This paper will perform a discourse analysis on the platform Truth Social and its creators. Does the ideology of Trump shine through or did the users of the platform create their own ideology?
The creation of Truth Social
It might feel like a long time ago for some people, but on January 6th, 2021, angry republicans raided the Capitol after having a rally in favor of Donald J. Trump. The then-former 45th president of the United States of America instigated this by sending out rallying tweets surrounding claiming the falsity of the election result. This resulted in Trump being banned from Twitter on the 8th of January 2021, a beloved platform of his where he shared many of his extreme thoughts. Thus, in October 2021, Trump announced his new company “Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), which would be working on his own version of Twitter. This new Twitter “Truth Social” launched on February 21st, 2022.
TMTG also claims to be working on “TMTG News” and “TMTG+”, however, these have not been made public yet. Thus, Truth Social seems to be their only online project now. As of now, Truth Social is only accessible in the USA, has problems on the stock market and the app was banned from the Google Play Store, this was reverted on the 12th of October. In this paper, I will be focusing my research on TMTG and Truth Social, analyzing the discourse it produces as well as how the users interact with the platform.
To discuss this topic, I will be performing a discourse analysis on a couple of primary sources produced by the company. Those include the promotional video of Truth Social, the Mission Statement of TMTG, and several press releases, particularly focussing on the one made on October 26th, 2021 “A statement on TMTG by the 45th President Donald J. Trump”, and the design of Truth Social. The Mission Statement of TMTG and the Press Release statement will be cross-reviewed for the narrative we can find in them. Moreover, to analyze the visuals of the platform better, as well as the reactions from the public, I will be analyzing the page of Truth Social on the app store. Here, there are screenshots of the app as well as reviews by users. As the platform thus far is only available in the USA, I was not able to create an account and gather data firsthand.
Blommaert (2005) mentions how ideologies are “the underlying ‘deep structures’ of social behaviour”, and they can be understood as “processes that require material reality and institutional structures and practices of power and authority” (Blommaert, 2005). Furthermore, Blommaert mentions the connection between indexicality and ideology, as indexicality points out how language and communicative behavior is influenced by the norms and rules of the social and cultural order. For example, you would use different words and phrases when talking to your boss and talking to your colleagues. This difference can be pointed out by indexicals, which refer to certain language use, and this difference is constituted by the power relationships in society, as discussed by Foucault.
Another concept that relates to that of power is that of hegemony, power (often that of a leading position) which is gained through consent, this often comes with its own ideologies. Moreover, a concept that will also be used in this discourse analysis is that of the "ideological square" as discussed by Van Dijk (2011). The idea of the ideological square is that group forming tends to be strengthened by emphasizing the good things of the in-group (or de-emphasizing our bad things) and emphasizing the bad things of the out-group (or de-emphasizing their good things).
Using the concepts discussed above, I will be analyzing the platform by looking into narrated events, as well as the ideologies that arise from this. Moreover, this paper will attempt to answer the question: What does the platform Truth Social, and its usage of it, tell us about alternative ideologies in the American social media landscape?
First impressions and the Discourse of Truth Social
To start the analysis, first I want to look at the homepage of the website from TMTG (Figure 1). First impressions already give us a good idea of the ideologies that this platform aims to bring across. What stands out most is the picture on the homepage, the American flag is in the middle. It is clearly the focal point of the picture. Moreover, the flag is positioned in a large wide field, which can be seen as an index for the Midwest of America. The big text also stands out, reading “A United Force For Freedom of Expression”. There is a red button that reads “Follow the TRUTH”, this leads to the Truth Social webpage. With the homepage being mostly white and blue, this red button jumps out.
Moreover, the colors used are red white, and blue, which also reminds us of patriotism. As this is a platform funded by Trump, we can even argue that this is referring to American Nationalism, the pride of their nation is clearly shown. The other text on this page will be discussed later in this paper.
Further down the homepage, we can find the mission statement of TMTG (Figure 2). At first look, we see a picture including a typical American road, with a set of mountains in the middle. Just like the picture discussed above this image gives off the aesthetic of the Midwest, “typical America”.
In the mission statement, we can find one major narrated event: Big Tech platforms that cancel those who go against the mainstream ideology.
In this event, the author makes a distinction between “they” and “us”. “They” are the big tech platforms, Silicon Valley, and the mainstream media who produce a “woke” ideology. A second narrated event that can be found in the statement is that the audience needs to join “us”, which is President Donald J. Trump and TMT, as they counter the mainstream media and produce a platform where everything can be shared. Moreover, joining the platform also means joining the ideological movement against liberal cancel culture, as it can be argued that the platform seems to be very political. Here, we can see the ideological square at work, promoting the good in-group of Truth Social users and talking down the out-group of the mainstream media.
In the statement on TMTG, we can also find the same two narrated events. The first is the challenge of Big Tech giants and Big Media bosses, who censor “us”. It is mentioned how the president of the United States was silenced by “a small oligarchy of tech titans and ‘mainstream’ media corporations”. And to challenge these mainstream media, TMTG (described as “we”) will be creating a “Big Tent” platform, which “competes with the increasingly ‘woke’ and politicized ‘entertainment’ programming by Big Tech and Big Media players”.
The second narrated event is that of creating an open platform with no censorship that welcomes everyone, promoting open debate. An interesting quote that belongs to this event is that the platform will be “welcoming not only Republicans to join but Independents and Democrats as well". Truth Social is presented as a platform where all are welcome, even Independents and Democrats. This type of text alone makes it so we can see that even Truth Social itself believes that its target audience tends to be Republicans. However, we should note that the welcoming of Democrats and Independents serves a political function, as it actively promotes freedom of speech.
Truth Social ad: style, form, and meaning
The promotional video of Truth Social has a very basic layout (Figure 3). It is only pop background music and a recording of a phone against a moving vague background. This background appears to be lights in the dark, giving the feel of a living city, which could be a connotation for young and hip. The video goes through several functions of Truth Social, giving an overview of everything the app can do. Noteworthy things will be discussed below and further in this paper.
Figure 4 is the final part of the Truth Social promotion video. Here, we see a screenshot of what appears to be the TMTG website homepage. However, this page seems to have a different text on it than the homepage discussed above. Below a table has been added with the text side by side. Both homepages have a red button that reads “Follow the TRUTH” which links to the Truth Social website.
On the old homepage, three of the four points defend the narrative of free speech, whereas on the new homepage, two of the four points (directly) address this. A big difference is that the old homepage explicitly states that TMTG attempts to spread capitalism, whereas this cannot be found in the statements on the new homepage. This discourse can also not be found in the mission statement or the press release discussed earlier. Furthermore, the new homepage also inserted cancel culture and Big Tech into the mix. It can be argued that these are part of the countering narrative, as it actively pushes away established narratives against big tech and cancel culture. These discourses also target specific audiences, targeting specific ideological groups within the Trump-supporting republicans. It can be argued that this is an identity discourse as it groups people together who share the same views of society.
The Design of Truth Social
In this section, I will be discussing the design of the platform as well as what this means for the discourse. Below, you can see the screenshots included in the app preview of Truth social.
Noteworthy is that the same post discussing the relationship between the pandemic and interest rates is featured twice in the screenshots of the Appstore. Once as the main post for “follow the truth” and once promoting dark mode. The post reads "Getting close to the end of a two-year pandemic and now concerns over rising inflation and interest rates". This is interesting considering many followers of Trump were critical of how the pandemic was handled, e.g. being against masks.
An interesting comparison is that of profiles on Truth Social and Twitter. Both have a checkmark for verification, but on Truth Social, it is red, and on Twitter it is blue. Moreover, it seems that Truth Social uses its secondary color the same way as Twitter, e.g. button for creating a new post. Another difference between the two that does seem very similar is the layout of the profile. Truths, Truths & Replies and Media on the side of Truth Social and Tweets, Tweets & replies and Media on Twitter. Both profiles show followers, following, links, when they joined, where they are located, header pictures, etc. Moreover, when looking at a screenshot from the promotional video, you can see the three options for responses to a Truth: Reply, ReTruth, and Like. From the design, you can also see that ReTruth looks a lot like the Retweet button from Twitter.
Truth Social seems to have many similarities with Twitter, it can be argued that the designers of the platform attempted to recreate Twitter in some of its core design plans. Especially considering that this platform was created to counter the “woke” ideologies described in the previous section, we can speculate that these design choices were probably done to increase the opposing ideals of Twitter (censorship) versus Truth Social (open to everyone).
This can also be considered when discussing the accented colors. Blue and red are on opposite ends of the color wheel spectrum, thus it creates a set off from each other. Moreover, red is the color of the Republicans, and Blue the Democrat's color which creates an extra differential between the two. What is also noteworthy is that the name "Truth Social" is set off against Twitter itself. A common discourse amongst Trump and his followers is that of "Fake news", and it being all over Twitter, and without the censorship of the liberals, the truth can finally reveal itself. This again strengthens the in-group whilst talking down on the Liberals who censor the Republicans through platforms like Twitter.
The interaction of users with Truth Social
This section will be discussing the interaction of users with the platform, which will be done through an analysis of Apple App Store reviews.
Above is a screenshot from the reviews on the App Store. Reviews seem to be spread when looking at the star rating only, however, when looking at the written reviews, only 5-star reviews can be found. Moreover, there are no other reviews on the App Store, which is interesting considering the publicity of the app. It could be censored, so it would be wise to take this into account. Three reviews are written on the same day, 22/05/2022. Moreover, 2 other reviews were written around this date (27/05/2022 and (30/05/2022). One could speculate from this that there could have been an external influence around this time asking for reviews on the app. Some of the names are also quite interesting, for example, “a lily dedicated to God”. This name shows a clear belief in religion, which is a big thing for many Republicans.
When one goes through the reviews of Truth Social on the App Store, we can find two red treats on what is generally discussed on the app. The first red threat is that a couple of reviews discuss that most of the discussion on the platform is about politics, which the users do not seem to mind, but some expressed that they would prefer to also have other discussions on the platform.
The biggest topic throughout the reviews is freedom of speech.
Almost all the reviews mention it, on a positive note. Moreover, they argue that it is a very American thing to have, as well as that all views are accepted in discussions. Some reviews also noted that even though everyone can speak their mind, they have not seen racist comments, this is quite interesting, as even the users apparently seem to connect freedom of speech to racism. What jumps out is one review that focuses on the amount of Trump supporters on the platform, and that they are happy to finally not be judged for their beliefs.
The freedom to speak your Truth
All in all, this paper discussed the discourse and ideologies surrounding Truth Social. It started out with an analysis of the general discourse that could be found on Truth Social. From the website, I gathered data that showed the narrative events surrounding freedom and the “counter” narrative as I described. Furthermore, the promotional video provided us with an interesting difference between the old homepage of the TMTG website and the current homepage. In this, we were also able to find the two narratives.
The second part of the analysis discussed the design of Truth Social. Something that stood out here was the truth featured in two posts was critical of the pandemic, as well as the many similarities found between Truth Social and Twitter. Not only were the profiles very similar, but in the options for replying to a truth you were also able to “ReTruth”, which had the same function and symbol as a Retweet on Twitter.
The last part of our analysis discussed the discourse of the users of the platform. Here, we also saw the narrative of freedom of speech coming back, as well as the additional narrative that all views are welcome in the discussions on the platform.
In conclusion, we can find a common threat throughout the discourse in Truth Social, that being the narrative freedom of speech. In all promotional material, this comes back, as well as in the platform reviews, thus, also the users feel that this is true. It is interesting that it is promoted heavily that all views are welcome, even those of not Republicans, and that all discussions are respectful and honest, whilst on the other hand, one review mentioned that the user was happy to finally not be judged about being a Trump voter. Going back to the question posed in the introduction of this article: “What does the platform Truth Social, and its usage of it, tell us about alternative ideologies in the American social media landscape?”. We have seen in this analysis that TMTG and the users of Truth Social all value the freedom of speech highly, and advertise this as the main ideology on the platform. This is an index of Trumpism and the connected anti-liberal American Nationalism. They argue that Truth Social is the only platform where everyone can really be themselves, not like the other platforms made by "Big Tech giants". Thus, the existence of Truth Social and its promotions shows us that there are many Americans who do not believe that the current Social Media landscape is not holding up to the core beliefs of the country, so they are challenging the current hegemony.
I would argue that a platform created by TMTG, especially this platform considering the marketing (e.g. American flag, images that remind one of the Midwest) would probably be an echo chamber for right-wing (Trump) supporters.
Blommaert, J. (2005). Ideology. In Discourse: A Critical Introduction (Key Topics in Sociolinguistics, pp. 158-202). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511610295.008