Things aren’t looking good for Donald Trump’s social media platform TRUTH Social—despite the former president’s own bouts of rampant posting.
The fate of the social network is hanging in the balance, as delays continue to plague a $1.3-billion merger that would potentially secure its future. The latest delay came on Monday as a key vote was postponed to November, and some investors have already backed out.
TRUTH Social’s biggest problem is Trump himself, as TIME has previously reported, because his messages engage a more narrow audience than can sustain its business, according to politics and technology experts. That fact continues to hold true as Trump increasingly amplifies QAnon extremism on the platform. The site’s business prospects are deteriorating at the same time that Trump faces a slew of legal, financial, and political perils.
These mounting woes have all come together to create the perfect storm of chaos surrounding the planned merger between TRUTH Social parent Trump Media & Technology Group and blank-check company Digital World Acquisition Corp.
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“This has been a very unpredictable deal,” says Kristi Marvin, the founder of data and analysis firm SPACInsider.
The arrangement is currently under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Digital World’s shareholders must vote to extend the merger’s deadline by a year in order to keep the deal alive.
Neither TRUTH Social nor Digital World responded to TIME’s requests for comment.
Read more: TRUTH Social’s Biggest Problem Is Trump
The rising tide of extremism on TRUTH Social
TRUTH appears to be looking for converts among the followers of QAnon. Over the last few months, Trump has begun explicitly promoting QAnon content on TRUTH Social. He has shared a barrage of QAnon-related posts and reposted messages, allegedly from Q, the anonymous account that originated the QAnon movement on far-right message boards.
Trump has previously courted QAnon conspiracy theorists, who believe, among other baseless claims, that a cabal of top Democratic politicians and famous liberal elites run a global child-sex-trafficking ring that Trump will ultimately defeat. But he has recently begun “ratcheting up” his appeals to the group, says Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.
Amid Trump’s shift to more overt QAnon signaling, TRUTH Social has also started showing more ads targeting QAnon believers. It’s a move that the platform’s leadership foreshadowed months ago. Kash Patel, who has served on TRUTH Social’s board, suggested in June that the platform was trying to integrate QAnon into its “overall messaging scheme to capture audiences.”
The push for a bigger audience could slowly be working. Trump’s following on TRUTH Social has grown from 3.27 million users in June to 4.17 million as of Tuesday. But that’s still a fraction of the roughly 86 million followers that Trump had on Twitter before being permanently banned in January 2021.
Trump was already courting the QAnon crowd, but his advances are becoming much more direct, Beirich says. “This is him more tightly binding himself to that particular cohort,” she says. “And TRUTH Social seems to be doing the exact same thing in hyping up more and more QAnon material.”
Trump has also incorporated apparent QAnon endorsements into campaign rallies. At a Sept. 17 rally in Ohio, he spoke over music that resembled a song known as the QAnon anthem. Members of the audience held up one finger in response, a gesture interpreted by some as a reference to the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.”
Trump’s aides told the New York Times that the song played at the rally was called “Mirrors” and was not the QAnon theme song, “Wwg1wga,” in question.
Given the continued popularity of QAnon, Beirich says Trump’s increasing overtures to its followers suggest he’s trying to shore up his base. A report published earlier this year by the Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly one in five Americans and one in four Republicans believe in QAnon conspiracy theories.
“He knows that QAnon adherents are tightly tied to him because he’s their savior in their mythology, so it’s easy to rally them,” she says. “This is a group that he can easily activate by using these signs, symbols, and references. He can get them to turn out because they’re still very much on his side.”
But as a business move, Beirich says the overtures to followers of “Q” are unlikely to help TRUTH Social compete with more mainstream social platforms. “There’s a lot of talk about TRUTH Social not being on solid footing,” she says. “If this is the crew you’re reaching out to to shore up your business, it means you haven’t been able to build any kind of mainstream audience. You’re not attracting anyone but extremists and you’re admitting that fact by going further down the QAnon road. That’s going to keep people who don’t want to be exposed to this stuff off the site.”
The fraught business of TRUTH Social
As Trump and TRUTH Social increase their outreach to people with more extreme views, the platform’s business prospects have also suffered.
On Monday, Digital World moved to once again adjourn a shareholder vote on whether to extend the deadline for the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) to complete its merger with Trump Media. The vote was originally scheduled to take place Sept. 6 but was adjourned to Sept. 8, then Oct. 10–and now Nov. 3. The recent delay suggests the company failed to get approval from the necessary 65% of shareholders for a one-year extension on its $1.3 billion deal to take Trump Media public.
Part of the problem is that the deal has attracted many “uninformed” retail investors, says Julian Klymochko, CEO of Accelerate Financial Technologies. Digital World has struggled to get these individual investors to participate in the shareholder vote. Without enough participation, the extension won’t be approved.
“If you look at the Digital World and Trump deal, it’s driven by political leanings,” he says. “You’ve seen that stock resonate with those who are ‘anti-woke’’ and more right-wing in nature. At the end of the day, they’re Trump supporters and, by and large, retail investors who have been compelled to buy the shares for a political stance and not any sort of sentimental view on the value of the Trump Media business.”
Digital World has turned to other options for extending the deal as it waits for the shareholder vote. The SPAC’s sponsor injected $2.9 million into the deal last month to extend the merger deadline three months beyond its initial Sept. 8 expiration date. The sponsor could opt to extend another three months in December with another contribution.
The vote is now scheduled for November 3, and a successful shareholder vote would allow Digital World to push the deal deadline for a full year without its sponsor contributing any more money.
Digital World has warned that it may have to liquidate if the merger deadline is not extended for a full year, which would mean that Trump Media, and by extension TRUTH Social, would not receive its expected funding.
Digital World has also disclosed that the SEC probe into its planned merger with Trump Media could “materially delay, materially impede, or prevent the consummation” of the deal.
The SPAC said in a December 2021 filing with the SEC that securities regulators were investigating whether the leadership of Digital World and Trump Media engaged in negotiations before Digital World went public in September 2021, which would have been illegal. In a subsequent June SEC filing, Digital World disclosed that a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York had issued subpoenas to each of its board members related to the planned merger.
“They’ve had a significant amount of legal setbacks with all sorts of investigations and subpoenas from various federal organizations, law enforcement, etc.,” Klymochko says. “That presents a lot of challenges in getting this deal closed.”
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