Why tech experts are skeptical about plans for a Trump social network

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After being banned by most large social networks in January, former President Donald Trump is planning a dramatic return to social media. According to his close advisers, the former president is on the verge of launching a Trump-branded social network to compete with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the former president, remarked on the Fox News program  #MediaBuzz that Mr. Trump is holding “high-powered meetings” with “numerous companies” to build a social network for “tens of millions of people.” Another Trump adviser, Corey Lewandowski, told Newsmax host Joe Pinion that the Trump social media site will launch in “three to four months” and will be a place for people to “communicate in a free format without fear of reprisal or being canceled.” 

Miller and Lewandowski did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

While in office, Mr. Trump often complained, without evidence, about alleged censorship by technology firms. As his false claims about voter fraud escalated during the 2020 presidential campaign, the large social networks started attaching fact-check labels to his posts.

“The choices that Twitter makes when it chooses to suppress, edit, blacklist, shadow, ban are editorial decisions, pure and simple,” Mr. Trump said last May, after signing an executive order calling for revisions to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the regulation that shields tech platforms from liability for user-generated content. 

But is it possible for the Trump team to develop a technologically robust and secure new social media platform in less than a year?

CBS News spoke with developers, engineers, project managers and executives. Each shared unique insights about the technical, logistical, economic and human challenges the Trump effort — or any new startup — faces in trying to compete with tech incumbents.

Most said yes, Mr. Trump can set up a good-looking, functional social media site. But they saw definite limits.

“The bar is gonna be sooooo low for those users,” said one former Google community manager. “It’ll be like Trump’s personalized OnlyFans, the exclusive place to get access to his special brand. He’ll have no pressure to monetize, except for political fundraising. He won’t worry about investors or an IPO. Doubtful he’ll worry about content moderation, and bots are gonna be plentiful. The brand value of that is significant.”

But can Mr. Trump attract top-tier tech talent who will maintain, grow and secure the site? 

“Will it scale? Doubt it,” he said.

Here’s why the experts say Trump tech might be buggy.

Technology

Each expert said the Trump team can probably build a new social network in less than a year because programming a social media site is relatively simple. Most of the front-end website and mobile app code that users interact with — languages like C++, Python, JavaScript, PHP and Swift, for example — is free and reasonably easy to learn.

“Anyone can, and should, learn to code,” said Bryson Bort, CEO of cybersecurity firm Scythe. “But not being able to use cloud infrastructure is going to be a real problem — cloud providers have earned their reputation with scalable technical expertise, not just words. Cloud services provide a good measure of service continuity and performance. There is a lot built into a cloud service, as opposed to the DIY approach of building your own server farm.” 


Trump returns to public speaking

10:59

One tech executive, who chose not to share his name because he didn’t want his comments to be perceived as partisan, said that Mr. Trump’s biggest challenge will be developing technological infrastructure. The large social networks, he said, are not just websites and apps. “These companies are innovators that develop, test and deploy new technologies. Some tech companies are worth billions of dollars because they innovated and can attract millions of users. Trump can attract his base, but he can’t innovate in the same way. He will literally have to rely on tech built by other companies.”

While Mr. Trump could use second-tier hosting providers, like SkySilk, the firm that provides hosting for the alternative social network Parler, his capacity to host “tens of millions of users” will be limited. 

“He might try with Cloudflare,” said another tech executive, referring to the ubiquitous hosting company, “but it’s doubtful they will do much more than provide hosting.”

Cloudflare did not respond to a request for comment.

A third executive speculated that of the major cloud service providers, “only Oracle could be politically aligned to service his needs. Once that is done, then he has to worry about building the software that is consumer-friendly and without any privacy and security bugs, which unfortunately takes an experienced team.”

Talent

“Trump’s team is following the right hunch,” said Amy Webb, CEO of the Future Today Institute. “There is a new paradigm in how social networks will be built, deployed and moderated. But kludging together a Twitter clone to win back the attention he commanded won’t be successful or sustainable. If they were intent on building a long-lasting network that is obsessively user-focused, then they need to anticipate the future use cases for social media.” 

Every tech expert who commented for this story remarked that scaling a new technology is hard, but it’s far easier than acquiring and retaining top tech talent. Each warned about underestimating the scale of big tech, an industry that is populated by thousands of the word’s best engineers.

“Human problems are harder than tech problems,” said one executive. “Look, no matter what you feel about Trump’s politics, his policies — especially regarding H1B visas, which our industry relies on — his immigration policies pretty much cut off his access to top tech talent. You want cut-rate programmers? You can find cheap development talent. And you’ll get a product to match.”


Trump expands immigration restrictions

01:51

Even programmers who agree with Mr. Trump’s politics would be loath to give up real money for a “fake website,” said one programmer who spent time at a startup currently exploring an IPO.

Several questioned Mr. Trump’s ability to delegate responsibility and focus, and noted that a competitive technology site needs a knowledgeable leadership team including a chief technology officer and chief information and security officer.

Security

A Trump site is going to get hacked, said Bryson Bort. 

“It’s likely that a social media network backed by Trump would be a plum target for a whole list of attackers, from other countries to hacktivists just trying to take it down with denial of service attacks,” Bort said. “The more the Trump team tries to go this on their own instead of using industry-leading best practices, the more likely they’re going to get hacked.”


GOP focuses on “election integrity” message

07:11

A security professional at Microsoft predicted Mr. Trump will have big problems attracting cybersecurity professionals because he burned bridges in the industry.

“Few people in the [information security] industry have more credibility than Krebs,” remarked the manager, referring to Chris Krebs, a lifelong Republican who was in charge of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency until President Trump fired him for disputing the false claim that the election was stolen. 

“If you can’t trust Chris, who will you trust?” the manager said.

Tech is a bit like politics, said the former Google manager who worked on Google+, the company’s social network that was shuttered in 2019. “Incumbents are hard to beat. We were overconfident and thought we’d beat Facebook because Google invested gobs of resources. But no one associated us with social media, while Facebook was the market leader. Facebook won because social media is what they do.”

When asked if a Trump social network could compete in a crowded consumer technology market, the manager responded, “lol.”



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