on major tech companies, like Apple and Google, to ban Truth Social from their online stores, pointing to its risk to democracy and insufficient content moderation policies. It’s a step in the right direction that Google has not approved Truth Social for its online Google Play store, citing concerns over its insufficient content moderation policies. But the app still remains available for download on Apple’s App Store. Between February and August of this year, the app has been downloaded approximately 3 million times, with a major uptick in downloads following the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Donald Trump launched Truth Social, a Trump Media & Technology Group product, earlier this year after he was permanently suspended from Twitter “due to the risk of further incitement of violence” after the January 6 insurrection. No longer able to reach his 88.7 million Twitter followers and spread election falsehoods, Trump’s Truth Social platform is providing a new venue to spread misinformation-stoked militancy.
Since the federal government retrieved highly classified documents from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence this past August, Trump has repeatedly vilified the government agencies involved and has deftly used Truth Social to ensure that his anti-democratic messages are disseminated widely. Since then, researchers have tracked an escalation of violent rhetoric from the far right, mirroring the increased chatter we saw on online forums just before the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Truth Social app has seen a spike in downloads, as Trump’s supporters flocked to the platform. These individuals didn’t join the platform in the aftermath of the Mar-a-Lago search simply to show solidarity. Instead, they came to Truth Social to intimidate and mobilize.
As part of that mobilization, Truth Social users publicly shared the contact information of those involved in the court-approved search, including that of FBI personnel, the magistrate who signed the court order in the Mar-a-Lago search, and their family members. Although personal information was later removed from the platform, the “verbatim text” had already spread across the platform, leaving private citizens vulnerable to those who might intend them harm.
We know all too well that violent threats can quickly escalate from rhetoric to reality. The individual who died attempting to breach the FBI’s Cincinnati office just days after the Mar-a-Lago search is a case in point. He reportedly used his Truth Social account to issue violent threats calling for federal agents to be killed “on sight” and urging people to “be ready for combat.” He announced his deadly plans to attack the FBI’s field office on Truth Social, underscoring the real threat behind such ominous posts.
Instead of de-escalating this volatile situation and condemning the attack on the FBI, Trump used Truth Social to undermine the credibility of federal law enforcement and promote the narrative that he, and by extension, his supporters, are under attack by “many sinister and evil outside sources.” To make matters worse, some of these posts promote QAnon and QAnon-adjacent content, tapping into conspiracy theories and misinformation. A recent post from Trump’s account stating that “it takes courage and ‘guts’ to fight a totally corrupt Department of ‘Justice’ and the FBI” illustrates that he is attempting to use his more than 4 million followers on Truth Social in the same way that he used Twitter in the lead up to the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. As the attack on the Cincinnati FBI field office demonstrates, Trump’s strategy of using social media to spread false narratives and fan the flames of violence is still working today to inspire political violence and civil unrest.
If Truth Social’s threat to democracy weren’t enough, the app is also facing a host of financial woes that should give companies further pause. According to recent news coverage, a deal with a special purpose acquisition company that had been on track to merge with Truth Social’s parent company stalled after failing to secure sufficient shareholder support. It seems as though potential financial backers don’t view Truth Social as a sound or stable investment. They rightly recognize that the risks—both financial and reputational—are simply too high.
The longer Truth Social remains available for download, the longer it serves as a threat to our democracy and a megaphone for Donald Trump to continue his attempts to destabilize our country and spread misinformation. It’s time for tech companies to make the decision that is best– both for their bottom line and for the democracy in which they operate– by deplatforming Truth Social.