Conservatives, independent voices build own platforms to counter Big Tech censorship, managed news
Emerging alternative information ecosystem expected to receive big boost with first-quarter launch of former President Trump's Twitter-like platform, Truth Social.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
- Both platforms attacked pro-police comic book project
- Babylon Bee has faced chronic punishment from Facebook
- early security breach
- attacks on Telegram
- Hefty fines, up to $100,000, for public support for "Freedom Convoy"
- GoFundMe pulled campaign to raise money for Kyle Rittenhouse defense
- platform yanked campaigns
- opened his site's services up to Rittenhouse
- Citizen Free Press
- "Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost its Soul"
Conservatives took critics to heart when they said, "build your own platforms," in the wake of digital censorship claims.
Twitter competitors like Gab, Parler and now GETTR offer a "safe space" for those frustrated by the former's inconsistent rules. The video platform Rumble, active since 2013 but experiencing a massive boost over the past year, is a haven for voices like conservative talker Dan Bongino recently silenced by Google-owned YouTube. And GiveSendGo.com lets clients denied access to GoFundMe crowdfund without compromising their values.
Bongino, with ties to both Rumble and Parler, launched AlignPay last year as a competitor to PayPal, "free from the threat of Cancel Culture," as its mission statement declares. Bongino is now working with another alternative payment platform called paralleleconomy.com, a competitor with Stripe.
The wave of alternate platforms, part of an emerging parallel economy, may receive its biggest boost yet with the advent of former President Donald Trump's Truth Social, set to launch in the first quarter of the year, with Feb. 21, Presidents' Day, targeted in an App Store listing. The new, Twitter-like platform will let the banned leader back on social media, likely joined by his considerable base.
Jason Miller, a former Trump aide and CEO of GETTR, calls 2020 the "the worst year for political censorship in U.S. history," citing citizens and news outlets alike punished by social media for sharing the Hunter Biden laptop story and the theory that COVID-19 stemmed from a lab leak in Wuhan, China.
The former proved accurate, while the latter has gained at least equal footing as the most likely explanation for the origin of the pandemic.
"We needed an alternative solution," Miller says of GETTR, which launched last year.
Claims of digital censorship extend across platforms, from major players like Facebook to smaller, but still influential sites like Reddit. Both platforms recently attacked "Thin Blue Line," a pro-police comic book project from Mike Baron, without evidence it broke any existing rules of either platform.
Even right-leaning satire, courtesy of The Babylon Bee, has faced chronic punishment from Facebook for its mock news headlines.
The future for alternative platforms like GETTR is brighter than some suggest, Miller says, despite how entrenched existing platforms are in the culture and an early security breach that brought sour news to its 2021 debut.
"The big tech social media platforms are ceding effectively half of the world for potential clients," he says.
Miller sees the issue in play as a global concern. He says world governments are following Big Tech's lead in censoring free speech, witness the attacks on Telegram, a messaging app, in several countries. The Canadian province of Nova Scotia recently instigated hefty fines, up to $100,000, for anyone publicly voicing support for the "Freedom Convoy," truckers protesting the nation's vaccine mandates.
Miller views Trump's upcoming Truth platform as a lesser threat, embracing the "rising tide lifts all boats" theorem.
"Our market research shows 20-25 percent of Trump supporters quit social media [following his banishment]. His getting active got them off the sidelines," says Miller, adding that his company is plotting new developments including a GETTR Pay service this summer.
The accusations of digital censorship extend beyond social media giants.
Last year, GoFundMe pulled a campaign to raise money for the defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, the now-acquitted Wisconsin shooter. Previously, the platform yanked campaigns on behalf of two Christian-owned businesses that refused service to gay weddings and the six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Three of the officers were later acquitted, and charges were dropped against the rest.
Jacob Wells, cofounder and CFO of GiveSendGo, started his service in 2015, before digital platforms began what many call viewpoint discrimination. The company uses a crowdfunding strategy to both raise funds and meet the spiritual needs of its clients. GiveSendGo grew slowly but consistently over time, but the last few months have seen an "explosive" surge in clients.
Wells, who opened his site's services up to Rittenhouse following his GoFundMe clash, says the pandemic has kicked the censorship wave "into overdrive."
"We put ourselves as the antithesis of GoFundMe," Wells says. "People know we're freedom-oriented."
Various Big Tech companies, including Amazon and Apple, temporarily shuttered Parler early last year following the Jan. 6 riots. They claimed the platform helped spread violent rhetoric that fueled the chaos.
Now, emerging platforms realize they must consider similar attacks on their services moving forward. For GiveSendGo, that means building redundancies into their operational system and bringing as much of the process "in-house" to ensure one particular party can't sabotage their mission.
The Parler cancellation, Wells says, was the "kick in the butt" that sparked that change.
"We have seen Denial of Service attacks, all sorts of attempts to get at us," he says. "It's only made us stronger."
GETTR, meanwhile, reports it is "currently hosted on multiple servers including Amazon Web Services, meaning the platform will stay online, even if one server decides to stop hosting GETTR for political reasons."
The Babylon Bee instituted a subscription service to offset Facebook's "fact checker" attacks on its revenue stream. Several right-leaning news sites, like The Daily Wire and PJ Media, offer similar options to stave off attacks on separate revenue sources.
Alternative platforms are also helping citizens embrace a wider range of news sources.
The Drudge Report once lorded over the media as the right's go-to news aggregator. The mysterious Matt Drudge, who rarely talks to the media or shares his views in public, steered the site leftward during the Trump era.
Enter Off the Press, The Bongino Report, Liberty Daily, Citizens Free Press and Whatfinger News, among others, to fill the void left by Drudge's defection and what many see as the press' left-leaning biases.
Joe Curl, founder of Off the Press and a former Drudge Report editor, says his site is a direct response to that site's ideological drift. His site scours the web for "angles that the mainstream media are trying to scuttle."
The key to new conservative platforms, he says, is to build an audience to "take control away from the liberal, big tech platforms."
That, he notes, won't be easy.
"Sites like GETTR and Rumble will need to grow organically, which takes a while," Curl says. "They won't get any help from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. "But look at Citizen Free Press. That site took upward of four years to catch fire, but now gets 100 million page views or more a month."
Miller says the biggest misconception center-right Americans have about the social media landscape is that Twitter and Facebook will respond to the new competition by easing their current restrictions.
"They're never going back," Miller says, citing a popular quote from his former boss, President Trump.
"If they're willing to do it to me, they're willing to do it to anyone."
Christian Toto is the author of "Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost its Soul."