When Elon Musk sealed a deal to purchase Twitter for $44 billion this week, one other social networking product surged to No. 1 in Apple’s App Retailer: Reality Social, the flagship app of former President Donald J. Trump’s fledgling social media firm.
The heightened curiosity in Reality Social, which debuted in February, was pushed by a current tech improve of the app that allowed a flood of customers to affix it. On the identical time, there may be extra uncertainty about Twitter. Some Twitter customers deactivated their accounts this week after the information broke that Mr. Musk was shopping for the location and questions arose about how he would possibly change the platform.
Reality Social has lengthy positioned itself as a substitute for Twitter and Fb, each of which famously barred Mr. Trump from their websites after the Jan. 6 riot on the U.S. Capitol final yr. The app has marketed itself as an uncensored platform that won’t discriminate towards customers for his or her political opinions. It and different apps prefer it, comparable to Rumble and Parler, take a hands-off method to moderation, in idea so that folks can converse freely with out being barred.
(Whereas Mr. Musk’s acquisition of Twitter stirred hypothesis that Mr. Trump’s account could be reinstated, the previous president has stated he wouldn’t rejoin Twitter and would as an alternative preserve utilizing Reality Social.)
Twitter confirmed that it had seen a bounce in account deactivations amid this week’s announcement of Mr. Musk’s takeover.
I made a decision to wade into this stew by testing Reality Social. Regardless of its hype, the app had a glitchy debut. When it was launched in February, many who signed up for it have been confronted with a static display screen displaying a wait-list quantity that the location attributed to “huge demand.”
I used to be wait-listed at No. 412,553. Then on Saturday, I used to be abruptly let in. I punched in my cellphone quantity to undergo the sign-up course of and jumped in with curiosity.
Assessing a social media app — particularly one this younger — isn’t easy, particularly in making an attempt to see how a lot free speech it actually permits. The app does do some moderation of posts. However as a result of it doesn’t have a set of neighborhood tips, it’s unclear what triggers the content material choices that get made. And whereas some posts that have been prohibited on Twitter have been accessible on Reality Social, different forms of posts have been hidden due to curse phrases.
To say I used to be underwhelmed could be an understatement. After a wait of two months to affix the app, Reality Social appeared unfinished and the group felt skinny. Right here’s what I discovered.
A Rocky Begin
After selecting a consumer title and an avatar (I uploaded an image of my Labrador), I started my Reality Social expertise. The app regarded like a clone of Twitter. Reality Social has a major information feed, a search instrument, a messaging system and a button to compose a “Reality,” which is the equal of a tweet.
Reality Social instantly really useful an inventory of some dozen accounts to comply with, together with Fox Information, The Epoch Instances and, after all, Mr. Trump himself. The previous president has posted just one Reality, and that was again in February: “Get Prepared! Your favourite President will see you quickly!” Up to now, he has accrued 1.88 million followers.
After I adopted all 80 accounts that the app really useful, no new strategies appeared, so I manually looked for accounts to comply with. Many accounts for giant manufacturers had already been taken over by impostors. The profile for @nytimes was labeled “The Failing NY Instances,” and @CNN was named “CNN (Parody).” One other dubious-looking account claiming to be ABC Information had posted solely 3 times.
My timeline of posts consisted largely of stories articles and movies. I noticed a Newsmax story about Washington State banning using the phrase “marijuana” and a clip mocking liberal Twitter staff who have been upset concerning the takeover by Mr. Musk.
A big a part of the app was damaged. Making an attempt to do a key phrase seek for a Reality was nonfunctional. Looking out the phrases “vaccine” and “Covid” introduced up the message that “No matching Truths” have been discovered.
Trump Media and Know-how Group, the corporate based by Mr. Trump to develop Reality Social, didn’t reply to requests for remark.
How Elon Musk Purchased Twitter
A blockbuster deal. Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest man, capped what appeared an inconceivable try by the famously mercurial billionaire to purchase Twitter for roughly $44 billion. Right here’s how the deal unfolded:
Usually, there wasn’t sufficient exercise on Reality Social to get a powerful sense of whether or not its content material moderation insurance policies have been looser than these of mainstream social media. Like Twitter and Fb, Reality Social has phrases of service that state that criminal activity isn’t allowed on the app.
In some circumstances, the app appeared stricter than Twitter. Whereas Twitter permits some pornographic content material, Reality Social forbids sexual content material and language altogether, in response to its phrases of service. On some posts containing the hashtagged F-word, Reality Social hid the content material and displayed a warning about delicate content material. (Tapping on “Present Content material” revealed the hashtag.)
To check the app’s claims about political ideology, I revealed a Reality with a New York Instances Opinion article that was vital of the Republican Occasion, and different posts with information articles concerning the Jan. 6 riot and the way Reality Social’s prospects could possibly be harm by Mr. Musk’s takeover of Twitter. Not one of the posts have been flagged as problematic. That steered the app wasn’t discriminating based mostly on politics, simply because it had stated it wouldn’t.
I additionally discovered some accounts that weren’t allowed to put up on Twitter — like The Babylon Bee, the right-wing satire website that was suspended for misgendering a transgender Biden administration official — posting frequently on Reality Social. It was one other signal that the app was much less restrictive than Twitter.
However Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Regulation College, stated the notion that Reality Social could possibly be an uncensored social community was in the end far-fetched. In actuality, social networking websites are usually not really the web’s public squares, he stated; they’re business merchandise which might be required to obey the regulation, with communities of customers who must really feel secure.
“A platform with no guidelines shortly descends into youngster pornography and Nazism,” he stated.
Brianna Wu, a online game developer, stated insurance policies have been essential to preserve social networks a secure place for folks to speak.
Ms. Wu labored with Twitter to develop security tips after Gamergate, the 2014 web marketing campaign to troll critics of the male-dominated gaming business. She stated her discussions with Twitter had targeted on strategies to mitigate the hurt of harassment, which resulted in a filter that Twitter developed to silence bots that have been routinely publishing insults about people.
“It’s about having the ability to have a wholesome dialog,” she stated.
All of that is one thing Mr. Musk will face when he assumes management of Twitter. Although Mr. Musk has been imprecise about his plans to reshape the social community, he made clear in his deal announcement that free speech was a “bedrock of a functioning democracy.”