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January Storm: Big tech escalates crackdown on conservatives, fueling scramble for alternatives

Social media, service companies blacklist Trump, conservative outlets in wake of Capitol riot.

Updated: January 16, 2021 - 11:03am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

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The tech industry's ongoing crackdown on both President Trump and conservatives more broadly has sent the American right scrambling for tech alternatives in social media, financial services and other industries that have become critical for doing business in the 21st century economy. 

The quasi-purge began in earnest late last week when on Thursday Facebook said it was banning Trump from the platform "indefinitely," due to what CEO Mark Zuckerberg said was Trump's alleged intent "to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor."

The following day, Twitter announced it had permanently banned Trump from its servers due to what it claimed was Trump's ongoing potential to incite violence among his supporters. 

Twitter at the time also banned the accounts of Trump supporters Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, citing their sharing of conspiracy theories on their feeds. 

Twitter's ban of a sitting U.S. president sent shockwaves throughout the political and tech spheres. The crackdown continued in the following days, with a wide variety of social media companies — including TikTok and Snapchat — booting Trump's presence off their servers.

The digital marketing company Salesforce reportedly refused to continue managing email lists for the Trump campaign. Financial service company Stripe also terminated its processing services for the Trump campaign, according to media reports. Shopify said it would no longer allow official Trump stores to sell merchandise on its digital storefronts. 

The rolling purge was not aimed merely at President Trump. Amid reports that the president was planning on launching an account with Twitter's closest competitor, Parler, tech companies Apple and Google quickly announced that Parler would be banned for download from their respective software sharing platforms, citing Parler's alleged failure to police violent content among its users.

Shortly thereafter, Amazon declared that it was booting Parler from its servers for the same reason, effectively shuttering the website at least temporarily. 

The gun website AR15.com, meanwhile, announced that it had been banned from using the servers of web hosting service GoDaddy. The registrar told media that the gun website "both promotes and encourages violence," though the site's owner claims that GoDaddy has offered no clear explanation for those alleged policy violations.

And the Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo this week said it had parted ways with PayPal over PayPal's allegedly having requested that GiveSendGo censor several campaigns on its site. Media reports had claimed that PayPal had initiated the split, but GiveSendGo founder Jacob Wells told Just the News that his company had broken off the business relationship after the censorship request. 

Companies look for alternative platforms, infrastructure

Companies that ceased their business relationships with Trump and other conservatives in the past week did not respond to queries from Just the News regarding their reasons for doing so.

The ongoing purge, meanwhile, has accelerated an already-burgeoning search on the part of conservatives for web services and infrastructure outside of the control of major tech corporations that are run and staffed largely by progressives or those sympathetic to them. 

Jacob Wells with GiveSendGo told Just the News that, in the wake of its split from PayPal, his company has "created and [is] using alternative payment solutions for our platform."

Wells admitted that PayPal "represented a very small portion of payment processing and will not affect our business at all," but that the company is still "building/adding new payment solutions that will be our own so we do not encounter issues like this in the future." Wells declined to specify just what payment systems the site is currently developing. 

With thousands of small outfits dependent upon a small number of technology companies that wield considerable power in deciding who does business in modern America, numerous companies may, in the weeks ahead, be impelled to follow GiveSendGo's lead in developing their own professional infrastructure to avoid potentially devastating blacklists. 

Parler did not respond to a request to interview its CEO, John Matze. But following his company's ouster from Amazon's servers, Matze indicated that the upstart social media company is relying in part on its own in-house infrastructure to achieve operational self-sufficiency. 

Just prior to the site's going dark, Matze wrote on Parler of the possibility that the app would be "unavailable on the internet for up to a week as we rebuild from scratch."

"We prepared for events like this by never relying on [Amazon's] proprietary infrastructure and building bare metal products," he wrote further. 

AR15.com co-founder and president Juan Avila, meanwhile, told Just the News that, on Jan. 11, the site "received notice from [GoDaddy] that AR15.com had violated their terms of service and that AR15.com would be shut down immediately. The registrar's decision to de-platform AR15.com was final and no method to appeal was offered."

"It remains unclear specifically what content allegedly violated the registrar's terms of service," Avila said. "However, it should be noted that AR15.com has been in existence for more than 25 years and does not, and has never condoned or promoted violence or unlawful acts of any kind."

Asked directly if GoDaddy had provided any examples of the site's alleged promotion of violence, Avila said: "They have not." 

"As of Wednesday, January 13, 2021," he added, "I am happy to report that we have found a new, First-Amendment-friendly site registrar and AR15.com has been restored to full functionality [and] has resumed normal operation."

Some sites had earlier utilized their own server hardware to avoid fallouts like those experienced by Parler and AR15.com. Gab, another microblogging site, is known to maintain in-house server systems and does not rely on outside web hosting services. That company, which has been the target of significant criticism for allegedly high levels of racist and anti-Semitic content on its servers, has reportedly seen its user base increase by millions since the beginning of the tech purges last week.

Other social media companies have seen some success while still utilizing traditional Internet infrastructure. CloutHub, which has been touted as an alternative to Facebook, has like other social media sites seen a surge in traffic and interest in recent days amid the mainstream tech crackdown. 

Company CEO Jeff Brain told Just the News' John Solomon this week that his site is meant to function as a "complete platform" that works to connect like-minded individuals and "give them the tools they need to be able to address the issues that impact their lives."

Brain, who claimed his site is growing by thousands of users per day, said that CloutHub "absolutely supports freedom of expression and speech."

"CloutHub encourages people to discuss all sides of the issues," he said. "We believe that the public can decide what is right and what is wrong, and they need to hear all the sides."

Facebook and Twitter, meanwhile, are reportedly seeing major financial losses in the wake of their recent censorship decisions. 

The Epoch Times reported this week that the two companies have "collectively seen $51.2 billion in combined market value wiped out" following their respective bans of President Trump.