Truth Social Case Study, Part 2 Podcast Transcript
The Bright Team
The Bright Team • Dec 05

Truth Social Case Study, Part 2 Podcast Transcript

Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines

Building on the closer look at functionality in the previous episode, we discuss what's actually on the platform and whether Truth Social is just another niche social media offering or merits special consideration.

Taryn Ward. Hi. I'm Taryn Ward,

Steven Jones. and I'm Steven Jones,

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TW.  and this is Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines. 

SJ.  We're taking a closer look at the core issues around social media, including the rise and fall of social media empires, to better understand the role social media plays in our everyday lives and society.

TW.  In our last episode, we started to look more closely at Truth Social. We covered the basic functionality and walked through the experience from a user's perspective. This episode, we'll look at some statistics about Truth Social, and some other so called alternative social media platforms. Share our own research on one of the sources we discussed last time and conclude our case study.

TW.  First, it's worth saying a few words about why we went through all of the detail we did in our previous episode. If you're still listening after all of that, thank you! We know it wasn't the most pleasant thing to listen to. It wasn't, it just wasn't that exciting or informative in some ways, and it wasn't the most fun episode to do either. But we thought it was really important that you have something approaching the actual experience so that you could draw some of your own conclusions. We kind of generalised about what's on the platform, but the point of this podcast really is to go beyond the headlines. So, rather than saying they're so unusual, concerning extreme conspiracy theory, whatever content on Truth, whatever your political persuasion, we think it's better that you know what's actually on the platform. We chose to do a special case to the on Truth because it's really not just another niche social app. It's a niche social app, largely concerned with political speech and owned and controlled by a former president of the United States of America.

SJ.  Yeah, and therein lies one of the big problems, despite its claim to be the “Big Tent”, it is owned by a former president United States and, therefore, has a political viewpoint because, regrettably, presidents of the United States have a political viewpoint, and sometimes that can become, you know, a little bit more extreme than others. So, yeah, it's not just a social media network. It is approaching or has become a propaganda arm of one part of one of the political parties in the United States, and, as we saw, the content is extreme.  It’s not the sort of content I would have ever expected Republicans to espouse, and as you said, a lot of the Republicans that you know do not agree with the content is posted on his platform. But they are being tarnished with it in the world's eyes, which is another reason to be concerned because the world is watching what is said by former presidents in the United States on their network.

TW.  And most of the content we spoke about last episode wasn't a surprise because we know what happens when a social network starts with a clear political audience in mind, and really, this can happen even when you're not starting that way. It can sort of be, you know, a platform that really starts somewhere in the middle can really be pulled one direction or the other. But when a social network starts with a clear direction in mind, it's unsurprising, really, that that we're seeing this kind of content as a result, and to be clear, picking about a point that you made, most Republicans I know, have never even used Truth Social, and most of the Republicans I know who have used it, largely used it early all and not super early, but early after it was allowed on Google Play and in the Apple Store, to see what the fuss was about and ultimately, left with many of the same concerns we had, and some additional concerns about how it portrayed their own community or community that they consider themselves to be a part of it, which I think probably goes to your other point. You know, whether you like it or not, this is how the world, especially outside of the United States, sort of views the whole Republican Party now, and that's because what truth social really is, is a place for people who are enthusiastically pro-Trump, right-wing extremists to froth each other up and exchange conspiracy theories that are in most cases worrying and, in some cases, dangerous. You don't know who is reading or watching, and these vague claims of treason and statements that Americans won't survive another year with Biden in charge are only just words until someone acts on them, and Steve, early in our work together, you shared a bit about things from a public health perspective. So, you told me how public health agencies often approach vaccine hesitancy and why, but I think it's a really important consideration when we think about how we got here with Truth Social and how we get here with a lot of other similar platforms, would you mind just sharing with everyone what you shared with me that day? You know, 10,000 years ago?

SJ.  Yeah, in the dim dark past? Yeah, I mean, it was very topical at the time because vaccines, COVID vaccines were being rolled out and so on and so forth. But vaccine hesitancy predates COVID by a very long way and has absolutely cost lives and caused disability, and so, the reality is that, that if you are a vaccine-hesitant in any way, it's, it's largely counterproductive to have somebody who is, you know, enthusiastically pro-vaccine to talk to you, because the reality is, you're more likely to pull away a little bit from being pro-vaccine and become more hesitant. Because that approach, their attitude to it is too strong for you, and so what you really need to do is talk to people who are sort of, like, a little bit less vaccine hesitant than you are, say, 10% less vaccine hesitant than you are. So, you move people, you know, slowly to the side, and we saw that, you know, the public discussion was really was really focused initially on anti-Vax sentiment, and the move to using a vaccine-hesitant was a way to sort of tone down and soften the language around this so that people didn't feel like these were polarised arguments that if you had any consider or concerns at all, you were anti-Vax, and therefore, it was very much more difficult for you to change your mind as more information becomes available, and that's really, really important, and actually, it works across a whole spectrum of social behaviour and anti-racism. If you're even slightly a little bit, you know, racist, then talking to somebody who's a very strong anti-racist advocate can polarise you in the wrong direction, and this becomes really important because the way that social media algorithms work that they tend to pull content and therefore viewers to extremes, because they want eyes on screens, and people tend to pay more attention to things which are the posts, which attack out groups, posts, which attack, you know, vaccines as being a government conspiracy implant microchips, or whatever. The more outlandish and extreme the content, the more likely you are to actually read it, and over time, it does change your view, and so that, you know, that's really, really unhelpful, and for anybody who hasn't had a pet that's had a microchip, I can tell you, absolute certainty, you can't put microchips into animals through the needles, they use the vaccinate people, they're just too damn big. Not even Bill Gates has got that technology. It is a very serious issue, and I think that one of the reasons I was involved in this got involved in this project lots of reasons, but one of the reasons was the spread of mis- and disinformation online around vaccines and infectious diseases in the pandemic, because it was, you know, it really complicated the job of public health, trying to do the right thing, and explain when their views change, that, you know, information changes because you have new data. That's, that's the summary. I don't want to ramble on anymore. But this is an area very close to my heart, Taryn, as you know.

TW.  I didn't know and I think that's really helpful. So, I think, you know, in a, in a perfect world, well, in a perfect world, I guess maybe we wouldn't have social media, but in a near-perfect scenario, you would go online, and you would see information from a wide range of different viewpoints, and it would give you an opportunity really to analyse all that information and then make an informed decision. So, you would see things that were a little bit left of where you are, a little bit right of where you are, a little bit, you know, whatever. A little more vaccine-hesitant, a little less vaccine-hesitant, you'd see sort of all of these things, and you'd learn from you'd learn from these posts, and you'd learn from these comments, and then you'd make an informed, a better-informed, decision. The problem with these platforms, and it's not just Truth Social, you know, we when we talk about echo chamber concerns, you know, it's not even the most successful social platform used by the political right. You know, there are several other platforms that are doing some of these same things, whether it's Gab or Bitchute, Gettr, Parler, Rumble and even Telegram. But what happens is when you go into one of these, these sort of chambers, people do tend to just sort of one-up each other, and it becomes a step by step sort of becoming more and more radicalised, and, and to be clear, that's really what this is. This is radicalization, and it's, it's concerning, no matter who you are because it's a really powerful pull, and if you're not stopping to see the other side or to see the middle, or to think about other viewpoints, you can really get It stuck down going down this road and lose touch very quickly with credible information in news sources, and you can see that happening in some of these people on Truth Social. 

So, the other platforms I mentioned, just they're just then are important and relevant, and again, some are very, very successful, but none of them are owned or controlled by a former US president, who is currently running for reelection, and the Truth Social stats are notable on their own too. So, let's, let's turn to some of the stats, and this is from Pew, which we'll link to on our website. While 27% of US adults say they have heard of Truth, only 2% use the site for news; 31% of adults use Facebook for news; 25% YouTube; and 14% Twitter. Just so you have some comparison numbers in mind. So, we're talking about a relatively small per cent of the population in terms of news consumption, at least just that 2%, and although Truth Social identifies as a free speech platform, it's faced a number of controversies and has long been accused of blocking content due to political views expressed. So, that is part of why you see what you see when you log in, of the 2% who do get their news on Truth Social 87% say they expect that news and information to be mostly accurate. This is incredibly high compared to users on other platforms, and of the platforms mentioned above, it's second only to Rumble. So, that's including now Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, all of those sort of, you know, centre or whether you whether you believe they're centrist, platforms or not, they're are so large that certainly every viewpoint you can imagine is represented somewhere.  Fifity-eight percent of people who use Truth Social say the news they got there helps them to better understand current events. 

So, you know, we have we do have people walking around today who feel like they have a better understanding of why UN Peacekeepers are in the United States because of what they've read on Truth Social, again, really, really concerning.  On Truth Social 83% of accounts have values or other appeals in their profiles, and 49% of those have a clear reference to being right-leaning or pro-Trump. This is notably higher again than even other alternative social media sites studied. So, just a point of clarification here that 49% is not 49% say they're right-leaning or pro-Trump and 51%. Say they're left-leaning, it's 49% say they're right-leaning or pro-Trump and that sort of it. The other identifiers are not clearly right-leaning or pro-Trump, but that doesn't mean that the left is represented at all, and in the research that we found, actually, we didn't find any numbers, and I haven't yet found an account anywhere on Truth Social, that indicates you know, any sympathy for a viewpoint that is not right-leaning or pro-Trump. 

SJ.  Wow, those are unpleasant stats. Sure, it's 2% of people who get their news on Truth, but for almost all of them to say that the news that they get is mostly accurate is horrifying, and I mean, it's hard to imagine how that could be true other than you know that they already exist in information bubbles and echo chambers, and this confirms their biases. So, no attempt is made to look for alternative sources. But that is, it's really scary, isn't it? That is the case, and, you know, as we've said before because this is owned by somebody who's been elected and is running for re-election, then this becomes a propaganda arm, which in no small part makes it ironic that it's called Truth because, of course, Pravda was the name of the newspaper of the former Soviet Union's Communist Party and proof that means truth for those who don't speak Russian or weren't around in the 80s when it was common knowledge. Oh, my God, like, this is not a new source. Social media generally isn't a news source. But this is definitely not a news source. So, please don't do this.

TW.  Yes, and, you know, to the credit of most people, we see relatively low numbers and other platforms, you know, 31% of adults in the US use Facebook for news, but a relatively small number of them think that there is anything reliable in that content and Facebook, to be fair, and to its credit, does have a wide variety of sources. Some of them are absolute rubbish, but some of them are credible, long-standing news publications that care very much about their reputation, and, in fact, if they get something wrong, they'll print will print that, and they'll say, sorry, we need to correct something we got this wrong. That's one of the differences too.

 SJ.  Huge difference. 

TW.  Okay, so those are the stats, that is what it is. How problematic is it, though? Maybe there are some reliable news sources on Truth Social, too, or certainly not closed off to that possibility. So, one of the news sources that kept coming up when I scrolled through my Truth Social content was this source called news44USA. It came up again, and again, if you missed our last episode, quite a bit of the content was was articles from from this site. But when I did a quick search to learn about this publication, and to find out who owns it, and how its funded, because that's always important. I couldn't find anything, which is really unusual. So, we looked at Twitter, we looked at different places, and then I realised that when you click through on the link, it actually redirects to something called high-speed Fine. So, we researched that because of course, we did, for hours, literally down the rabbit hole, because that's who we are. That's what we do. Unsurprisingly, few answers were found; we read dozens of articles on this website. One was less well written than the next, and I don't mean that in some sort of elitist, whatever way. I mean, whoever wrote many of these does not speak fluent, or even a basic level of English, and didn't bother to have someone who does make edits. Some of it was incoherent, really, and, and that's fine, too. If you've ever heard me try to speak French, or Italian or German, or even Spanish, which I have some sort of a degree in, I guess you'd know that I have no room to throw stones, and that's not what I'm doing. But it raises a number of questions, and I wouldn't pretend to be creating an article for a French news outlet in passing, you know, trying to use my not-very-passable French to pretend like I was writing articles from within France, news44USA, clearly is. In fairness, the name probably should have been a giveaway. But but it did, you know, we did give Ihem the benefit of the doubt when we started, we started looking into who they are.

SJ.  Yeah, we did, and that was a mistake. As you said it was, it was incoherent.

TW.  Nobody's perfect. 

SJ.  No, and we're not I mean, absolutely, we're not, but this was, this, these this is, you know, people are using this as a new site, it links to something which is incoherent. The posts very often, people just read the headlines, right? They don't open it, they don't investigate. If the headline is egregiously provocative and agrees with your fundamental biases, then you're going to share that without delving in much deeper or asking yourself, Could this really be true? And that's what's really bad on the platform with no moderation or, you know, fact-checking, and you know, you and I both criticised the mainstream networks for the for the job they do of moderation and fact-checking and misinformation and disinformation flagging, but at least they try this there was no attempt here, and I think we in our in our segment on Truth in our new Twitters we talk about how they say they're not going to stop people saying whatever they want, it turns out that whatever they want are bald-faced lies and conspiracy theories and dog-whistles, and if you look at other you know, networks like Gab, which just started out not moderate moderating its content and suddenly became, you know, rabidly right-wing. This does seem to be what happens if you make those decisions. A civil discussion requires some rules, right? That's just the way it is. So, this was really scary, and then and there was nothing to back those articles up. They were, it was just an onion of nonsense. Lots of layers, but all of it nonsense.

TW.  That's certainly true, and what you said about scanning the headlines without clicking through is really true, and then I have made this mistake before. It's very tempting, especially if you're in a hurry or moving quickly. You sort of, you see a headline, and you're in the middle of something else, and you do I'd have a chance to click through, and you think, you know, man, oh, go back and read that later. Life gets in the way, things get busy, and you know, you and I have had our sort of end of the day, we'll end of the day for me catch up, and I said, Oh, I saw this article that said this, in, I'll just redo the headline, and then and then we always, of course, go back and check. But there are other things that are less important, that aren't work related. That, you know, I do sometimes see the headline, and I think, well, I know what this article is going to say and move on. But the question is, what is the new source, and that's not to say, again, that BBC and New York Times, whatever it is, they do sometimes get things wrong, and often, they will cop to it and say, sorry, we made a mistake, this is what's happening, or what, you know, whatever, whatever the situation is, it's addressable. 

These are not real, new sites. The name change is a giveaway. The site also claims that each article has more than 10,000 flames, which is sort of like their likes, and you know, other than making us rethink our use of "Sparks" as "likes" on Bright because we don't want to be anywhere near what is happening on this website. It raises questions about why none of these articles have any comments. So, 10,000 people have engaged with this 12,000 People 11,000 it's pretty much always somewhere in that range. But there are no comments; it all starts to feel very concerning, let's say, and you, of course, can draw your own conclusions and definitely go and have a look for yourself if it still exists by the time you're listening to this. But to be clear, it's all fake. All of it. All fake, and this is especially worrying because it resembles a pattern of behaviour we've seen elsewhere: fake accounts and fake news outlets created and shared by non-native English speakers posing as doing it from within the United States. It's all pretty worrying. 

SJ.  Oh, gosh, yes, it is, isn't it? Because we live in a time where instability in Western nations is in the interests of a small but select group of foreign powers, and there is a long history, let's be honest, of using propaganda to sow discontent and erode support for a country and in this case, its own military. This is a standard tactic, and we know because Facebook and Twitter have found them and tried to kick some of them out that these state-run operations from Beijing and from Moscow via St. Petersburg, you know, this is a this is an industrial level of effort to spread missing disinformation. It is unfortunate that people who consider themselves to be genuine American patriots in this case, and whilst we might worry about their methods and the extremity of their views, I think they do consider themselves to be patriots. But they're, you know, it looks like they're getting used as tools. In a proxy war that's been fought online through social media, and the less controls a social media platform has, the more easy it is for those players to operate the United States and it's the role it's able to play in the world, which is really, you know, horrifying. 

TW.  Absolutely, and so for all of these reasons, news44USA inspired my first post on Truth, my first Truth on Truth Social, I should say, highlighting some of these concerns. I also commented on some of these posts, asking if anyone had looked at into the reliability of this source, and who was funding it, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the accusations about Truth Social limiting post reach, no one ever engaged with my post and my followers list remains at zero. But stay tuned. If there is an update, we will we will add it to the transcript page. 

SJ.  I'm going to have to say I'm not convinced that you're going to become an influencer on Truth Social. I think the fact that you didn't get any comments or the, you know, followers is not surprising at all because of the observations they've been made before. It will be interesting, though; let's keep an open mind and see what happens. But I am also a bit worried about you because one imagines that some of the responses would be quite unpleasant, and then you're going to have to sit there and read them, and that that's not going to be great. 

TW.  Probably not, although it would be interesting, for research purposes, to compare the law Full of vitriol to some of the other big social platforms. So, whether it's worse than what I would get on Twitter or even LinkedIn, and worse and in what ways so, we really will share an update in the transcript if there's anything to share, and next time, we'll continue to examine the existing social media landscape, and we'll turn to areas where we see potential for growth. We'll start with a general look at some of the new social shopping apps, discuss what we think new social media offerings will look like over the next few years, and discuss why it's difficult to launch a new social media network. Finally, we'll identify some gaps in the existing market where there are opportunities for brands and consumers before we start our new series on privacy. 

TW.  In the meantime, we'll post a transcript of this episode with references on our website. You can find this and more information about us at, and if you'd like to take a deeper dive into Truth Social check on our episodes on Twitter alternatives.

SJ.  Until next time, I'm Steven Jones,

TW.  and I'm Taryn Ward.

SJ.  Thank you for joining us for Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines.

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