The most recent former president’s new social media platform — goofily called The Truth Social — would appear to be sourced from derivative code that could potentially get him sued.
Fresh off his last failed business venture as 45th leader of the free world, Donald Trump has now wandered into his next act: tech mogul. After getting kicked off of Twitter, Facebook, and other major social media sites, the Don recently announced the launch of his own platform — a place where MAGA sensibilities can reign supreme, whatever that might entail.
Much has already been written about the fact that Truth Social is basically a reincarnation of Trump’s first love: Twitter. On it, you can post “Truths” (aka tweets), “Re-Truths” (retweets), and there’s also a “Truth Feed” (Twitter feed). Since Trump’s modus operandi has classically been to take something that somebody else already did, stamp his big, fat, bolded name on it, promise it’s going to be better, and then make it worse, this is pretty much par for the course.
However, it would appear that Trump’s new site is not only unoriginal in concept but also in code. As originally reported by Vice News, Truth Social seems to have lifted its digital DNA directly from Mastodon, the open-source alternative social network known for its focus on user privacy and autonomy.
Similarities in the code were first spotted by early users of the platform. Some visitors noted the similarities in front-end appearance between Truth Social and Mastodon, and one user even took a screenshot of the HTML of Trump’s new site which shows explicit mention of Mastodon in the code. The social network had fun with this, tweeting out a reference to the similarities:
Think of it this way, if *he* manages to use Mastodon, you have no excuse saying it's too complicated
— Mastodon ???? (@joinmastodon) October 21, 2021
It isn’t all that unusual for other organisations to use Mastodon’s code, because its open-source policy is one of the coolest aspects of its platform. Users can create a software “fork,” essentially a modified version of the company’s code for their own purposes, so long as they abide by certain legally mandated stipulations in Mastodon’s terms of service. Somewhat predictably, Truth Social appears to have snatched the code but failed to abide by the associated terms.
In short, Mastodon leases its software under something called an AGPLv3 licence, which stipulates that any entity that wishes to use or modify its code make it public. In other words, users basically have to acknowledge where the original code came from and make the copied or modified code available for public inspection. However, in its terms of service, Truth Social claims that “all source code” from its software is proprietary, essentially failing to mention that it lifted it from somewhere else.
Speaking with Vice, Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko said that Truth Social’s platform appeared to be “absolutely” based on Mastodon’s code and that it would “indicate a licence violation.” Rochko subsequently told Talking Points Memo that his team would lawyer up to consider the potential breach of terms.
“I do intend to seek legal counsel on the situation,” he told the outlet. “Compliance with our AGPLv3 licence is very important to me, as that is the sole basis upon which I and other developers are willing to give away years of work for free,” he added.
When reached via email, Rochko repeated much of the same to Gizmodo. “I believe that as of this time Truth Social indeed seems to be using Mastodon code. If you look at these screenshots and compare them to any standard Mastodon installation it will be pretty obvious,” he said, of the posts on Twitter. We reached out to the Trump Media & Technology Group (the owner of Truth Social) for clarification on the whole situation and will update this post if they respond.
As you can see, Trump’s new site’s front-end user experience does look quite a lot like Mastodon’s platform:
hey uh pic.twitter.com/yS9IBhAFYz
— metal dot hex (@metaltxt) October 21, 2021
Trump taking something that was offered freely, exploiting it, and then failing to give credit for where it came from would sort of seem to be the most Trump move ever. I guess we will have to wait to see if Truth Social sprouts wings and becomes some new, seething hub for online horribleness — or whether the site will be strangled out of the gate by various controversies, like a potential lawsuit from its digital progenitor.