Truth Social, the free speech platform Trump desperately hopes will make his booting from Facebook and Twitter feel like a distant memory, hasn’t even launched just yet. But there’s been a small raft of controversy floating down the proverbial social feed of the platform, starting with the SPAC used to fund the venture. And now there are reports that the actual source code of Trump’s social media network is already breaking the rules.
As The Verge detailed on Friday, internet regulators aren’t happy with Trump’s platform because it seems to have directly violated licensing agreements in order to make the site exist in the first place. To put it plainly: it seems much of what makes Truth Social even work has been taken from a software called Mastodon, a free open-source platform that’s seen some use among far-right free speech seekers. But in this case, Trump’s site seems to be calling it proprietary. Which doesn’t sit well with people who are in charge of making sure users actually follow the rules.
The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) says former President Donald Trump’s new social network violated a free and open-source software licensing agreement by ripping off decentralized social network Mastodon. The Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG) has 30 days to comply with the terms of the license before its access is terminated — forcing it to rebuild the platform or face legal action.
If Truth Social fails to make the source code available, the SFC could sue it for violating the terms of the license it used. Earlier this year, the group sued electronics maker Vizio for “repeated failures to fulfill even the basic requirements” of free software licensing. “We will be following this issue very closely and demanding that Trump’s Group give the corresponding source to all who use the site,” Kuhn writes.
And Vice reported earlier in the week that Mastodon’s founder isn’t happy with Trump or Truth Social, either. In fact, he claims the site appears at first glance to be an exact clone of his own work. That’s based on screenshots he’s seen of people who have managed to set up accounts on the site well before it’s even launched. In some cases, mentions of Mastodon and the company’s logo actually have appeared in places.
“Based on the screenshots I have seen, it absolutely is based on Mastodon,” Eugen Rochko, founder and lead developer of Mastodon told Motherboard in an email. He pointed to one screenshot of Truth Social’s error message, which is using the default Mastodon elephant mascot.
“The main thing is that Mastodon is free software, released under the AGPLv3 license, so anyone can use it—provided they comply with the license. The main part of the license is making the source code and any modifications to it available to the public,” Rochko told Motherboard. With Truth Social saying that its code is proprietary “that would be a problem, as that would indicate a license violation,” Rochko added.
In other words, Trump claiming the free software as his own is a violation of its rules. But if we know anything about Trump at this point, he tends to think the rules don’t apply to him very often. Whether this fight over software ends up in court is uncertain right now, but it’s clear that despite all that money he’s raised, Truth Social hasn’t done much but give Trump more bad attention in its early days.