WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – Former President Donald Trump declared Wednesday (Oct 21) evening that he would start a “media powerhouse.”
Its flagship operation would be Truth Social, a Twitter-like social network that would “stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” he said in a statement.
Within two hours, hackers had gained access to a private version of the social network, creating fake accounts for Trump; far-right personality Steve Bannon; Ron Watkins, a QAnon conspiracy theorist; and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who barred Trump from Twitter after his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan 6.
Using a false “donaldjtrump” account, hackers posted images of defecating pigs, wrote expletive-laced rants aimed at Dorsey and inquired about the whereabouts of former first lady Melania Trump. Images of the hackers’ handiwork were circulated on other social media platforms.
In interviews Thursday, the hackers, who are affiliated with Anonymous, a loose hacking collective, said the effort was part of their “online war against hate.”
After a several-year hiatus, Anonymous has reemerged as a digital force against the far right. The collective recently took down a Texas Republican website after the passage of an anti-abortion bill, replacing the site with a Planned Parenthood fundraiser.
And last month, Anonymous was behind a breach of Epik, an internet-services company popular with the far right, dumping 220 gigabytes of data, including personal details of its customers.
In exposing the innards of Truth Social before its launch, hackers demonstrated that Trump’s soon-to-be-released social network had lax safeguards and left open the ability to spoof anyone, including the former president.
Trump had revealed the social network in an online presentation Wednesday as part of Trump Media and Technology Group, which aims to take on big social media platforms. A representative for the Trump media company did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“We had a fun time trolling it to high heaven,” Aubrey Cottle, a hacker affiliated with Anonymous who goes by the alias Kirtaner, said in an interview.
A Truth Social app was made available for “preorder” on Apple’s App Store on Wednesday, inviting anyone interested to join a waiting list for its release.
The digital crumbs from that post, Cottle said, were enough for him and other Anonymous hackers to gain access to the prerelease version of the app.
Once inside, Cottle said, hackers posted memes from spoofed accounts for Trump, former vice-president Mike Pence and other prominent figures.
The activity forced the Trump Media & Technology Group’s app developers to bar new accounts and eventually shutter the development platform. (The New York Times viewed screenshots backing up hackers’ claims.) The breach and its aftermath did not stop shares of Trump’s SPAC company, Digital World Acquisition, from surging as much as 400 per cent to US$52 (S$70) per share on Thursday, after Wednesday’s news of the merger that would launch Trump’s social media platform.