On Wednesday, former president Donald Trump revealed the Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), a “non-cancelable” media company to “rival the liberal media consortium.” It’s pitched for an audience of conservatives like Trump, who’s been banned from Twitter and Facebook after his followers attacked the Capitol on January 6.
Some parts of TMTG’s pitch, like TMTG News (essentially a Trump news network), which aims to compete with CNN, have been rumoured for years. Other parts, like Truth Social, a more conservative competitor to Twitter and Facebook, have been attempted several times recently, as we’ve seen with GETTR and Parler.
But TMTG’s ambitions are even greater, and aim to build what it pitches as an alternative, more conservative-friendly internet infrastructure. In one slide diagraming TMTG’s “Corporate Competitive Structure,” TMTG’s pitch deck explains that it has the “long-term opportunity” to build a “TMTG Tech Stack” that would compete with Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft’s Azure (three of the biggest cloud computing companies in the world), and Stripe, a payment processor and financial services company.
This part of the pitch is grayed out, suggesting that the Trump tech stack is a more ambitious, down-the-road goal for TMTG, after it has successfully conquered near-monopolistic competitors like Facebook and Netflix. But including Trump-friendly alternatives to cloud computing companies and payment processors in the pitch reveals the perceived existential threat many conservatives and Trump specifically think they are facing online.
Big technology companies have drawn some lines in the sand, banning extreme far-right content and misinformation. AWS, which hosts and provides various services to many websites and internet services, cut off Parler in January. Gab, which is also mentioned in the pitch deck as an audience that TMTG can attract, was similarly cut off from GoDaddy and PayPal. If you want to espouse these views, post about them on social media, build websites and social media platforms that encourage them, and monetize these views by processing payments online, you’re essentially going to have to build an alternative internet infrastructure which exists outside the control of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google.
Or at least, that’s what TMTG is hoping investors will believe (it’s being directly listed on the NASDAQ exchange using a SPAC, a merger that allows a company to skip the normal IPO process that has been used by legitimate companies as well as some that are seemingly just looking for quick investment). The reality is that Facebook, by far the largest social media platform, is still dominated by conservative news, and allows extremist views and misinformation to run wild. If you want to go to Donald Trump’s website and give him $40 for a MAGA hat, you can still do that. Gab is still online. Parler is back in the App Store.
What’s unclear for now is how serious any of this actually is. Trump has launched a lot of enterprises, and many of them have failed catastrophically. Building any single part of TMTG is a difficult task even for a well-funded, competent startup. Then, of course, there is the question of whether TMTG could even take on these giants. Part of the reason companies like Facebook and Amazon are so dominant is that they require massive investment and technical expertise. These companies have spent decades building data centers across the globe. They lay internet cables at the bottom of the ocean, connecting continents. It’s not as easy as launching an app, which in itself is not easy at all. Just ask previous conservative social media platforms like Parler and GETTR, all of which have suffered from hacks and technical failures that rendered them useless.
Our feeble anti-trust regulations have made it almost impossible for any company to compete with the tech giants that conservatives imagine are stifling them. Is there an audience for a conservative internet infrastructure? Maybe. TMTG’s own pitch deck cites a survey which says that only a third of Americans would use a social media platform backed by Trump. Can anyone actually raise the capital, expertise, and institutional power it would take to meaningfully compete with these tech giants? TMTG would be the first.