There’s a platform for everything. We’ve got TikTok for 30-year-olds to complain that teenagers don’t think they’re cool, Twitter to explain why not texting people back is self-care, Instagram to give us body dysmorphia, and Facebook for reasons only Zuckerberg can explain.
It was just a matter of time before they invented socials for those who hate socialism.
Former US president Donald Trump — how sweet a word ‘former’ can be — has billed his new venture TRUTH Social as an open space to discuss ideas freely. He’s positioned the platform as an alternative to the networks that banned him last year for spreading baseless allegations that prompted his supporters to riot at the US Capitol.
It’s impossible for a social network to be “neutral” when the status quo is unfair. In real life, some people are less safe than others because they have less financial and cultural capital. Some people call the police when their life is at risk, and others find their life at risk when the police show up. Some people foment hatred, and others receive it.
A network that adopts a laissez-faire attitude, banning nobody no matter what they do, is siding in favour of that status quo. Without an explicit philosophy to the contrary, any online platform will replicate the broader world’s unfair power disparities.
Once you start banning people, you’re making choices too. Unless, that is, you ban everyone — and there are moments in online discourse when I’m not sure that’s such a bad idea.
So what’s TRUTH Social really about? In practice, it will operate as a dark crevice for people who share certain premises to reinforce one another’s views.
This already happens within networks. I’m primarily “on” Irish Twitter, gay Twitter and literary Twitter, so I’m triply unlikely to have the slightest clue what’s happening on cricket Twitter.
You don’t need to amass much support in an absolute sense to become well known within your niche. Writing one book was all it took in my case. I have never once been “recognised” in real life, but if I spent my life on the internet I could persuade myself that I was incredibly famous and everyone worshipped me. That, or I would start believing lizards invented Covid.
Whatever you’re casually interested in, if you google it or “Reddit” there will be a forum populated with those whose lives revolve around it. Their obsessions save you from reinventing the wheel: if you don’t care enough about something to conduct a thorough trial and error, the advice there isn’t bad. I have used this method to do everything from folding my laundry more efficiently to justifying my most cancellable opinion: that it is OK to shampoo my hair every day. (If you’re not sure why that’s cancellable, you haven’t spent time on beauty Reddit.)
The ability of the internet to gather cranks is innocent enough in such cases. In others, the uniting principle is that a given group of people should not exist.
Meeting oppressed people face to face isn’t a catch-all cure for bigotry. If someone has told me 99 times that they hate queers, I’m not going to assume it will change the 100th time I say hello.
Still, the real world has a moderating element of doubt. You’re never quite sure who shares your opinions. If you’re wary of a negative response, you have to constantly ask yourself whether the other party is likely to agree with you. It’s hard to do that without questioning yourself along the way.
The “shy Tory” is a classic example. I’d imagine I’ve met more of them in England than I realise, since I probably say something early in the conversation that makes them disinclined to out themselves.
That’s something they often take to their own columns to complain about, though it’s unclear to me why I am obliged to carry out a full parliamentary debate with every puffer-vested soul I encounter.
When people complain about being "silenced”, this is what they mean: they dislike the possibility that someone else will think they are hateful or evil or wrong.
If you express your honest views and someone reacts with hostility, as I see it there are two options. The first is that they are being reasonable and you should simply change those views. The second is that they’re narrow-minded, in which case why do you care what they think? But not everyone wants to consider that they may be wrong, or that it may have consequences for how others view them.
I don’t predict a mass flocking to TRUTH Social. But it does exemplify a problem that the existing platforms have already made clear. On the internet, you can hate marginalised people without having to accept that others may think less of you. You can do that offline, too, but it won’t always make you a party favourite.