You will no longer find Red Pill News or the X22 report on YouTube. Far-right online broadcasts were taken down in the fall of 2020 after major social media and tech companies began purging accounts that were spreading the QAnon conspiracy theory.
But you’ll find them both on a video-sharing platform called Rumble, where their content ranks among the most popular on the site.
In late March, as Republicans opened a deceptive attack on Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, deemed too soft on criminals who sexually abuse children, Red Pill News and the X22 Report released videos claiming his Supreme Court nomination by President Joe Biden was proof of that. anyone needed a cabal of pedophiles to operate at the highest levels of government, an absurd belief by QAnon adherents.
“Think about the big picture,” implored the X22 Report host, who has more than half a million Rumble subscribers, in an episode posted Wednesday. “Right now, people are being taught what pedophilia is. People listen to this, and they see exactly how these people think and how they try to normalize it. »
In one day, this episode was viewed nearly 220,000 times on Rumble, which has seen explosive growth since conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump embraced it after the 2020 election. its backers see it as the new frontier of social media – a network built by and for them, where virtually anything goes.
Rumble’s CEO calls the Toronto-based company “safe from the cancel culture.” It has tens of millions of dollars in funding from right-wing entrepreneurs like billionaire Peter Thiel, and Trump has struck a deal for Rumble to provide its new social media service, Truth Social, with the technology and operational support that it needs. were missing.
Once best known for its viral videos of cats and toddlers, Rumble now attracts 44 million monthly visitors, according to analytics firm Similarweb, giving it a wider reach than other top destinations for conservative content, including Breitbart, Newsmax and The Daily Wire. In the first nine months of last year, the most recent financial information available, Rumble generated more than $6.5 million in revenue, most of it from advertising, but was unprofitable. It announced its intention to trade publicly, as early as the middle of this year, after merging with a special purpose acquisition company.
The Rumble success story is instructive for both sides of the tense debate about balancing the right to free speech against the growing threat that disinformation poses to the stability of governments around the world. For those who argue that Google’s and Facebook’s algorithms are blunt and deeply flawed instruments for controlling speech, Rumble offers a welcome, if flawed, alternative. And for those worried that lawmakers and tech companies aren’t doing enough to tame fake and fabricated information ahead of the upcoming presidential election, Rumble has opened up a potentially dangerous loophole.
Rumble’s chief executive, Chris Pavlovski, said he had no intention of creating a platform promoting right-wing content when he launched it in 2013. Instead, he envisioned Rumble as an alternative the approach that Google and other big tech companies took a decade ago when they started promoting content from a select group of influencers to everyday users.
“There is no ideology here. On the contrary, we are just neutral,” Pavlovski said in an interview last month with popular Rumble content creator.
He described his mission in noble and virtuous terms. “We are a movement that does not stifle, censor or punish creativity,” he said when announcing Rumble’s plan to go public. More recently, he rebuked social media and search engine companies like DuckDuckGo, a popular right-wing Google alternative that angered some users when it said it would steer people away from sites that promote misinformation. on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Pavlovski announced on Twitter that he had deleted his app from his phone.
But Rumble’s democratizing vision for online speech has so far mostly appealed to people on the right. This includes many extremists who use their Rumble accounts to deny the effectiveness of vaccines, downplay the horrific human toll of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and question the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Yet criticism of the often capricious and inconsistent online censorship rings true beyond those with fringe beliefs.
There is a large audience to be had, and one that some who study far-right content online warn has not been vetted to become a potent political weapon for conservatives and Trump supporters.
“It’s already been successful — this alternate universe has already blossomed,” said Denver Riggleman, a former Republican congressman and intelligence analyst who works with the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. .
Reps for Pavlovsky and Rumble did not respond to interview requests.
But he’s made it clear in streamed remarks to Rumble’s creators and others that his ambitions are far more important than increasing traffic to his website and app. With investments from like-minded Big Tech critics like Thiel, Pavlovski outlined a vision for building a “new internet” – a kind of alt-web that is entirely separate from mainstream industry players.
Rumble has already built its own cloud services infrastructure and video streaming capability, giving itself and its partners greater independence from the Amazons and Microsofts of the Internet – and the assurance that they cannot be shut down if one of these providers decides to pull the plug on objectionable content. The experience of social media network Parler, which effectively shut down after Amazon said it would no longer host the site on its IT services after the attacks on January 6 last year, looms large. in the minds of Rumble fans.
The promise of independence from tech giants led Trump to ask Rumble to provide technology and cloud services to Truth Social, which has struggled to become fully operational on its own. In a statement announcing the partnership in December, Trump said he chose Rumble because it is one of the service providers “that does not discriminate against political ideology.”
Rumble has also struck exclusive deals with popular content creators who have a following beyond conservatives and Trump supporters, like journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has expressed his belief that tech giants and mainstream media have too much power to override speech. Rumble pointed to its partnership with Greenwald as an example of its content-neutral approach.
But there are also the popular Rumble creators the company doesn’t talk about in press releases, like Infowars’ Alex Jones, who was kicked out of YouTube and other mainstream platforms in 2018 and now has over 100. 000 subscribers to Rumble.
That’s a small number compared to the millions on YouTube who followed Jones, who spread false theories that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was staged as part of a government plot to confiscate guns. Those who study the right-wing media ecosystem say it’s hard to say what the overall audience for far-right content is, largely because the traffic data available for individual sites includes many overlaps of content. ‘users who frequent more than one .
One of Rumble’s leading names is Dan Bongino, the pro-Trump host and former Secret Service agent who replaced Rush Limbaugh in some radio markets and airs his daily show on Rumble to 2.2 million subscribers. Bongino’s journey to Rumble illustrates the inherent difficulties of fighting misinformation and conspiracy theories. YouTube began cracking down on him in the fall of 2020 for violating its policies to stop the spread of false stories about the coronavirus.
After YouTube blocked Bongino from collecting advertising revenue on the site, he announced he was taking a stake in Rumble and made it his favorite video platform. “We need a home,” he said at the time. “We need a place to go where conservative views will not be discriminated against.”
In the weeks and months that followed, as Trump refused to accept his election defeat and YouTube blocked content that reinforced his false allegations of widespread voter fraud, others also joined Rumble, including One America News. .
The day after Rumble announced his partnership with OAN, Pavlovsky insisted that his company would never censor such political speech. “Rumble will not adopt a policy like this,” he said, citing an irreproachable inspiration for his resolution: Galileo, who was accused of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church for theorizing that the Earth revolved around the sun.