The newest problem for Trump’s Truth Social app is Elon Musk

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Truth Social is slow and clunky. Its audience participation remains low. Two top executives have left. And the merger that could bring $1.3 billion in desperately needed cash to former U.S. President Donald Trump’s social media project seems far from completion.

And now Truth Social’s very reason for being appears under threat.

Elon Musk’s plan for a potential hostile takeover of Twitter is the latest challenge for Trump Media & Technology Group’s flagship Truth Social app, which Trump has positioned as Twitter’s freewheeling conservative counterpart.

Musk said Thursday he had obtained $46.5 billion in financing for his takeover bid and has suggested he would loosen Twitter moderation policies that he has chafed under — and that famously led the service to ban Trump for inciting violence over the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Although Musk has not said if he would allow Trump to return to the platform if his bid succeeded, his ideas for easing Twitter’s rules would further sap the appeal of Trump’s beleaguered startup as it faces a regulatory investigation that could decide its future.

Karen Freberg, a professor of strategic communications at the University of Louisville, said Truth Social might have missed its chance.

“Had Truth Social had everything up and running, it could have brought people in and had potential time to grow the platform,” she said. “What’s happening with Twitter is that it’s gotten the media attention and spotlight, and Elon Musk is now utilizing his influence.”

Trump Media declined to comment on Musk’s Twitter bid. Liz Harrington, a spokesperson for Trump, pointed to a recent interview with Americano Media in which Trump said he “probably wouldn’t rejoin Twitter if he could.”

Trump Media and Truth Social were facing significant challenges even without a competitor that could become more alluring to its prospective user base.

The clock is ticking on Trump Media’s planned merger with Digital World Acquisition, a cash-rich blank-check company that raised nearly $300 million in an initial public offering. If the companies do not complete their merger by Sept. 8 or agree to extend the deadline, Trump Media is in danger of losing out on that money. More significant, investors in a $1 billion private placement to support the merger can pull out if the deal is not completed by Sept. 20.

Five months is precious little time to complete the merger while also dealing with an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the regulator that must sign off on the deal.

Digital World disclosed the investigation just a few weeks after announcing the merger plans in October. The regulator is looking into unusual trading activity in the company’s shares before the announcement and seeking information about potential communications between representatives of the two companies before Digital World, a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, went public in September.

The SEC has requested numerous emails and text messages from individuals involved in the merger talks, said two people briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak publicly.

The investigation has fueled growing skepticism about the deal’s prospects. Kerrisdale Capital, a prominent short-selling hedge fund — a firm that specializes in betting on a stock’s decline — on Wednesday issued a 27-page report that predicted the SEC would never sign off on the deal.

Investor enthusiasm has also dampened: Shares of Digital World fell 17% this week, even after an 8% rally Friday. The stock closed at $41, still less than half its $97.54 peak on March 4.

Digital World CEO Patrick Orlando did not respond to requests for comment. Digital World’s annual report, filed last week, did not mention the SEC investigation and provided little information on the status of the merger.

Some investors in the private placement — which mainly included hedge funds and wealthy individuals — are increasingly frustrated at the lack of information about when the deal could close, said three people briefed on the matter who did not want to speak publicly because the deal was still pending. Seeking more information, some investors have reached out to representatives for the two companies and bankers involved in the deal, but none was provided, the people said.

The merger has moved slowly since it was announced six months ago. That’s about the average length of time that SPACs such as Digital World are taking to go from an announcement to a completed merger this year, according to Dealogic, a deal tracking service.

Two top tech executives working on Truth Social, Josh Adams and Billy Boozer, left the company last month, Reuters first reported. Both were said to be dissatisfied with elements of the technology behind the platform, according to five people briefed on the matter. Neither responded to repeated request for comment.

Their departures add to the mystery of the company’s internal operations.

In a November presentation for investors, Trump Media provided the full names for only a handful of employees. Adams, the chief technology officer, and Boozer, the chief product officer, were described by their titles and as “Josh A.” and “Billy B.” The company’s chief financial officer, Phillip Juhan, was not identified at all.

Juhan and Devin Nunes, a former California Republican congressman hired by Trump in December to serve as Trump Media’s CEO, are listed as directors on a filing in Georgia, where Trump Media incorporated itself last month. Trump Media is also incorporated in Delaware but has listed Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida as its corporate headquarters.

Nunes has refused numerous interview requests.

On Fox Business Network’s “Mornings With Maria” this month, he told host Maria Bartiromo that Twitter was a “ghost town.”

Twitter, he said, “desperately” needed Musk.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2022 The New York Times Company

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