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Trump’s Social Platform Is Still Floundering Despite Boost from Jan. 6 Hearings

5 minute read

Downloads of Donald Trump’s TRUTH Social app spiked after the former president made an appearance on the struggling platform with a series of tirades in protest of the January 6 hearings. But the pace of TRUTH’s growth—and its impact—could depend on whether Trump continues to post regularly on the network.

Trump started posting about the hearings on June 9 as a congressional committee held its first major public session to investigate the attack. The following day, TRUTH Social downloads shot up by 185% compared to the average of the seven days prior, according to data shared with TIME by the analysis firm data.ai.

On TRUTH Social, Trump referred to the bipartisan proceedings as a “one sided, totally partisan, POLITICAL WITCH HUNT,” repeated false claims that the 2020 election was “rigged and stolen,” and denied expressing support for chants to “hang Mike Pence.”

Trump created the Twitter-like platform in Fall 2021 under the umbrella of his new media company, Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), but posted a single introductory “TRUTH” in February and nothing else—until about a month ago. Now he is posting more and more, often multiple times per day.

His comments about the January 6 hearings are being shared with a relatively small audience. While downloads of TRUTH Social spiked on June 10, as of June 13, TRUTH Social has seen 2.6 million lifetime downloads in the U.S. Apple App Store. In comparison, Twitter had 229 million active users on a daily basis in the first quarter of 2022.

The impact of Trump’s words will hinge on how far they spread outside of TRUTH Social, says Jonathan Nagler, co-director of NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics. “It’s what happens off of TRUTH Social,” he says. “Because the membership numbers on the platform are still not doing for him what Twitter was doing for him.”

Trump’s following on TRUTH Social has grown to 3.27 million users, but remains a fraction of the size of the following of more than 80 million he had on Twitter before being permanently banned in January 2021 “due to the risk of further incitement of violence” after the attack on the Capitol. False claims of election fraud have been a major theme of Trump’s posts on TRUTH Social since he returned to the site last month. He has also posted about other topics recently, ranging from the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial to ongoing congressional primaries to Twitter bots.

The trouble with TRUTH

Since its February 2022 launch, TRUTH Social has been plagued by problems. On Monday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) expanded its investigation into the planned merger between TMTG and Digital World Acquisition Corp. (DWAC), the special purpose acquisition company set to take TMTG public. The SEC is seeking “additional documents and information” regarding a previously disclosed probe into whether or not DWAC and TMTG negotiated terms before DWAC officially went public. DWAC’s stock has subsequently dropped by over 32% this week.

The platform advertises itself as a refuge for free speech. Meanwhile, TRUTH Social users say they’ve been suspended from the platform for sharing information about the Jan. 6 hearings. Travis Allen, an information security analyst in Kentucky, wrote on Twitter on June 9 that his TRUTH Social account had been permanently suspended for “talking about” the hearings and shared a screenshot from the TRUTH Social app backing up his claim. Allen told the Washington Post that he was suspended from TRUTH Social shortly after replying to Trump’s account with a reference to the first hearing. “It is the height of hypocrisy for TRUTH Social to claim to support ‘free speech’ and then ban users for talking about [the hearings],” he said.

Since TRUTH Social’s terms of service state that it “may accept, reject, or remove Interactive Content in our sole discretion,” Nagler says the company appears to have “carte blanche” to suspend anyone it wants from the platform. “They prohibit false, inaccurate, or misleading comments,” Nagler says. “Obviously this begs the question of who is the arbiter of what is false, inaccurate, and misleading. And we know that the people who set up TRUTH Social seem to believe that anyone who says there was no election fraud is making a false comment.”

TRUTH Social is one of many smaller social media platforms that have emerged in recent years as more-established companies have stepped up their content moderation.

TRUTH Social did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment. The platform has also been dogged by reports of technical glitches, outages, and an extensive waitlist to join the site. In early April, two key executives, chief technology officer Josh Adams and head of product development Billy Boozer, resigned from the company.

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Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com