Months after getting kicked off of pretty much every major social media platform, former President Donald Trump is now posting on a crude Twitter replica attached to his website called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.” The site, which went live on Tuesday, has been prepopulated with snippets from Trump’s press releases stretching back to late March. The most recent post, from Tuesday, is a video introducing the platform as “a place to speak freely and safely.”
The Twitter-like feed appears on a single webpage within Trump’s official site. Every post says “Donald J. Trump” at the top, along with a time stamp, which might make more sense if more than one person were using the platform. There are, however, some key differences between Twitter and the former president’s virtual “desk.” You can’t comment on or reply to any of the posts. The platform doesn’t have a 280-character limit; some of the posts go on for thousands of characters. “Liking” a post doesn’t seem to do anything other than turn the heart button red, since there’s no engagement counter, and unliking a post isn’t an option. Peeking at the site’s code, one of my colleagues on Slate’s development team did notice that the website is collecting data when users like certain posts. (It keeps sending data to the Trump team every time you click the button, even if you’ve already liked the post.) Alongside each post are also buttons that you can click to share the content directly onto Twitter, which has permanently banned Trump, and Facebook, which is deciding this week whether to let him back on the platform. The messages are generally too long for Twitter’s character limit, which results in the reposts being awkwardly cut off. The top of the page has “contribute” and “sign up” buttons as well, presumably to help fundraise for future political activities or even another presidential campaign.
For the most part, the content of the posts is a bit more verbose than what Trump was writing on Twitter, but he hasn’t kicked his habits of attacking political enemies and spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. In another recent post backdated to Monday, Trump denounces Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney as a “big-shot warmonger.”
Another major difference from Twitter is just how shoddy Trump’s new platform is. For a time on Tuesday afternoon, there appeared to be lines of debugging code visible at the bottom of the page, though it was later concealed. Another one of my colleagues spotted code indicating that the site does not ask for affirmative consent to track users with a Facebook PageView pixel even if they reside in Europe. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation requires that websites get visitors to explicitly opt in to this kind of data collection.
Back on Twitter, users have been relentlessly mocking the aesthetic and functionality of the platform, calling it essentially a slapdash blog dressed up as a social media site.
At the same time, some of Trump’s high-profile supporters, like former White House aide Sebastian Gorka (now a Newsmax host) and disgraced political journalist Benny Johnson (also now a Newsmax host), were sharing it.
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, and other major social media sites removed Trump’s accounts in the wake of the Capitol riot for fear that he would foment more violence and prevent an orderly transfer of presidential power. Some did so permanently, while others may eventually let him back on. The question then was how the social media–obsessive former president was going to try to speak directly to his followers. Last summer and then shortly after the 2020 election, the Trump Organization briefly entered into negotiations with the right-wing platform Parler for him to set up an account there in exchange for a stake in the company, but the talks fell through. Trump has also been sending out press releases, some of which are tweetlike; although they’re sent directly to journalists’ inboxes, they haven’t made the same splash on social media as his old missives. Trump has been hinting for weeks that he would be launching a new social media network that could compete with the likes of Facebook and Twitter. If this is the result of that effort, it doesn’t look like the incumbent platforms have much to worry about.