As you’ll recall, the defining moment that lead to Donald Trump creating his Truth Social Twitter clone was his being banned from Twitter for potentially egging on further violence on January 6th. Even before Truth Social was started, Trump’s most vocal and loyal… well, let’s just call them “fans,” kept insisting that what was needed was a social media site that didn’t do any moderation at all — or, at the very least, did no moderation based on viewpoint.
Of course, as we’ve explained for years now, such a thing is literally impossible. And every new social media service that pops up promising no moderation learns this the hard way, often to hilarious results. There was Parler, which promised it would only moderate based on “the FCC and the Supreme court of the United States” until it realized that’s not actually a thing, and started banning people for all sorts of things, including “posting pictures of your fecal matter.” Its former CEO also bragged about “banning leftists,” something the website seemed to do with glee.
Then, there was Gettr, another Twitter clone started by former Trump aide (and SLAPP suit filer) Jason Miller with funding from a Chinese billionaire famous for suing news organizations (not very free speechy). Gettr also positioned itself as the “free speech” site that wouldn’t moderate the way Twitter did. Then, when the site was overrun with extreme white nationalists, the site suddenly started banning them. It also would ban users for suggesting its billionaire backer was a spy.
Over and over again, we see that these sites are not only not actually about less moderation and more “free speech” but we see that they’re worse at the moderation game — a lot less principled, and just generally a mess.
Enter Trump’s Truth Social. Announced to great fanfare, and with yet another habitual suer of news organizations, Devin Nunes, put in charge. As we’ve noted, Truth Social has also found it difficult to attract users and prospective users have admitted the site just isn’t that much fun. We’ve also highlighted how, from the beginning Truth Social has quite strict terms of service, and Nunes promised aggressive content moderation (even while framing the site as being more free speech supporting).
We’ve seen some of this play out — for example in banning people for truthing about the January 6th hearings (apparently, not that kind of truth is allowed).
Now, Public Citizen has released a report, looking more closely at Truth Social’s content moderation practices and concluding that content moderation on the site is extremely aggressive and quite arbitrary.
“Truth Social is far from the haven of free speech that Trump promised, as even conservative viewpoints and links have been shadow-banned,” said Cheyenne Hunt-Majer, a fellow for Public Citizen and author of the report. “It’s not at all clear how Truth Social determines which content will be labled as sensitive, why some content is censored after it’s posted, and why other content seems to be preemptively blocked from appearing on the platform at all.”
The report looked at a variety of types of content. Not surprisingly (to anyone paying attention to reality), more progressive messaging was regularly silenced. Again, while Trumpists love to insist that Twitter, Facebook and others are deliberately trying to silence conservative talking points, actual evidence suggests that’s just not true. However, it appears that Truth Social has no problem suppressing content based on political viewpoints:
In June 2022, Truth Social users reported that any post containing the phrase “abortion is healthcare” would automatically be shadow banned from the platform. Much of this report describes my firsthand experience on Truth Social. When I attempted to post the phrase “abortion is healthcare,” I received the standard notification that my “truth had been posted,” which would usually signify that my post would now be visible on my personal profile and on my feed. Instead, the post was nowhere to be found. I made a video explaining that my “truth” had seemingly disappeared into a black hole that went viral on Tik Tok with over 1.2 million views to date. Five days after I initially tried to post my “truth”, after my Tik Tok video attracted such significant attention, it suddenly appeared. As a result, the first interactions with the post including comments and likes are dated five days after the date of posting.
In July 2022, I attempted to post a response to another user’s “truth,” in which he argued that only those that know everything about firearms have the right to protest gun related issues. My response read, “And if you don’t own a uterus and know everything about women’s health, you have NO right to regulate abortion or birth control. When you think they can’t get any more hypocritical, this post says, ‘yes they can.’” That post was similarly blocked and also never showed up on my profile or feed.
It wasn’t just left-leaning content that was blocked however, The report details tons of other content, including content that would normally be welcomed in the Trump universe that was also blocked.
Users also complained that links to articles on external websites were being blocked. One user suggested that they were unable a link to a Breitbart article claiming that former President Obama was responsible for an influx of crime committed by immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. When I tried to post the link, it never showed up on my profile or feed. Setting aside the merrits of the decision to deplatform the Breitbart article, it’s worth noting that the article doesn’t seem to violate any of their stated terms of service.
The report also found that when content was blocked, there seemed to be no explanation or opportunity to appeal — two other things that Trumpists often insist social media should have.
Again, it shouldn’t necessarily be surprising to anyone that Truth Social is a heavily moderated garbage dump. As we’ve explained so many times, every such website needs to have some level of moderation or they quickly become absolutely useless. It’s also not really much of a surprise that Truth Social is overly aggressive, and somewhat arbitrary in its moderation. As we’ve explained, at scale (even the very small scale of a Truth Social) content moderation is impossible to do well. And, I’d argue it’s even more difficult to be coherent if you don’t fundamentally understand content moderation/trust and safety, and it’s quite clear that this is the case with Truth Social.
However, it would be nice if all the very confident, but very wrong, people who insisted (1) that there should be no moderation at all, and (2) that Trump’s site wouldn’t have any moderation would recognize that they were wrong. And maybe, just maybe, recognize that every time they flipped out over content moderation decisions on other platforms that they didn’t agree with — it was because you’re just not going to agree with how every moderation decision is made.
Somehow, I doubt it. I expect we’ll quickly hear more unproven nonsense about how Twitter and Facebook are obviously against conservatives (they’re not) and excuses for why Truth Social’s content moderation scheme is somehow acceptable (it’s laughable). But, rest assured, if you believe (incorrectly) that content moderation is censorship, then Truth Social is a hell of a lot more censorial than Twitter.
For more of the latest in litigation, regulation, deals and financial services trends, sign up for Finance Docket, a partnership between Breaking Media publications Above the Law and Dealbreaker.