Over the weekend, it appeared that former President Donald Trump had finally picked a new social network to use after being kicked off Facebook and Twitter, when mainstream media sites reported that he had posted an update on the far-right network Gab.
But like much of the content posted on Gab, the story was just not true.
Anyone who has spent any time on Gab in recent years would have immediately known that Trump already has an account on the platform — it just wasn’t operated by the former president.
Gab’s CEO Andrew Torba set up the account five years ago, when the platform was just starting out. It was designed to be a placeholder for when Trump eventually decided to join, and in the meantime it acted as a mirror of Trump’s Twitter account, automatically reposting Trump’s tweets and archiving them.
Since Trump’s Twitter account was banned last month, it has been silent, but that changed on Friday when the account suddenly, without warning posted an update.
The post showed a letter from Trump’s lawyers to Rep. Jamie Raskin, calling his attempt to have Trump testify at his own impeachment trial this week “a public relations stunt.”
There was no indication about who had posted the update, and that led many people on Gab — including many of the QAnon influencers who have made the platform their new home in recent weeks — to claim that Trump had finally taken control of his account.
And over the weekend, multiple mainstream media outlets decided to print that speculation as fact, claiming that Trump had suddenly taken charge of the account and was now posting updates between rounds of golf in Florida.
In a message on the site on Sunday, Torba blasted the media for writing the stories without fact-checking them first, but then went on to reveal that he was the one who posted the update Friday, without any warning or explanation.
Torba also said the company had been “transparent” about the purpose of the account from the beginning, but again, this is not entirely accurate.
The @realDonaldTrump account on Gab, which has 1.4 million followers currently has a bio that reads as follows:
“Reserved for the 45th President of the United States of America🇺🇸 This account is an uncensored Twitter archive and shares email statements sent by The Office of Donald J. Trump.“
But on Friday, when the letter was posted, the bio was not so clear:
“45th President of the United States of America. Uncensored posts from the @realDonaldTrump Feed.”
Of course, it’s unsurprising that Torba would want as many people as possible to think that Trump was using his platform.
Gab has grown massively in recent weeks, and on Sunday Torba announced that it had passed 4 million members, up from just over a million 10 months ago.
But for all its growth in recent weeks, Gab is still a minnow compared to the likes of Twitter and Facebook. Landing Trump as a user would immediately propel it onto another level, as the president would likely bring with him tens of millions of loyal supporters who are eager to hear the unfiltered thoughts of the former president.
But standing in the way, apparently, is Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
“The only reason he’s not using [Gab] right now to contact his base is because dopey advisers like Jared Kushner, who lost him the election, are blocking him from using it,” Torba said in a post on his platform on Saturday.
“We will go on the record stating that we know 100% for a fact that Jared Kushner is actively trying to keep Trump off Gab and has been for weeks,” Torba continued. “Because Gab is the only safe place left for conservatives that means Kushner is trying to keep Trump off the internet.”
Both Bloomberg and CNN last month similarly reported that Kushner was advising his father-in-law to stay away from platforms like Gab and Parler in the wake of his social media bans.
Torba said recently in an email sent to members that he was “in the process of connecting with President Trump’s team,” but it’s unclear whether that means he was simply sending emails to some generic email address or having concrete discussions with close advisers to Trump.
Torba did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the details of these discussions.
In a voice memo posted on Gab over the weekend, Torba said he had been dismissed with comments like “maybe or not right now or maybe after the election” when speaking to Trump’s team.
But Gab is not the only one vying for Trump’s attention.
Parler, the right-wing network backed by the Mercer family, which was taken offline because of its links to the planning of the Capitol riots, has also been courting Trump.
On Sunday, Parler’s former CEO John Matze told Axios that the company had been trying to get Trump on board by offering him a 40% stake in the company. The news, first reported by Buzzfeed on Friday, shows just how eager these platforms for Trump’s approval.
The talks with Parler didn’t go very far, and unlike Torba, Matze was not that keen on having Trump as the platform’s main attraction.
“I didn't like the idea of working with Trump because he might have bullied people inside the company to do what he wanted,” Matze said. “But I was worried that if we didn't sign the deal, he might have been vengeful and told his followers to leave Parler.”
Even if Parler gets its website back online, it faces a significant challenge as a result of being banned from both Apple and Google’s app store — a problem also facing Gab.
Based on his almost incessant Twitter use over the last four years, Trump clearly loves the idea of being able to speak unfiltered to his base, and the idea of an uncensored platform like Gab or Parler is likely attractive to the ex-president.
But, for a person who is widely reported to have an aversion to using computers, not having an app might be a fatal flaw for both these platforms.