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Gawker redux? Thiel-funded Rumble joins Musk in suing speech police for driving away advertisers

Rumble and X among few platforms safe for sharing viewpoints at odds with elite orthodoxy, from Dublin riots after stabbing of children to New York City's odd COVID statistics.

Published: December 2, 2023 11:29pm

Tech billionaire Peter Thiel drove Gawker into bankruptcy by funding an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the tabloid news site by Terry Bollea, known as former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose sex tape Gawker published.

Gawker's defenders alleged Thiel's involvement was "payback" for having outed him as gay several years before. 

"It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence,” he said in 2016 in his first interview after his identity was revealed. “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”

Roughly seven years later, speech-policing watchdogs that aim to starve less-moderated tech platforms of advertising revenue are facing a similar threat from Elon Musk's X, formerly Twitter, and now Rumble. 

The alternative to YouTube sued the founders of Check My Ads and unnamed individuals in federal court Wednesday, alleging a "hypocritical disinformation campaign to censor, silence, and cancel speech by spreading false, materially misleading, and defamatory statements." 

Founders Nandini Jammi and Claire Atkin also committed "tortious conduct to convince advertisers to withdraw ad spends" from Rumble because it hosts "content creators who espouse views contrary to Defendants’ hyper-partisan sensibilities," Rumble's suit says.

Last month Musk followed through on his pledge to go "thermonuclear" on Media Matters for America after the watchdog claimed X had placed ads for major brands including Apple "next to pro-Nazi content," which X called "inorganic" results that followed MMFA's deliberate and undisclosed manipulation of its algorithms.

Jammi previously laughed off the threat of litigation against Check My Ads from "spaceboi" Musk, another one of its targets, after the SpaceX founder threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League for driving away advertisers by defaming him and X as antisemitic.

Rumble lost nearly $185 million in market capitalization within a week of an Oct. 24 post on Check My Ads that falsely claimed Rumble was "heavily dependent" on Google Ads for its revenue, according to the suit. It also had to spend "tens of thousands of dollars on outside legal counsel and public relations firms."

The Oct. 24 post additionally noted that Thiel had invested in Rumble two years earlier, which The Wall Street Journal reported was Thiel's first social-media investment since Facebook. Rumble didn't answer queries on whether it's getting outside legal funding from Thiel or others.

A month earlier, Check My Ads published a guide on how advertisers can block "the internet’s most toxic platform," citing Rumble's refusal to demonetize actor and podcast host Russell Brand in the wake of sexual assault allegations he has denied. It had already lost some advertisers over that decision.

In sharing the guide, Jammi cited the "fact" that Rumble is "largely monetized through Google Video Partners.” She accused Google of "criminal behavior" for allegedly making Rumble "viable," and Jammi has described her efforts as "demonetizing Rumble." 

Disinformation cops aren't Rumble's only threat.

New York Attorney General Letitia James demanded platforms explain how they were removing "calls for violence against Muslim and Jewish people and institutions" after the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.

James backed off for Rumble after its lawyers at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression said her demands violated a court's injunction against the state's "hateful conduct" law. 

FIRE criticized X for its "strategic lawsuit against public participation" against MMFA in an unrelated Texas jurisdiction, demonstrating "the need for a federal anti-SLAPP [Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation] statute." (It's not representing Rumble in the new lawsuit, which was filed in Rumble's own Florida jurisdiction.)

Though Rumble didn't name MMFA as a defendant, it claims the organization "worked directly" with the defendants on their "concerted disinformation campaign."

It's seeking the identities of up to 10 "unidentified employees of Check My Ads, Media Matters for America, and/or the Dewey Square Group," a public affairs firm that Rumble claims was paid to perform a "non-public" analysis that formed the basis of the Google Ads claims.

Rumble became a target by bucking the trend of Big Tech caving to the "Sleeping Giants-Media Matters playbook," referring to Jammi's previous firm, and building its own infrastructure, including an ad network, "to avoid dependencies on third parties for critical services whenever possible."

Jammi and Atkin have "repeatedly peddled the false narrative" that Rumble has lied to shareholders and the SEC about its financial health and ad revenue sources, the suit says. While Jammi called its business a "house of cards" built on Google Ads, Rumble says it gets less than 1% of its revenue from Google Ads.

The defendants committed "actual malice," the standard that public figures must meet to demonstrate defamation, through "reckless disregard of the truth," the suit says: Rumble's public securities filings going back a year.

It got 45% of its revenue from "Google Ads and another external advertising network" in the second quarter of 2022, a figure that fell to 19% the next quarter and just 9% for Google Ads alone.

Jammi herself acknowledged her false claims, according to Rumble, when the company shared the figures with her on X a year ago. "Y’all are surprisingly into facts for a company that exists just to stream conspiracy theorists who’ve been kicked off YouTube," she posted.

Jammi, Atkin and Check My Ads did not respond to Just the News queries.

X and Rumble are crucial platforms for the sharing of viewpoints at odds with elite political and medical opinion but also primary sources of media that challenge government narratives.

Irish Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said a detective told her X was the only platform to refuse police requests to remove "vile posts" from the Nov. 23 Dublin riots that she claimed violate X's own community standards. 

The riots followed the stabbing of children near an elementary school, which an Irish politician claimed was committed by an Algerian immigrant, though police asked the public not to spread  "misinformation and rumor" about the investigation. 

The Guardian reported the anger was spurred by the perception of unchecked and unvetted immigration, and Irish authorities confirmed they were investigating "Irish Lives Matter" graffiti as a hate crime.

YouTube inexplicably removed an interview minutes after it went up Thursday night with COVID-19 policy critic Jessica Hockett, she told Just the News on Friday. 

The educational consultant went by "Emma Woodhouse" online when pre-Musk Twitter briefly banned her for challenging pediatricians who claim COVID infection is "far riskier" to children than vaccines.

Thursday's "Housatonic" program remains live on Rumble, in which Hockett discussed her public-records crusade to probe the veracity of New York City's official COVID tallies in spring 2020. 

Among her findings: the city's hospitals were busier in the 2017-2018 flu season than "at any point between lockdown orders" and January 2022, when the more infectious but milder Omicron strain blew through vaccinations. (Bill Gates, a major funder of vaccines, called Omicron "a kind of vaccine.")

YouTube parent Google didn't answer Just the News queries for an explanation of the video's removal.

Norton Antivirus also inexplicably marked as "dangerous" the domain name Woodhouse purchased to redirect to her Substack newsletter, she told Just the News. When she complained, Norton upgraded the rating to "caution." 

"Why is Norton in the business of evaluating content on Substack?" she asked rhetorically. Norton owner Gen didn't answer queries.