The Canadian video hosting platform Rumble, which has become a conservative and far-right stronghold, has thrown a Hail Mary pass: it’s now recruiting more diverse (read: less alt-right) personalities to join the site and “challenge the status quo” in their own fashion. Most prominently, they’ve enlisted former Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and agitator journalist Glenn Greenwald for undisclosed sums. And then an array of self-styled edgy commentators, including: news parodist Bridget Petasy; satirist Matt Orfalea; Washington Examiner writer Siraj Hashmi; self-described troll Mujahed Kobbe; and media and Twitter critics Shant Mesrobian and Zaid Jilani.
“Although very diverse, this group of individuals does share one characteristic: a commitment to challenge the status quo, seek the truth, and share it,” the announcement reads. “They also all believe that the internet should be free, and that tech monopolies should not dictate discourse. Rumble is their natural home and we welcome them to the family.”
Tulsi Gabbard says as much in her inaugural video: “Big tech monopolies are acting with impunity as they police our speech, squash debate, and censor those whose speech they deem unacceptable.”
“I may disagree with what you say,” Gabbard continues. “But I and every servicemember is ready to sacrifice our life to protect your right to say it.”
For a sense of the rhetoric on Rumble: Steve Bannon, who was recently caught coordinating an election disinformation campaign on Facebook. Former KKK grand wizard David Duke, who was banned from Twitter after, among other things, promoting anti-Semitism. [UPDATE: See Rumble’s response below.] QAnon proponents whom Facebook and Twitter purged after the Capitol insurrection. Anti-vaxxers unshackled by shadow bans and fact check labels. You’ll find baseless election fraud conspiracy theories, accusations that Black Lives Matter is causing “record murder rates,” QAnon theories that the military is in “TOTAL” control, fear-mongering about the dangers of vaccination, and other baseless theories and misinformation associated with shootings and coronavirus outbreaks. So, yeah, it’s kind of like YouTube without any of the good stuff.
To wit, yesterday NBC News reported that a QAnon follower confessed to murdering his two young children, under the belief that his wife had passed on “serpent DNA” to their offspring. The state health officer in Louisiana, where covid-19 deaths are surging and vaccination rates are low, is warning of near-term catastrophe.
Conspiracy-peddling demagogues flocked to Rumble as mainstream platforms removed them, and, tellingly, Rumble racked up over 30 million monthly users in the months after the election. Similar Web shows that Rumble has nearly made it to 50 million unique monthly visitors, primarily driven by alt-right and QAnon conspiracy sites. The platform also has the distinction of being former President Donald Trump’s occasional home on the internet whenever he feels like doing a video.
After Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube purged accounts in tandem with the Capitol insurrection, Tulsi Gabbard posted a video on Twitter warning that the “John Brennan’s [sic], Adam Schiffs and the oligarchs in Big Tech” are “much more powerful, and therefore dangerous, than the mob which stormed the capitol,” thanks to attempts to undermine free speech and create a “KGB-style” surveillance state. Gabbard and Greenwald have been promoting such narratives on Fox News.
In the press release, Greenwald says that journalists using “Big Tech” platforms live in fear of “baseless attacks by the government or other self-appointed gatekeepers.” He’s accused Twitter of capitulating to liberals when it removed the New York Post’s questionably sourced piece about the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop. (Jack Dorsey later apologized.)
Yes, Big Tech wields a dangerously outsized influence over what speech people see. The right hates it for perceived anti-conservative bias; the left hates it (mostly Facebook) for neglecting to put out a disinformation wildfire. Everybody, save those on the receiving end of campaign funds, hates monopolies.
But the idea that the U.S. government, particularly Democrats, wield influence over Facebook’s decisions is questionable; if anything, Zuck capitulated to anti-censorship conservatives during the Trump administration, but he’s made clear, over years of pleas to scrub Trump’s disinformation, that he makes his own calls. Time and again, Facebook and Twitter molded their rules to accommodate Trump’s disinformation and incitements to violence, up to and including nuclear war.
Interestingly, Rumble does ban criticism of one platform: itself. While creators can talk shit about Rumble in their videos, the terms of service dictate that no commenter may disparage it in the forums.
“Rumble is challenging this power structure, and the addition of these prominent creators further strengthens the cause of free thinking, open debate and discussion,” Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski is quoted in the press release. “Rumble will never censor civil discourse, opinion, or act like the arbiters of truth.”
UPDATE 9/12/2021 2pm ET: Following the publication of this post, Rumble informed Gizmodo that it removed an account for the “David Duke Radio Show & Podcast,” noting that they “forbid antisemitism and any groups deemed to be a terrorist organizations in Canada or the US.” They told Gizmodo that the account was fake.