When Donald Trump rolled out TRUTH Media, his brand new social media platform for deplorables, the clock started ticking on how soon it would crash and burn—like Parler, Gab, and pretty much every right-wing alternative to Twitter.
TRUTH Media got off to a bumpy start when Wall Street investors discovered that they were actually investing in TRUTH Media’s parent company, Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG). Most of TMTG’s funding came from Digital World, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) created with the purpose of acquiring an already-existing private company, thus taking the private company public. The investors in a SPAC don’t often know the identity of their target—and at least one investor has already decided to head for the exits after learning that he was bankrolling Trump.
Trump might have been able to survive that. However, in the last 24 hours, a development has come to light that might be harder for him to weather. It seems that TMTG lifted the code for TRUTH Media without properly crediting the code’s author. And the author is already making noises about taking Trump to court.
TRUTH Media claims to be built on “proprietary” source code. But Gizmodo’s Lucas Ropek noticed that a number of early users of TRUTH Media discovered unmistakable similarities between TRUTH Media’s code and that of the open-source social media platform Mastodon.
According to VICE, one of those early users, Mikael Thalen of The Daily Dot, tweeted a screenshot of a parody Trump account he created. Mastodon’s official Twitter couldn’t help but acknowledge the similarities.
Later, another user tweeted out a screenshot of the raw code, which amounted to a smoking gun.
In and of itself, this isn’t a problem. Mastodon has an extremely lenient open source policy which allows users to modify Mastodon’s code for their own purposes—provided that they give credit to Mastodon and make their forked code available for public inspection. Predictably, Trump and friends didn’t do any of this.
Mastodon founder and lead developer Eugen Rochko told VICE that, based on the screenshots he’s seen floating around social media, TRUTH Social “absolutely is based on Mastodon”—and its claims to be based on proprietary software when it really isn’t would amount to “a license violation.” He even discovered another smoking gun—a 404 page using Mastodon’s mascot.
Rochko told Talking Points Memo that he is seeking legal counsel on the matter. If he does sue, Trump wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Claiming that his site’s code is proprietary despite overwhelming evidence that it isn’t? Did he seriously think no one would sniff this out? Suffice to say that if Rochko does take Trump to court, he could really draw blood.
I initially thought that TRUTH Social would be taken down after its users inevitably threaten violence, leading it to be booted off Apple and Android and effectively rendering it impotent. But it’s possible that something as simple as stolen code could potentially add this to the long list of failed Trump ventures.
Pass the popcorn.
MindMatter mentioned in the comments that Trump could face another potential headache: If the SPAC's investors were told the software was proprietary rather than a Mastodon fork, that's securities fraud.