Will Trump's Truth platform be of any use to Twitter-obsessed billionaires?

The super-rich use social media to destabilise governments, shape financial markets and attack rivals - and this is how they do it

Donald Trump is launching a new social media company, Truth Credit: Getty

When real estate developer Michael Shvo barged into glossy New York restaurant Balthazar on Sunday, he allegedly didn’t bother to consult the hostess when he spotted a free table. A minor tussle ensued but shortly afterwards he was happily choosing which champagne to order. Little did he know that the episode would be later relayed to Balthazar’s powerful British owner, Keith McNally, who went straight on Instagram to tell the world.

Describing it as a “disagreeable incident”, McNally said that Shvo had a reservation, but “rather than waiting to check in at the maitre d stand, [he] walked right past us and sat himself at the best table — booth 60…” Later on he wrote, “I’ll tell you one thing. That fancy F–ker will never be allowed to make a reservation at one of my restaurants again. Never.”

As McNally surely knew it would, this rant made the New York papers - Google either his name or Shvo’s and the incident is in Top Stories. Had this happened two decades ago there are few ways their relatively minor tiff could have spread around the world: now all it takes is a couple of minutes, a pair of fast-typing thumbs and somebody you want to annoy on a global scale.

Kendall and Shiv Roy Credit: Getty

We all know social media is not being used by the rich and powerful in the same way as it is by the rest of us. All the weddings, holidays, gym-honed bodies and #blessed posts that fill our feeds are replaced by Tweets that can destabilise governments, shape financial markets and ruin careers. Or, in the case of Donald Trump - who last week launched his own social media company - it is a megaphone to speak to the American people, and one that eventually gets you banned from every mainstream platform. 

“A good example of how powerful people operate on social media is Elon Musk,” says Tony McChrystal, the UK head of Reputation Defender, a company that cleanses the Twitter feeds of the rich and famous. “I do this for a living, and even I find it incredible that his Tweets can add or wipe off billions from his own company. Not to mention the influence he has over cryptocurrency. He can decimate a market overnight by typing one sentence into his phone. What must it feel like to have that kind of power at your fingertips?”

Although the Balthazar rant happened on Instagram, Twitter is the place where billionaire in-fighting tends to take place - or in the case of Musk, Tweets about Bitcoin that wipe out people’s savings. The latest season of Succession shows just how high these stakes can be if you’re in the public eye. 

More than in the newspapers or around the boardroom tables, it is on Twitter that the judgement of the Roy siblings and their father really takes place. Knowing this, Kendall Roy asks cousin Greg to take his temperature online and then - overwhelmed by the information and the realisation that even the Pope might be following his Twitter account - he hires two social media consultants (and promptly talks over both of them).

Truth Social was announced by Donald Trump last week Credit: Getty

In another scene, Kendall sits in the back of a limo playing ‘Good Tweet, Bad Tweet’ with his entourage, and cheering to an array of both relatively kind and then cruel analyses of his character. Despite the fact he is drinking champagne and being chauffeured around New York - and his detractors on Twitter most likely aren’t - it is difficult not to feel slightly sorry for him in that moment. 

“It can actually be quite heartbreaking,” says Fiona, 36, the former PA to a London-based billionaire. “I controlled [my boss’s] Twitter account before we outsourced it to a specialist company and sometimes I’d have to go into his office and read a selection of Tweets about him. He’d tell me to pick a cross-section but however rich you are, nobody wants to hear a really mean takedown of themselves, so I’d edit it as much as I could.”

Corporate CEOs and other members of the elite are unlikely to control their own social media accounts, hence their feeds often sounding so bland. That’s why people in the public eye often need a second 'secret' account set to private. 

According to royal biographers Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, Prince Harry once had a secret Instagram account with the username @SpikeyMau5. The username is a reference to his Facebook alias, Spike Wells, as well as his favourite DJ, Deadmau5. Unlike the official SussexRoyal accounts he shares with Meghan - for which every photo or piece of content will be vetted before it goes online - he was free to post what he pleased when using it. 

Restaurateur Keith McNally has started an Instagram feud with Michael Shvo (right, with his wife Seren Shvo) Credit: Getty

“Although can you ever really trust your friends, even if your account is on private?” asks McChrystal. “I think there needs to be at least four eyes on anything even remotely controversial before it goes live. Social media and particularly Twitter is used as a search engine these days, so our job is to help the elite control their own narrative. That means showing them when to engage after a crisis and when to drop it and go silent. Which stories to promote and explain, and which to stay quiet about.”

McChrystal clearly wasn’t around during the Balthazar furore as he would have advised both parties to keep schtum. “When you’re in the eye of the storm - particularly on Twitter where the abuse can feel out of control - it’s tempting to keep trying to put things right,” he says. “But I always advise our clients not to engage straight away as emotional responses generate more negative news and once it's out there you can’t take it back. The rest of us can delete a post we later regret, but if you’re rich and powerful, it’ll have been screenshotted the moment it’s live.”

A good example of somebody who likes to rage-Tweet with no real thought to the consequences is Donald Trump. Social media played a pivotal role in Trump's bid for the White House and was his favourite means of communication as president. Some of his choice Tweets about the legality of the most recent election and the storming of the Capitol eventually got him banned from Twitter as well as from Instagram, Facebook, Reddit and SnapChat. Ironically - after Trump spent months trying to shut down TikTok - it was for a while the only platform left open to him, until they too said they would ban him should he try to join. 

Elon Musk can crash markets on Twitter Credit: Getty

Now, Trump wants his megaphone back. To do so, he has set up a new platform, Truth, which he said would "stand up to the tyranny of big tech". Although the likelihood of him getting anywhere near the same level of attention as he did on the mainstream platforms seems remote. The truth is that if he really wants to be heard in 2021, he needs Silicon Valley to let him back on social media – and that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. 

Perhaps he should take note of the research done by Sarah Stanley Fallaw - an author and president of Data LLC who has concluded that while the average American spends 14 hours a week on social media, multi-millionaires spend under 3 hours a week on it. Yes, they probably have better things to do - but the entire exercise no doubt becomes less fun when newspapers are waiting to report on your every move and a team is waiting to triple check every picture you upload to Instagram. 

As Keith McNally has clearly realised. On Tuesday the restaurateur posted that he was taking a month off Instagram but that he would be back soon – and “with a vengeance”. And perhaps with a new social media team in place...