The most recent former president’s new social media platform—goofily called 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, who noted front-end similarities between it and Mastodon. One user even took a screenshot of the HTML of Trump’s new site which shows explicit mention of Mastodon in the code. Mastodon subsequently had fun with this, tweeting out a reference to Trump’s apparent familiarity with their platform:
Actually, it isn’t all that unusual for other organizations to use Mastodon’s code, because it has a generous open-source policy. 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 its terms.
Mastodon leases its software under something called an AGPLv3 license, which basically stipulates that users can use its code so long as they acknowledge where it came from and make the copied or modified code available for public inspection. However, in its own 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 license 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 license 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, the front-end of Trump’s new site looks quite similar to Mastodon:
Trump taking something that was offered freely, exploiting it, and then failing to give due credit sorta seems like 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.